November 24, 2017

While relaxing in an Onsen the other day, my mind wandered to what I wanted to do later in the day. I’d leave the hotel, go and find something to eat and a frosty Asahi, come back to the room for a writing session, and just before bed, return to the Onsen for a late-night session. I found myself idly looking forward to food and beer, but even more so to that next trip to the Onsen.

Suddenly, the absurdity of the thought hit me like a ton of bricks: I was sitting in an Onsen looking forward to the next time I’d be able to sit in an Onsen. It was hard to imagine a more pathological example of cognitive degeneracy.

I’d like to say that this kind of thinking is an uncommon, but it’s not. Like many people, most of the time my mind is a frothing cauldron of erratic thoughts – constantly boiling over and rarely focused on anything useful. Some moments in the day are worse than others; I can often get in periods of extended focus during early mornings when the world is calm. After extended multi-tasking, concentrating on anything is next to impossible.

My feeling is that the age of Slack and social media is making this state of continuous distraction ever stickier. Even if it’s just juggling work and a few open conversation windows, multi-tasking is ubiquitous and ever-present, making serious periods of work increasingly scarce. Lately, I’ve been trying to counteract it with mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention into the present moment. During meditation, it’s practiced with techniques like “noting”, where fleeting thoughts are briefly acknowledged before being allowed to pass, and “body scanning”, where the state of each part of the body is considered as attention moves from head to toe. Meditation has deep roots in Buddhism, but is just as useful for secularists, with the goal being better mental well-being by reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing happiness and relaxation.

These days it’s a savior for my frazzled mind. I commit one dedicated slot every day, but have also found that it’s a useful habit to pick up for the countless idle moments in between. While sitting on a bus, waiting in a line at the store, or watching the status bar on CI, a few slow breaths and a moment of concentration does wonders for recovering some semblance of serenity. That trip later to the Onsen will be great, but the present moment should feel good too. My goal is to slow down and live it.

Mindfulness was published on November 24, 2017.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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