Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Our world is beautiful. With everything that’s going on, many people are talking about how this world is on the brink of destruction, with our resources depleting and our societies falling apart. Some people may argue, that it's because of today's political leaders, that they’re what’s wrong with society. As for me, I believe the underlying truth of the matter is that unless you’re a politician, nothing said on social media about politics or societies has any significance beyond that which appeals to a certain group of like-minded individuals who think that they know how the world works because they follow the news. The same news that is built on a foundation that prides itself on money-making propaganda schemes, designed to invoke feelings of stress, panic and chaos.
On September 5th 1977, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a spacecraft probe known as Voyager 1, with the purpose of studying the solar system. In 1990 when Voyager 1 was around 6.4 billion kilometres away, engineers turned it back for one final look at our planet, capturing an image known as the ‘pale blue dot’. Have a look:
Did you find it? Our little blue planet, our home, everything. Everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you don’t know, every human, animal, plant and organism to have ever lived on Earth. Feeling small yet?
It's been over 42 years since Voyager 1 left our planet, having traveled more than 21 billion kilometres from Earth. Remarkably enough, NASA is still able to communicate with the spacecraft, catching its signal and researching along the way. When astronauts go to space and look back at our planet, they experience what’s known as the ‘overview effect’, a feeling described by our space friends as a sense of realisation. A feeling of self-awareness, that you really don’t have much influence over anything going on your life, that you’re just a microscopic blip within space and time.
British science fiction writer Arthur Clarke once famously said, there are two possibilities that exist: “Either we’re alone in the universe, or we’re not. Both are equally terrifying."
Alright, most of us might not be so invigorated when thinking about our place in the universe. But in the grand scheme of things; you, me, and every single one of us are nothing more than specks of dust floating in the obscurity of the cosmos.
Over to you
If there's one thing we do have control over, it's our choices. Every decision we make, is driven by one of two forces. The first, is an idea of a certain sense of purpose and meaning, one that is experience-generated. For example, going to work because you like it, meeting your friends because you enjoy their company. The second, is an idea of a certain sense of consequence, one that is outcome-generated. For example, eating that box of chocolates because you think it will make you happy, humiliating a person in public because you think it will accentuate your wisdom, or playing an instrument because you like the identity associated with being a musician.
Mindfulness, is the ability to be aware and fully engaged with everything we’re doing at the moment, free from judgment or distraction. Mindfulness is often used interchangeably with meditation; although I believe that they might not necessarily be the same thing. While meditation requires mindfulness, in which case it can be combined as a state of mindful meditation; practicing mindfulness may or may not require meditation, and can be done in our day to day lives, in various situations, but more on that later. At the end of the day, it’s just another way of life. One that revolves around being aware and ‘present’ in the quest to make better decisions for better outcomes.
Easier said than done; but hey, if it’s something we humans can do, then why not?
Amidst all the hustle and busy-ness of today's world, many of us struggle to be connected with our inner self; to have a strong relationship with our minds, one that is driven by an equally strong motive. Over the past few years, being mindful and self-aware has helped me come to terms with myself and figure out what I want out of this life. With this blog, we hope to cover what mindfulness is and why everyone can and should be practicing it.
Photo by Levi XU on Unsplash
I and co-founder Bhuwan are pleased to welcome our guest for today: Taneesh Raj Ahmad, who will be sharing some of his ideas and experiences with mindfulness, meditation and spirituality. A little bit of background, Taneesh is an accountant working full-time in Canberra. When he's not behind the desk punching numbers away, you can find him either jamming to some tunes on the Indian bamboo flute, or chasing a rush at the gym; be it a CrossFit box or a climbing gym.
Mindfulness and Meditation
More often than not, people tend to associate the term 'meditation' with something involving a yogi, where it requires years of practice and mastery without which you cannot do it. To start off, I think we should make a clear distinction between meditation and mindfulness, and then get into each of them. For Bhuwan, meditation is something that he and his family practice together:
"Meditation would be like getting into a state if mind where you're aware of what's going on in the present. For me, mindfulness is a state that can be achieved...in the gym for instance, when you're so focused that you don't know what is going on around you but you're completely aware of what you are doing. According to the 2005 National Science Foundation, we have around 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day on average. Practicing mindfulness every day feels like a form of mental cleansing for me.
One of the reasons behind distraction is because we're consuming short-format content. We only have an attention span of maybe five to ten minutes, and so most of the students these days are not able to focus for more than an hour at a time."
Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash
A recent study at Harvard found that people spend over 45% of their time being awake thinking about something other than what they're actually doing, because they're so distracted all the time. So coming back to the earlier topic, is it possible to distinguish mindfulness with meditation?
"I think mindfulness is a state of being aware of something, whatever that may be. It can be in the gym, it can be when you're speaking to someone, it can be in a relationship, when you're at work, etc. It's doing something consciously, knowing that you're doing it rather than having your mind elsewhere.
