Mindlessness vs. Mindfulness

“Son, can you measure the dock?”  I was eager. I was nine. This was something I could handle on my own.  It was my pride and joy to help my father in any task around the house, especially if it involved tools.  And this seemed easy enough. We were rebuilding the old dock at the family pond, and Dad needed my help. I was so caught up in getting the task done that I didn’t stop to think about it.  I hurriedly hooked the tape measure on the end nearest the shore and backed up. Did I mention that the dock had no railing? It wasn’t until the water closed in around my ears in what felt like slow motion that I realized my mistake.  I had backed right off the edge into the water, but lucky for me, it wasn’t a very tall dock and the water wasn’t very deep. I sputtered and spit and lost a shoe in the mud, but we both had a good laugh. It was a lesson in paying attention, of being mindful.

You see, every day we walk a fine line between mindlessness and mindfulness.  Think about one thing too much and you cease to think about anything else. The word “worry” comes to mind.  Or if you can’t really stay focused on anything, your day becomes wasted right in front of your eyes. In some professions this lack of focus can become deadly.  If you’re a bus driver with a mind prone to wander or hyper-focus on something that happened yesterday, you’re putting your life and all your passengers’ lives in danger.  For pilots it’s even worse. In the Air Force they call it a “Loss of Situational Awareness.” As humans we make an average of about 35,000 conscious decisions per day.  That’s a lot to think about.  So how do we cope? Well, we institutionalize behavior or make habits in order for some things to become automatic and require less thought.   Think about all the things you do without really thinking about it: brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, getting dressed before you leave the house, polite conversation at the grocery store, even taking a particular route driving to work.  

When it comes to faith, what have we institutionalized?  What habits have we made that we might be unaware of, mindlessly going through the motions?  Is it singing the songs without actually hearing the lyrics?  Is it zoning out during the sermon? Is it praying the same prayer until you’re not even sure what you’re saying?  Paul tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinithians 5:17, CEB).  It would seem that we’re called to renewal, called to shake things up a bit instead of falling into the same old ruts.  

Christians have had a tendency to shake things up a bit throughout history, chiefly during this thing we call the Reformation, literally designed to re-form the church.  But on a personal level it can be as simple as reading a book by a new author or starting a podcast or joining a new social group.  In recent years, the ancient practice of meditation has resurfaced as a positive way to reduce stress and increase self-awareness...but under a new name:  mindfulness. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”  Ironically, seeking mindlessness in the right way (by meditating and letting some things fade into oblivion) can refocus your brain to be mindful of the right things.  

So catch yourself worrying this week and think about something else.  I think you’ll be surprised at how much more room there is to think about other things (like God) when you’re not obsessing over details you can’t change.  And maybe try something new. Like meditation. You never know what new revelations await until you go looking. ~Justin