If you were to tell someone about the importance of being mindful in the Industrial Era, the response might have been, “Sorry pal, I gotta get to work.”
Nowadays, mindfulness is known for helping reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and pain. In short, mindfulness is about awareness, being present, and paying attention to one’s emotions and location on purpose. Its application can be found in modern practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), all the way back to its origins, the Noble Eightfold Path, an essential part of Buddhism.
The practice gained traction in 1979 when Dr. John Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts for treating the chronically ill. Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh on a retreat—Zen Buddhist, author, poet, and peace activists—Dr. Kabat experienced the profound benefits of practicing mindfulness and spread its message ever since.
My friend Jeff Goins—author, blogger, and speaker—has a term for this: the in-between moments. His latest book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing, is a call for the practice of mindfulness in a world of instant gratification, relentless notifications, and our need for constant connectedness. He goes on to say [emphasis by me]:
Once an adventure seeker, my days are now full of responsibility. Gone are the days of hopping trains through Europe and trekking across the country in a van. Now, things have slowed down. As a dad, husband, and homeowner, I’ve got more than a few things on my plate. But despite this busyness, most days feel fairly static, as if everything is standing still. And in this stillness, I’m learning to be present, to acknowledge the lessons life is trying to teach me. Because even in an adventure, you have to wait, to deal with what happens when things don’t turn out the way you expect.
Between raising a child and learning to be a better spouse, all while managing the challenges of working from home and starting a business with less time than before, I’m feeling the tension between how I used to live and what’s reality. My schedule is full of obligations and opportunities that tempt me to push through the now, moving on to the next thing. I’m tempted with distractions, to linger in the glory of the past or hold out hope for a better future. These are all ways I distance myself from the moment. And I wonder why the abundant life I’ve been searching for seems so evasive, even taunting at times.
Distractions are abundant than ever, occupying the space where self-reflection can flourish but where boredom prevails. And yet, we surrender graciously to the ringing, buzzing, and chirping of our devices.
We do this to ourselves because by being mindful, by seeing ourselves for who we really are, entails further responsibility for the quality of our life. Hence, why most people don’t choose to be mindful but rather distract themselves from themselves, because the fear and anxiety that the results produce is unbearable.
I wrote about how the future belongs to those who can tame their distractions, how mindfulness in technology is essential to any one’s success in both business and life. All of this busyness is mostly a scapegoat from doing something that matters i.e, tuning into yourself, checking in on your perspective and not only the restaurant that you’ve entered.
It’s not the world or the location we’re in that is the cause of these troubles; it is ourselves. Traveling from one state to another doesn’t change your life, it only changes your address. If you’re a bad person in New York, you’ll be a bad person in Miami or France or wherever you want to escape to. Jeff shows that where we are right this second is what we need to be focusing on because there is truly so much to be gained [emphasis by me]:
So it seems, despite a penchant for travel, that the antidote to my restlessness is not another trip or adventure, but a deep abiding in where I am right now. How does this happen? With waiting. Normal, everyday situations that test my patience and cause me to reflect on what really matters. I don’t like it, but I’m starting to see the value of the times in between the big moments in life.
What’s the first thing you do when you get out of a meeting or a class? When you’re walking between conference rooms? When you’re waiting in line? These in-between moments used to be opportunities to pause and reflect. Now, we eagerly jump into the communication stream, tuning in to the world instead of tuning in to ourselves.
Focusing your mind and being present in the moment without mixing negativity is hard because it’s a skill that isn’t taught or talked about (enough). Jeff offers some perspective [emphasis by me]:
Here’s the good news: this is not the end of the tale. We are not condemned to lives of insignificance and mediocrity. But life does slow down, inconveniences do occur, and delays happen to the best of us. The challenge is what we do with these times, how we use— or waste— our waiting. The slower times contain a wealth of wisdom for us to tap into, but only when we recognize them. Otherwise we grow detached, disillusioned. Embittered toward the disappointments of life, we begin to believe there’s nothing more to existence than endless tasks and chores. That’s why so many of us fight the quiet and try to fill the void with constant activity. It’s why we sometimes stay up late at night, wondering if satisfaction is ever attainable. All the while, we miss the truth: the thing we want to escape is what holds the key to our contentment. What if, instead of pining for the action of the next frame, we surrendered to the wait, learning to live in those “boring” moments with more intentionality? What if we fell in love with the in-between times, relishing instead of resenting them? Well then, we might just learn a few important lessons.
Really think about it: what good are you doing for your mind by tuning into your stream of distractions instead of focusing on this very moment—where you are, who you are, and how you feel? What are you trying to escape? And why? The information we allow into our lives ultimately shape who we are, how we think, feel, and behave.
Learning to leverage these in-between moments are essential to our growth, being self-aware, and understanding what’s actually important. Jeff eloquently captures the teamwork of mindfulness and growth [emphasis by me]:
In the in-between, we learn to recognize the temporal nature of life, and that eventually all waiting must end. When it does, we are left with what we did with the time in between the beginning and the end.
Our culture has conditioned us to expect instant results and overnight success; this impatience runs so rampant that we dress it up in terms like “efficiency” and “productivity.” But really what’s happening is we are conditioning ourselves to get what we want now, all the time. This mindset robs us of the lessons that waiting can teach us, causing us to miss out on the slow but important stuff of life.
Most growth happens this way: slowly, over time. You don’t see it happening— in fact, sometimes the circumstances feel more like inconveniences than opportunities— but then one day you wake up, amazed at how far you’ve come. When it comes to waiting, we have a choice. We can try to bypass the delays to get immediate gratification. Or we can embrace the “long game” of life and invest those days, months, and years in the slow but intentional growth that leads to lasting change.
Embracing these in-between moments will not be easy but will turn out to be one of the most rewarding challenges. Learning how to be mindful, especially when your mind is full, is the challenge of our lives. We’ve mastered productivity and have left the barren Industrial Era; look at Detroit. We’re in a new era now, one that requires you to be self-aware and mindful so that no obstacle, real or self-imposed, can obstruct you from making a difference. These in-between moments can be leveraged, helping you refocus your attention that champion growth, learning, and most importantly, living.
The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing will serve as a great read on the importance and practice of mindfulness in an era that is slowly forgetting to stop, breathe, and look around.
All this waiting is not an accident; it’s a call to slow down. These delays are meant to point us to a deeper truth: we are not finished. If we relish this reality and embrace the opportunity it holds, we may be able to grasp a depth we’ve not yet reached. We may find this abundant life, after all. — Jeff Goins
How do you practice mindfulness? What are your thoughts on this?