Meditation for me, is when you're consciously thinking or trying to focus your mind on something. It can be coming to terms with what your emotions are and trying to focus on one thing in specific. So mindfulness is being aware with what's going on; whereas meditation is trying to focus on one particular thing, embracing all the thoughts that are coming into your mind without any element of judgment."
Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash
Taneesh shares an interesting take on the two terms, stating a difference between meditation and being in a meditative state, rather than between meditation and mindfulness on their own.
"What I ultimately point towards is a 'mindful state', which I would then also term as a 'meditative state' because you are hyper aware of what you're doing, what you're not doing, what's going on at the moment and how you're reacting to it. For me, meditation and mindfulness connect at a certain level which is more than just your daily life, or knowing what you're doing, being there or not being distracted. For example, when I'm mountain biking or when I'm rock climbing, I am being meditative and mindful at the same time.
I need to plan my next move, to ensure I don't slip or fall off my bike, or to know what turn to take. That's sort of a meditative state because I'm so focused on that one thing, which then translates into mindfulness as well.
Photo by William Hook on Unsplash
When you're mountain biking, there's a guideline that you follow. Basically the path you see in front of you is what you focus on, you never see your tire, or look down at what's beneath; you watch where you want to go. That's being mindful and aware of what's happening, but it's also being meditative because that's the only thing I'm focusing on. The moment I get distracted, I might just miss something and crash. That's the sort of place that I'd say mindfulness and meditation meet, that meditation is something that leads to mindfulness and that they're quite inter-related."
The Path of Introspection
However, mindfulness can also be looked at through a different lens, one that goes deeper into the concept. Taneesh describes it as 'dissecting yourself to know how you are at each and every moment:
"Take for example, this conversation I'm having with you right now. I feel that if I'm really mindful and reflective enough, I'd know myself inside out. I'd know where I hail from, how I've built myself. I can then take a step back and observe what I'm doing; or later at night I can think about the way I spoke to you, or if you did something and I acted rashly, or if you say said something and I responded calmly. Eventually, I realise that it all might be different to what most people usually do.
I should know the bowl of experiences I am, and what experience influences what reaction of mine. To not only be aware of what you're doing, but also how you're doing it and what lane you take to drive through your daily life. So one aspect is task oriented the other aspect is identity oriented, to be mindful enough and know how you choose to act in situations.
That's not to say that it is by any means easy, it's something we all struggle with. Many people these days end up turning into automated robots and are unable to see a pattern going on again and again, one that involves themselves and the people they interact with.
"Their reactions, responses and thought processes remain the same. They're reacting in the same manner, which they might not realise because they have a blind eye towards it. That is also an aspect of being mindful; since you can be giving your 100% attention to a task, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you know yourself or why you're reacting to a particular thing."
It's not common to see people taking a moment to think about why they're interacting in a certain way. They may choose not to get into the nuances of why their conversation flows in a specific manner, and I think that comes from a place of thinking about the purpose of everything that you do. Why do we behave in a certain way? Why did that person speak like that? That's a deep level of self-awareness that can help us be more familiar with our own inner self.
Mindfulness also need not be confined to one example of being 100% focused on a task. A relationship may have regular, working class, family man who comes back home from work and is not able to give his family the right amount of time. He might not able to spend time with his partner, or his kids because his mind is still focused at work. All things remaining constant, that's where we feel there is an element of mindfulness missing.
That being said, as Taneesh rightly stated that aspect of introspection, we can deeply go through this thought process of reflecting on who we are and potentially reaching that state of 'meditative mindfulness'. That's where its possible to have some room for similarity.
Sometimes, having external influence can help guide us through certain facets of life, affecting our perception of how things are and what we choose to believe.
"My father comes from an Islamic background, however, he doesn't practice Islam anymore and is more tuned towards spirituality; whereas my mother is a little more inclined towards hindusim. My parents have been generous enough not to coax me into religion and give me that freedom of choice.
I guess it also comes from the fact that they're both from separate religions, so maybe they chose to keep it open to the way I like it. The path of meditation and introspection is what I chose, taking after my dad's influence since he got into it before me."
Stagnation and Self - awareness
The thought of 'not settling for average' may sound like it's relative to someone else, since the term 'average' can have different meanings for different individuals. Being average can also be seen as a form of complacency, drawing a comparison to somebody else. Akash elaborates on this:
"Average for me would be... living just for the sake of living. Average for me is not feeling the need or desire to improve your own mental, physical and emotional well-being. This is comparative to myself in the past because there was a time where I didn't feel I was doing anything wrong and because I wasn't thinking about it. When I reflect back now, that phase of my life doesn't compare how I am, how I think and how I feel now. With fitness for example, the past me didn't know that being unhealthy is detrimental, that's something I realised how after experiencing the various benefits that come with health and wellness."
