Earlier this week I spoke to a breakfast group and asked what they did while driving to the meeting that morning.
Nothing surprising, people said they ate, listened to music, talk radio and motivational “tapes,” some sang, talked on their cell phones, some thought about problems, one rehearsed a speech, a salesman worried about a client, they checked email, they texted, one sexted, one woman put on lipstick, several drank coffee, and a man planned dinner. Some of them were doing a few of these things at once.
But not one of them just drove.
You see, driving is one of these activities we can do without paying the
slightest attention, despite the fact that it’s actually quite complicated. And it turns out that driving isn’t the only thing we do without paying attention. When you stop to think about it, there is very little besides video games, golf, and television that we actually give our full 100% attention.
Much of our life is done on semi-automatic, and sometimes – like driving – full-bore-auto. And it’s not just one thing that’s on auto-pilot, but often a whole bunch of things going on at the same time and none getting anywhere near our full attention, our minds flipping and switching and jumping from one thing to the next to the next.
Of course, what you end up with is sub-par performance because nothing is getting our very best, difficulty focusing (what a surprise), a lack of creativity (creativity definitely requires focus and you’re out of practice), procrastination (because when you’re doing 7 things at once who wants to do anything else), fuzzy thinking (again, no surprise), no spontaneity (we’re never really present), and more kinds of stress you can possibly imagine.
So I was driving to the talk on mindfulness, and practicing JUST DRIVING…
“Feel the foot on the gas and the hands on the steering wheel…”
And then I’d jump to thinking about what I was going to say. And then I’d remember to JUST DRIVE.
“Push the turn signal control down, turn the steering wheel slightly and sense the car moving into the left lane…”
And what was I going to say? Oh right – JUST DRIVE…
And so on. Then I started breathing into the driving. That made it easier. My focus became sharper.
When you ease into it, when you breath into it, everything starts to feel better. The mind chatter settles down almost instantly and your senses become sharper. Whatever else there was a moment ago falls away. Breathing is really key to mindfulness practice.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Pay attention to the air flowing in through your nose and down your windpipe and into to your lungs. Hold the breath for a second and then slowly let it out, again feeling to the air as it leaves your deflating lungs, flows up your windpipe and out of your mouth. This is what yoga people call
“watching your breath.” Do that a few times. If you’re still with me, count from one to ten along with your breathing.
Go ahead. Just stop reading . Breath and count. After you’ve done it for a while come back to me.
How was it?
Most people get lost somewhere between 2 and 10. Their mind wanders and starts thinking about… Something. Maybe you remembered what you were doing, came back and kept counting. And then lost it again. And then kept counting. And so on.
No matter how it went, if you did it at all, you did a great job.
You might try this little process again at different times throughout the day. You’ll find it refreshing and energizing. And yes, you’ll begin to get bits of everything I promised above. This really works.
One more thing…
Mindfulness is a funny word; it almost sounds like the opposite of what we mean.
Just an hour ago I was picking up a rental car at MCO. Alamo has an interesting system they let drivers pick out the car they want. So I jumped in the Jeep, didn’t like the seat adjustments, and the Kia felt like it was made of cheap plastic, so I ended up with a nice Dodge SUV something. I moved my luggage in and out of one car and then the other. Got in the winner car, looked up the hotel address, checked the Nav, which was on the blink, finally figured out where I was going, acclimated to the chosen car, adjusted the mirrors, adjusted the seat… My mind was so full with the details of choice, hopping from one car to the next, driving at night in a strange city, the semi-broken navigation on my phone, so filled up with stuff, that I didn’t realize until 24 miles later that I’d foolishly left my trademark blue blazer in one of the cars. Called lost and found. Called the garage itself. No Blazer. No Joy. Complete failure for paying attention to the present moment.
Which brings me back to the mindfulness idea…
Most of us pass our lives paying very little attention to the present moment because our minds are so full with all the stuff we’re doing. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware by letting go of all the stuff and focusing on the one single thing we chose to do whether it’s driving while we’re driving, or walking while we’re walking, doing the dishes while we’re doing the dishes, or counting while we’re counting.
Over the next few weeks I’ll give you some other easy exercises to draw you into the present moment.
I’ve been working with a few of my business coaching clients on mindfulness practice as was a way of deepening concentration, sharpening focus and stimulating creativity. As if those things weren’t enough, it instantly floods you with energy (without caffeine) and it just plain feels good.
So go count from one to ten again, and when you’re done, leave me your comments and tell me what’s happening.
From my journal:
I’ve noticed lately that my goals are a bit less “goal-like” and have more to do with feelings, emotions, states of consciousness and states of being, rather than with stuff. Must have something to do with advancing age.