Mindfulness Thinking and the Disease of Being Busy

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Mindfulness: what is it to you? How can you apply it to your life? What significant meaning does mindfulness and mindful thinking have on you as a student, as a person of society? These are the questions that my college has chosen to raise this semester with the theme of the science, ethics, and practice of mindfulness. This semester at Goucher College features discussion-based seminars, activities, and presentations, all designed to get students talking, comparing, analyzing, critiquing and relating to the concept of mindfulness.

I recently attended a seminar to hear Omid Safi speak on the disease of being busy, and maintaining peace in your heart in a mad world. This encouraged listeners to think about mindfulness and ask questions of their own. Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is something we incorporate into our everyday lives in small but meaningful ways. One can choose daily affirmations that encourage the acknowledgment of gratefulness, and organizational methods that keep us on task and allow us to grow into the successful students and citizens we strive to be. But, what about the things we don't do habitually? Is there more we can do to be mindful, think mindfully, and act with a sense of mindfulness?

Safi introduced his seminar with the notion that our time and our breaths are finite. Every breath that we take, from the time we are born, is written and that there is no internal or external force that can reduce or extend those breaths. According to Safi, we live in a world controlled by the disease of business: everyone has something to do, a place to be, a person to see. He used examples from his home life, such as how he was trying to arrange a playdate with his daughter and her friend, only to realize the child's schedule is busier than it should be. That his young child was busy at all did not seem right. From his examples, the audience could see how just how far the effects of the Disease of Business have trickled down the ladder. What happened to being bored? What happened to getting dirty in the mud, and just being a kid? Safi raised these questions, encouraging us to think more deeply about them.

As a college student, I find myself in a constant state of business. From the moment I wake up to the moment I lay down, my mind is occupied with plans, deadlines, study references and the like. Even as I'm winding down, my mind is never still; I'm planning for the next day or rewinding the day to make sure there's nothing left to do. This can be, as Safi described, heavy on the mind and heavy on the heart. This perpetual state of preoccupation has corrupted our world to the point that we have chosen the screens on our computers over our daughters asking to play, as Safi explains.

This disease of being busy extends to our social interactions with one another as well. Safi explained the reluctance, even refusal, to express intimacy by providing an uncomfortable, yet eye-opening (pun intended) exercise. Each person in the audience turned to their neighbor, gazing into their eyes and trying to search for the true color of their eyes. Giggles and laughter soon erupted in as young adults and professors alike gazed into the eyes of those who they didn't know, and those they knew quite well. Once the discomfort and timidness wore off, Safi continued to explain that we're deathly afraid to be seen. As much as we crave and need intimacy, we are so afraid to express it and receive it.

He offered a simple solution, that I feel can help change society for the better. If we can practice mindfulness by slowly incorporating it into our lives, accepting challenges making them a bit less daunting, we will truly be living in a mindful state.

Omid Safi is a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, and the author of Memories of Mohammed: Why the Prophet Matters.

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For the month of April, I will be doing a 30-day mindfulness challenge in which I explore some of the ways in which I can incorporate mindful thinking into my daily life. I encourage you to do the same and please feel free to leave comments.

The original article can be found here