In his recent book Why Buddhism is True, writer Robert Wright shares a frustrating yet helpful conversation he once had with a meditation teacher.
“So, you notice that your mind keeps wandering?” the teacher asks.
“Yes,” Wright answers.
“It’s good that my mind keeps wandering?”
“No. It’s good that you notice that your mind keeps wandering.”
“But it happens, like, all the time.”
“That’s even better. It means you’re noticing a lot.”
It’s easy to shame ourselves for not paying attention, “thinking too much,” being scatterbrained. But that shame just takes us further from the present moment.
When you notice that you’re having trouble paying attention, reframe the situation. Think of it as a small win. You managed to turn against some very powerful forces.
Like, very powerful. The human brain is built to be preoccupied. Our prefrontal cortex — the part that remembers and anticipates — is abnormally large compared to that of other animals.
Also, we live in a society that increasingly demands our attention.
Multi-billion dollar tech corporations are vying for our posts and likes to sell information about us to advertisers. Bosses send emails and texts 24/7. The 1 percent is passing off more and more responsibilities to the 99 percent.
Instead of a retirement pension, we have to manage a 401k (if we’re lucky enough to have one). Instead of universal healthcare, we have to fight with insurance companies. Instead of a full-time job that pays enough, we have to drive Uber, walk dogs, and give blood.
I love how political scientist Corey Robin puts it:
“We’re working way too many hours for too little pay, and in the remaining few hours (minutes) we have, after the kids are asleep, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is done, we have to haggle with insurance companies about doctor’s bills, deal with school officials needing forms signed, and more.”
Simply noticing that you’re not present is a small win that’s actually huge, relatively speaking. When you do, try to have some gratitude, as hard as that is.
No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you’re capable of being kind to yourself. As Pema Chödrön writes, “Even the most vicious animals love their offspring.”
Trying to be more mindful?
I’ve come up with a cheat sheet to help you start and stick with a regular meditation practice. Get it for free here.