I heard about a viral video of a woman walking down the stairs onto a subway platform. Except she didn’t notice where she was, and she kept walking right off the edge, falling to the track area below. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, and neither was the child she was carrying. It’s easy to judge this situation, thinking how on earth could she have missed what was right in front of her? This example is extreme, to be sure, but I can see how this could happen. She might have been tired, thinking about where she needed to be and the errands she had to run. Or she might have been worrying about the route she’d chosen, thinking she should have gone another way. In other words, she may have been living like most of us do, our bodies in the present while our minds are stuck in the past or the future.
Our brains are designed to think about things, so there’s nothing abnormal about this tendency. But this is just a different form of distraction. We are multi-tasking, doing things with our bodies while our heads are wrapped up in something else. But if we aren’t careful, our lives may move on around us while we’re busy stuck in thought. The moments we allow to pass by unnoticed are still deducted from our time on earth, but we aren’t living them.
The cure for distraction is choosing to do just one thing at a time. This is what is meant by staying present, or being mindful. It’s simple, really. Just do what you’re doing, while thinking only about what you’re doing and experiencing it with all your senses. If you’re eating, sit and eat. Think about the food in your mouth, the texture, the flavor and the smell. If you’re folding laundry, feel the warm clothes and smell the clean scents and think about the precise corners you’re deliberately making in the shirts. If you’re walking, feel the earth beneath your feet, see the people around you and hear the sounds of the cars. You won’t miss a thing.
You may notice an amazing thing happening. You may start to enjoy what you’re doing. Even washing the dishes! Without thoughts judging the activity or creating anxiety about the other chores that need completing, this moment of warm soapy water and a stack of clean dishes can be a pleasure. Every moment is worth this amount of attention. This is presence. This is a moment lived.