Mindfulness Works

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As I continue to enjoy the sun-filled days in Maine for a little while before returning to Massachusetts, I am quite aware of the peacefulness it creates. I have been catching up on my summer reading and seem to be able to absorb the stories more readily than when I am cramming the texts into the cracks of my daily busyness. I become aware of the power of reflection that the quiet induces. In theory, I believe that reflection can raise hidden triggers for actions I rue later, like stuffing too many hors d'oeuvres before dinner, or spending another hour in front of the computer screen.

Most of the time I get right back into the usual pattern the moment the aura passes, but I have been able to make some changes that bring me closer to flourishing. I have little desire just to buy things because they are there and I can. This is one small area that I walk the talk about sustainability I write about about. If I want to quiet the voices in my head that are my GPS for action, I first have to be able to listen to them. Only then can I have a conversation that allows me to counter the arguments I am bombarded with.

The technique for inducing mindfulness I point to in my book is the design of everyday artifacts, otherwise the personal technology we use to do the myriad of tasks that make up our normal life. Building in features that interrupt our mindless, unconscious behavior creates the possibility for mindfulness and consciousness of what we are doing and of alternate modes of behavior. There is no guarantee that we will use the opportunity to reflect and change our tune, but there is no possibility without a break in the flow. This mechanism, like a coach's interventions in athletic training and play, comes in the midst of the action that need modification and the inner "conversation" is immediately connected to what is going on.

Other forms of inducing mindfulness, like meditative practices, lack the immediacy of interruptive processes. They can and do create a general feeling of detachment. this allows the exploration of arguments the body makes that lead to actions that produce some sort of dissatisfaction, a sense of incompleteness or inappropriateness. I suspect that a combination of the two ways to produce mindfulness would be more effective that either one can be alone. Meditative disciplines train the body to produce and perceive states that are hidden otherwise, and to explicate the general beliefs and norms that drive all actions including the ones that are unwanted. Once the actor has become aware of the value of reflection and can more easily jump from normal transparent behavior, then interruptive devices, like speed bumps, that guide appropriate behavior can be more effective in creating new beliefs and norms.

This post is, perhaps, an example. I was reading the NYTimes on line today and clicked on a column by Robert Wright, who writes weekly on culture, politics and world affairs. He was recounting his recent experience at a a silent meditation retreat. After reading it, I stopped and reflected about the idea of mindfulness in my own life, and shortly thereafter this post came forth.

I am committed to blogging and to the cause of sustainability as flourishing, but must admit that it is getting harder and harder to find the right words and to keep this blog fresh. Reading works as a sort of meditative practice for me. If I am in the proper reflective stance, I can draw out meaning from the text and also move into my own thoughts triggered by what I have just read. Many of my students, who are required to keep a journal to help them develop reflective competence, struggle with the practice and find it difficult. When they stop thinking of the process as an assignment and as an opportunity to record whatever is coming to mind, their negativity tends to abate.

I am working my way through the works of Wendell Berry this summer, something that everyone should do at some time. All my copies are filled with tabs and marginalia recording the many thoughts that are brought forth as I read his extraordinary words.

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Dai said:

Not sure if it is related but I independently came across this article in the UK Guardian http://bit.ly/cmtf0k . The article and your post have helped me identify the difficulty I have in reflecting and being mindful day to day. Thanks for bringing the idea forward. . . .