This past month I’ve been practicing what I call “mindlessness.” No, I don’t mean air-headed bumbling through life. Or vacuously staring into space with no connection to the world around you. It’s more like living moment to moment from the non-thinking center of your being. Your heart, your soul. Pure awareness without the overlay of language. The practice has involved breathing deeply and dropping down into my body’s core whenever I notice myself caught in thinking overdrive, my mind running from one thought to another like a mad marathoner. Taking a deep breath and becoming aware interrupts the mind’s busyness. I breathe, feel my physical body, and come into present-moment awareness of my immediate environment. Wherever I am, I look or listen without thinking about it. I consciously step into the now, perceiving without filtering. The mental concept of time ceases to exist.
Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds, or as long-lasting. The key is to practice doing it, again and again. Practicing lays down new behavioral cues, new perceptual impulses, which help me to be present with more ease and grace the more I do it. In truth, a silent center of pure thoughtless soul awareness lives within us all. That is what I’m connecting to with each conscious breath. It is a space that I frequently relax into while sitting in meditation or when I am outdoors walking in nature. The challenge is to “be here now”—not lost in thought—continuously, under all circumstances. That is the practice.
As the weeks pass, I am finding that both gardening and bird-watching center me effortlessly in “mindless” presence, again and again. The beauty of the natural world immediately opens my heart and awakens me to the present moment. When I look at a brilliantly colored bird or flower, I am not thinking; I am just being. My heart is directly connected to my soul, and together they quietly override the mind’s dominance, bringing me into complete immersion in Now. And that presence gradually spills over to other moments in my daily life….
Watching a middle-aged man gently holding his elderly father’s hand as they cross the street in front of me, I am present. Riding the bus as the sun rises and shines dazzling light on the distant city skyline and the nearby spring-green trees, I am present. Listening to a wood thrush’s ethereal flutelike call in the evening stillness, I am present. The smell of banana bread in my neighbor’s kitchen, the sound of a dog barking on the next street, the full moon casting shadows through the tree branches, the feel of soft flannel sheets on my body as I slide into bed—all of these are opportunities to experience life directly, separate from the mind’s interpretation. Each one of us has moments like these in our lives in which we can break through to full awareness and presence. The key is to take a deep breath and notice what is directly in front of us.
More and more frequently, I am realizing when my thoughts have taken me away, and I consciously breathe and bring myself back to the world around me, to the timeless present moment. Slowly but surely, my mind is letting go of the reins of control. I am relearning to see and hear without mental gymnastics, as a small child does. Breathing, I am connected to both my heart and my soul. Breathing, I am present for each second of my life. Breathing, I am fully alive, experiencing everything firsthand, seeing miracles everywhere. Breathing, I AM….
“The work of being is to inhabit our aliveness. In such moments, we become a conduit for the Oneness of life.—Mark Nepo