A 3-year-old is contented playing with a toy. This all-absorbing activity goes on for a minute or two, and then attention moves onto something else, which may or may not then provide contentment.
An 8-year-old loves Lego and craft projects, also getting totally absorbed. Yet at times she may have a frown on her face, as some thought crosses her mind during the activity. It may be the worry monster. Monkey mind has usurped her attention, disturbing her contentment. Do we not all have this battle with monkey mind?
At age very much more, I absent-mindedly carry a cup of coffee up the stairs to my study, just as most days. One day, my slipper catches a step and a few drops are spilled onto the stair carpet, followed by panic, wetting, rubbing and blotting to try to avoid consequent stains. Since then, I strive to always carry cups of drink in full mindfulness, when there is no chance of spillage.
So mindfulness can be very beneficial. But then comes the beautiful sunny day when I congratulate myself on just how mindful I am being, and immediately trip on the pavement. It’s not easy.
When driving a car, we adults are very much like grandson absorbed in the act, yet we are required to perform the seemingly superhuman task of holding full mindful attention for an hour or two until the next break. If the worry monster finds space our driving is probably impaired. But there is that wonderful feature of humans called auto-pilot, where ‘I’ continue driving the car while speaking to a passenger, worrying or pondering on some problem – just as I carried the coffee upstairs while thinking of other things.
The scary thing is when you ‘wake up’ and realise that you’ve been absorbed in thought for the last mile or so of motorway, while ‘you’ were driving the car on auto-pilot. Who the hell was in charge? And did it matter?
If you really want to know more about, and develop, your powers of attention, try B. Alan Wallace’s book ‘The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind’, which could take you all the way to Shamatha of the Buddhist tradition.
Featured image from Truck clipart.