Even the mundane carries it’s own beauty…by Ryan Ulbrich
Right now, our own lungs are taking breath, our eyes are blinking, and our hearts are beating. But rarely do we notice. These bodily functions that sustain our lives and preserve our well-being are just, well, “there” in some sense. Perhaps they’re too woven into the human experience that our minds fail to recognize their recurring patterns.
The question is: how often are we mindful of these ubiquitous phenomena?
Here we have three core physical actions that keep us company from the time we’re birthed until our time is up, and unless something drastic or exceptional intervenes, they’re rarely noticed as even happening. The same lapse of attention happens with days and time, too. How often do we hurriedly ask friends or strangers what day of the week it is, or the date? As if these things were idle, as if they were somewhere else altogether.
This notion has always been fascinating to me—the idea that what occurs inside of us and surrounds us all the time triggers almost no self-awareness of those very things.
Rest assured, I’ll spare you a rant on the meditation and historical traditions, how they might better our values in the world, the complicated (and seemingly unreachable) path to enlightenment, or a sappy diatribe about our ignorance of self-reflection in this world. The Buddhavacana, Siddhartha, the Tao-de Ching, even some pretty induced Beatnik literature would be much better suited.
However, there are some simple yet precious opportunities in our daily routine to become more mindful of ourselves as part of our surroundings—even if only for a moment—as a vehicle for perpetual self-improvement.
To me, mindfulness is not about religion or spirituality. It’s a simple practice made possible by the human condition. Awareness that our bodies are tirelessly breathing, blinking, and beating, or awareness of what day, time, or date it is are only microcosms of the bigger picture. The idea of mindfulness is an idea congruent with Being-in-the-world (an end in itself), as opposed to doing-in-the-world (a means to an end).
On the one hand, doing-in-the-world is unquestionably practical and a much needed engagement with the fabrics of our society. It’s a simple fact of preserving ourselves, and is the best way we can create an identity of our own, as distinguishable from all others. Yes, Doing-in-the-world leads to the roof over our family’s head, the food in our mouths, the clothes on our back. As the Busy Trap (New York Times), Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are (HBR Blogs) and other posts convey, our culture is surely occupied with Doing. But it’s not unnatural and I’m in no position to discredit or shun it. In fact in the United States, a country where we provide our citizens a participatory democracy guided by capitalist principles, we just about require that we maximize all forms of Doing in order to provide for ourselves and loved ones the best we can. I’m also a social entrepreneur, so this maxim is the crux to all my endeavors.
Practicing mindfulness may not always yield actionable results, no. Yet it’s a critical element of our longevity and our sanity. We’re mostly accustomed to hearing the term mindfulness in a social context, when we’re asked to be mindful of others in certain situations, or be mindful of the fact that (…), and so on. But mindfulness is something that can be achieved in small tasks of routine Doing as well.
Take for example doing the dishes, or ironing/folding clothes, brushing teeth, tying a tie (for you gents), putting on makeup (for you gals), and walking flights of stairs. Even making love…after all, we all know that “being there” while “doing” in the bedroom is critical to our pleasure. How about running, swimming, weight-lifting, rowing, even driving?
Some of the most successful marathon runners in the world admit they often become mindful of their pure engagement in the course, completely detaching from Doing and becoming fully tuned to their breathing and their strides until their legs are numb and minds reach near perfect serenity. Miles and miles and miles onward. The sport of rowing as well, only it’s a collective that must be tuned in to each other as well to achieve the most efficient movement across the water. Driving is an incredibly mindful practice; the point at which we’re Doing something that takes an enormous amount of Being…without even being aware we’re giving that attention.
But not all that many people appreciate these menial tasks.
So suppose we try to move away from dreading them and learn to embrace them as pleasing, calming kinds of in-between experiences, no matter how little time they take or what their purpose may be. It’s these moments, so commonplace and humdrum, that I think we need to embrace as opportunities for a deep breath. Maybe then we’ll realize we’re taking one.
Like this? Then read, The Man Who Has (Raised) More Money Than You. And Everybody Else.