You are driving along in your car and you can not stop talking to yourself. You are so caught up in mental chatter that you do not even know how you pulled into the driveway.
You stand up from sitting in a chair and do not even recall the process of standing up because you were so busy thinking about what you need to do next.
You are walking up a flight of stairs and you do not remember going up the stairs because you were thinking about something that just happened downstairs (We only become present once we trip and fall).
While sitting on the couch reading a book, you can not enjoy reading the book because you can’t stop thinking about everything that needs to get done. You give up on the book and turn the TV on because it is the only thing that quiets your chattering mind.
The opposite of mindfulness is anxiety. Anxiety is a state of being disembodied. We are so identified with thought (ego), mainly about what we fear happening in the future, that almost everything else gets excluded. Anxiety is irrational (because it is not fully aware of what is occurring now), whereas mindfulness is rational (because it is aware and accepting of what is happening right now). Mindfulness is an aware and embodied state of being. When we are embodied, meaning we are aware of this breath, this step, this feeling, that thought, that sound- we are being mindful. Anxiety only exists when we live from the neck up.
The situations above describe various common states of disembodiment, which all have one cause in common- anxiety.
Anxiety steals our life from us in the same way that an angry partner or parent might steal our joy. When we are anxious we are losing precious time worrying about things that are not happening right now. The simple, embodied pleasures of driving a car, walking down a hallway, sitting and standing, breathing, moving your fingers, seeing, listening to sounds (which are usually only realized to be such fulfilling pleasures once they are lost) are stolen away from us because of our ego’s obsession with the past and future (fantasy). We become detached from this moment and as a result we feel disembodied and unstable. This is the doorway where mental illness sneaks in.
We worry about going broke, getting sick, losing our jobs, having a partner cheat on us, those we love getting hurt, our house burning down, ending up in hell and/or things falling from the sky. Our uncontrolled minds turn small, superficial lumps into giant, solid mountains. Our minds conjure up frightening images of what could happen in the future or what happened in the past, sending our bodies into chronic fight or flight mode. We develop headaches, heart troubles, breathing problems, high blood pressure, sleep issues, stomach issues, panic attacks, relationship disturbances all because we can not stop thinking about what is not happening right now! This is why anxiety can often feel like a kind of psychosis. There is a real division between reality (this moment) and what we are imaging in our heads.
Anxiety pulls us deep, deep, deep into our heads. So deep sometimes that we actually confuse the shadows on the wall for reality. The deeper we go into the shadows (past or future) the more we are becoming disembodied. It is only when we are disembodied that we feel feel like we are losing control. Mindfulness is a tool for pulling ourselves away from the shadows and returning to what is real right now.
When we train in mindfulness, first and foremost we are developing the skill of calling the egos bluff. We learn to laugh at the egos ridiculousness, moment by moment. We become aware of our egos never ending chatter in the same way that a flash light can illuminate a dark space. When we learn how to observe the ego without allowing it to run our minds and bodies into the ground, we notice that our ego is a never ending stream of disconnected thoughts. The ego resists accepting reality in the same way that we might resist the dentist. If we were able to play the thoughts that our ego generate through loud speakers and then listen, most likely it would sound like someone who makes no sense and whom you may not be comfortable leaving someone you care about alone with. And this is what we are allowing to drive our lives? No thanks.
If we chose not to suffer this all too human fate, we have options. One option is that we can continually ask ourselves, “What am I doing right now that is causing me to be mindless?” Often times, just by asking this question we will return to a more aware and mindful state. The anxiety will lose its grip, our blood pressure will settle down, we will notice that we are breathing and then we can make a choice. “Do I want to remain present with my life as it is right now or do I want to let the anxiety take over control again?” Ten minutes might pass and you will notice that you are lost in thought again. Then ask yourself the question again, “What am I doing right now that is causing me to be mindless?” As the day goes on and you continue to ask yourself this question- just notice the results. Notice if you begin to feel less anxious and more embodied. It is something that does not require much effort to do but what you get back in return is often what the impact of anxiety is stealing from you- your life right now.