Mindfulness: controlling thoughts by not controlling them
Meditation in a classroom: pillows on the floor, closing the eyes and trying to think of nothing. A deviant Honours Class, but definitely worthwile.
If you are born as a healthy human being, you want to be good at something. Whether this is about being the first to finish in a sports tournament, making good apple pies or getting more than good grades at school (this is something all Honours students are familiar with), doing something you are good at – and noticing you are getting better at it – will give you a feeling of satisfaction. But where lies the balance between improving for your own pleasure, and striving just to be the best?
This is a hard question. But if you are struggling with this, maybe it helps to know you are not the only one. So, trying to answer this question is what we did in the Honours Class The Mindfulness Revolution. This course is quite different from the other Honours Classes. Instead of a classroom with students sitting on chairs, facing the whiteboard and the teacher, everyone sat on a pillow on the floor. The course lasted for four full days, starting on Monday. Each morning there was a meditation session. The afternoons were used to discuss Buddhist philosophy or mindfulness in general.
What did the meditation or mindfulness practices actually look like? Most of the time, this consisted of sitting up straight, closing the eyes, and trying to not think of anything, while teacher Chris Goto-Jones gave instructions in achieving this nothingness. Perhaps this “thinking of nothing” seems a bit silly, but it is not as easy as it may sound. Daily life is so full of distractions. Mobile phones cry for attention, because you just received a message on WhatsApp, or mail, or a Facebook notification, or whatever makes your mind wander. With all these diversions around, just focusing on your breath is quite a challenge. The mindfulness practice helps in focusing on the things you want to pay attention to.
It must be clear that it is impossible to do everything mindfully during daily life. As Chris pointed out, if you rode your bike mindfully, you would fall off. Some things just have to be done the automatic way. However, there is nothing wrong with taking your time in a world that wants nothing less than all the time you have. Besides that, realizing that you don’t have to make better apple pies than your neighbour feels like a relief. Just make your own, and try to do it mindfully.
(24 February 2015/Monica Preller)