A Practical Guide To Creating a Mindful Life In A Distracted World
by Achim Nowak
Table of Contents
The Moment Begins ……………………………………………………………..
Key #1: Awaken the Senses ……………………………………………………………..
Key #2: Crave Meaning ……………………………………………………………..
Key #3: Wave-ride Energy ……………………………………………………………..
Key #4: Make Time Stand Still ……………………………………………………………..
The Moment Continues ………………………………………………………………
by Faisal Hoque
Most of us are taught from a very young age onward to desire success. Success—the quest for it and the act of chasing our goals and dreams—can be a potent personal animator. We exert effort. We work hard. We hustle, hustle, and hustle some more. And if we are fortunate, we’re rewarded with the tangible gifts of our efforts.
And yet, even during those times when the ride feels exactly like the exhilarating thrill we thought it would be, we have the occasional moment when we realize that all we’re really doing is working hard. We’re not so sure we are actually enjoying the pace of the ride. We’re not even sure we got on the right ride, in the first place. Moment by rushed moment, we have this eerie sense that life is slipping away from us.
Our eye is intently focused on the finish line, while life is happening now. This “now” is flying by at lightning speed.
Living in the moment doesn’t mean we don’t care about the future. It means that when we make the choice to do something, we focus solely on the act of doing it, rather than letting our mind wander into the future or the past.
In college, at my janitorial graveyard shift, I had a supervisor who used to remind me every night to “be kind to the floor, buff her carefully—and then see how well she shines.” At those particular moments, nothing else mattered—only the shine on the buffed floor. It taught me to lose myself completely in an utterly mundane task. Being in the moment allows us to escape from adversity and conserve our inner energy.
For a fast-paced entrepreneur like me, perhaps the most paradoxical lesson has been around the need to slow down to move forward. Slowing down is a deliberate choice that can lead to greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness, which yields better results in one’s endeavors.
In the context of mindful living, slowing down does not imply taking a vacation every other month. It is what we must practice every day. It means taking the time to do whatever we’re doing. It means single-tasking rather than switching between a multitude of tasks and focusing on none of them.
Several decades ago, the term “mindfulness” used to imply Eastern mysticism related to the spiritual journey of a person who follows the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Buddhists believe that being “well, happy, and peaceful” comes from practicing mindful living. Today, from self-help gurus to business leaders, from scientists to politicians, many talk about mindfulness. And the scientific community now believes that by practicing daily mindfulness, we can take advantage of the neuroplasticity of our brains and thereby improve the state of our lives. William James was one of the first psychologists to address the notion of neuroplasticity, back in his groundbreaking 1890 text The Principles of Psychology. The central idea behind neuroplasticity is that our brain can restructure itself based on our perception and experience.
In my book Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability (McGraw Hill, 2014), my coauthor and I wrote:
Bishop, the Canadian psychologist, supplies us a useful two-component definition of mindfulness: regulating our attention to maintain a focus on our immediate experience, and approaching the phenomena of our experiences with curiosity, openness, and acceptance regardless of how desirable we find those phenomena to be.
Mindfulness allows us to have a more nuanced, articulate understanding not only of the events happening outside of our bodies but of those happening within them.
When we are mindful, we begin to be a more objective witness of our own experiences: When placed into a situation where we would normally become aggravated, we can observe our aggravation as it arises. As a meditation teacher once told me, without mindfulness we are reaction machines. But with mindfulness, we give ourselves some room to move. Instead of acting out of our long-held tendencies, biases, and patterns, we can act in a way that serves the situation and serves the people involved.
These personal outcomes have major consequences for organizations, as well. If innovation and growth is something that arises from being able to see the same set of data in a new way, practices that allow us to approach new situations with a fresh, unbiased, and slightly less conditioned state of mind are an asset. If we rely on our colleagues to share the things that cure our blind spots, practices that deepen our relationships are an asset. If we need to translate long-term goals into daily actions, practices that allow us to introspect with more accuracy are an asset. If we simply need to better navigate the stressful stimuli of our days, we need all the tools we can get.
This is where the practice of daily mindfulness enters the picture. It shows us how to begin to stay more conscious in the present moment. It teaches us to do so in the midst of a rapid pace that may, at times, be beyond our control. It also helps us to discover ways of slowing down so we may better savor life while it unfolds, moment by moment.
It’s been said that the only two jobs of a Zen monk are sitting zazen (meditation) and sweeping. Cleaning is one of the daily rituals of a Zen monk, one of their most important daily practices. They sweep or rake, and they try to do nothing else in that moment. The next time you’re doing housework, try concentrating on the housework—on the dust, on the motion, on the sensation. Cooking and cleaning are often seen as boring chores, but actually they are both great ways to practice mindfulness—something I ritualistically try to do at least once or twice a week. Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty hard. Go ahead and try it.
I believe mindful living can be practiced in many forms.
When I look at the literature we have available to us on how to best live a mindful life, it seems to fit into two distinct buckets. On one hand, there are wonderful books that focus on one particular mindfulness practice—meditation. They offer instruction on how to start a meditation routine, and they plumb the infinite richness of what is revealed during the act of meditation. Many of these books are steeped in a particular spiritual or religious practice.
On the other hand, we have books that urge us to seek enlightenment and abandon the shackles of an ego-driven life. Meditation figures into the mix, but it is merely a small part of a much bigger story. The quest-for-enlightenment books remind us that our ego enslaves us to a life of illusion. True inner peace will only manifest once we fully rid ourselves of our attachment to the false life we lead.
The Moment walks a refreshing middle path between these two seemingly opposing takes on the mindful life. Achim Nowak draws on the wisdom he has gained in more than 20 years of practicing Hinduism, with a steady commitment to meditation and the gifts of chanting. But he also incorporates what he knows from years of training actors at top US acting schools, and what he has learned during a decade of leading personal transformation events in HIV/AIDS communities. He also references his exceptional expertise in helping senior business leaders from around the world to be more fully present. The Moment is blessed by a multidisciplinary voice. It takes us on a robust, highly practical, and nonmystical journey into the mindful life. That is one of its many shining assets.
The book’s subtitle leaves no doubt about what we’re in for. This is not a tale of mindfulness as a private activity. This is a book that squarely places you and me, the readers, into the world—our encounters with people, places, and things. Many of us yearn to live more fully in the moment. We don’t always know exactly what that means or what it may look like.
Achim offers us four keys to more fully experience any moment. I am struck by how simple but profound these keys are. This is in many ways a back-to-basics book. It reassures us that we’re already whole and don’t need to work harder. Instead of learning new techniques that require constant practice, we rediscover what we instinctively knew as children. We explore the pleasures of “unworking” and allowing ourselves to return to a state of childlike delight.
Faisal is the founder of Shadoka and author of
Survive to Thrive, Everything Connects
and several other books.
Follow him @faisal_hoque or visit FaisalHoque.com.