Stagnation, or lack of growth, is something that can be detrimental to virutally every aspect of life. Stagnation may occur with your career, where you feel like you're not growing to your true potential. When people think of relationships ending, they often tend to look at the extrinsic factors. For example, infidelity, communication or compatibility issues. The underlying theme recurring in each of these causes is stagnation. Stagnation comes from rigidity and lack of openness to new experiences, when we're so intent on following a routine or a habit that we lose sight of the bigger picture, of our true worth and what we enjoy.
It is important to note that our use of the term stagnation and the quest to improve is not the same as being content in life. Having content and gratitude about everything you have been gifted with and have accomplished is paramount to a more peaceful, fulfilling life.
However, the cause of stagnation is not limited to cases where individuals are satisfied with their lives. It is also possible that stagnation stems from lack of action which then leads to complacency.
"I feel that everyone strives for improvement, and desires to be in a better state in some way or the other. People have a lack of action and motive, and are likely trying to move with the waves of life. That's where I feel it's it's not that 'everything's great', it's that I wanted something better but I don't know how and that's fine. Linking back to the point we made about being a robot, where you don't realise what your response is. Your actions may be signs that you're stuck in a loop but your loop isn't ending because you're complacent, and you have to break free and you can only break free if you know yourself inside out to know what the next step might be."
Life has an interesting way of throwing curveballs at us. Whenever we fail to accomplish a goal or a objective, think of it as life asking you- 'I know you want something, but just how bad do you want it? How far are you willing to go to achieve that elusive target?'
Nowadays, everything is so easily available and accessible on the internet. All that's needed is a balance, one with growth and content as Bhuwan describes:
"There comes a point in people's lives that once they achieve a lot success, that they don't want to strive for more and just want to enjoy their life. so I read this in this book called Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. She talks about how she was an interior designer and was successful, but in the end she wasn't happy with all the mental clutter she had also accumulated. She then slowly got rid of the extra stuff and became mindful of all the things that she had and she was grateful for it. Spending time with her daughter, living in the countryside and just enjoying nature was what she was missing."
Improvement can manifest in various forms, whether that be with regard to your relationship with someone, improving your mental and physical well-being, or being more self-aware and spending time with yourself.
It's entirely possible and understandable that after achieving success, someone might feel that they have it all and wish to take a step back and relax. However, after a while if an element of stagnation enters the picture, eventually they would want to get moving in some way or the other to spice things up.
A Sustainable Motive
Nowadays, meditation has become more of a trend, with numerous applications coming out that teach us the fundamentals of how to start. Earlier, people used to watch YouTube videos for maybe 8-10 minutes, before shorter videos were introduced. Music videos that used to be 6-7 minutes long are now 3-4 minutes, some even having 1 minute previews which people listen to before moving towards another preview of another song. Then came along Tik Tok with 10 second clips and that's what our attention span has come down to, as we crave that dopamine hit again and again as some sort of a feedback loop, or even a drug. Taneesh shares his perspective on downloading an app for meditation to get into the practice:
"The way I see it, if somebody is downloading an app for mindfulness or an app for meditation, I'd say why not? If that's what it takes to help you get back to at least 10 minutes of attention, then it's worth a shot and definitely better than not doing it in the first place! At the end of the day, it's a baby step that you take. You might realise you don't need it, you might realise you're better than this or you might realise you like it and it turns out to be a long-lasting journey for good. Better off than when you started."
There are two routes someone might take when choosing to pursue something, as Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck states in the following video:
Having an application for meditation can be a useful starting point, but approaching it with a mentality to 'join the herd' or to follow some sort of a new health trend would only set yourself up for failure, because it simply is not sustainable. Think of whatever you're good at (don't say nothing, we're all good at something). It can be a sport, a form of art, a passion or even a skill. Chances are, you picked up this habit or hobby and are good at it because you genuinely enjoy it.
"I used an application to start practicing yoga before moving onto YouTube, but my approach from the get-go was to openly welcome this new practice into my daily habit and learn from it as much as I can. After a few days, I found myself appreciating how I felt after each yoga session, and so I've continued to do it on my own without necessarily having external guidance."
Mindfulness can be practiced easily within the comfort of your home. All it takes is sitting down, closing your eyes shutting everything out. Just you, intimately with your thoughts.
"Once you get lost in another thought, you acknowledge that you got side-tracked and slowly come back to what you were trying to focus on, maybe your breath."
Think of being in a meditative state as you gazing in the sky, all the thoughts are like clouds passing through so without paying much attention to them, let them pass. Don't beat yourself up for getting those thoughts or getting distracted. Be mindful and grateful for the fact that you went ahead and took out a few minutes out of your day to treat your body.
In relation to the universe, we might not be very relevant. When it comes to our own avid consciousness, that relevance.... adopts a whole new persona, one that it's built upon years of life and experience.
For a brief summary of this blog post, visit Medium