You know when you hear a word so much it starts to lose it’s meaning? Mindfulness is a catch word I’ve been hearing about A LOT lately. But what does it actually mean? I talk about mindfulness with my clients quite a bit. In fact I’ll be talking about it my newsletter this month (still time to sign up, I’ll be sending it out early next week).
While on Twitter yesterday, I came across one of the most fabulous blog posts on Mindfulness by Paul Overton on the blog “Every Day is Awesome, Because Cynicism is Exhausting.” So a big thank you to Paul, who has graciously allowed me to re-publish his blog post here. Enjoy the post.
So, I was thinking about the difference between mindfulness and concentration the other day (turns out, there’s quite a big difference), and Wile E. Coyote naturally came to mind. I’ll often try to pair up difficult philosophical concepts with their cartoon counterparts so they are easier to digest and stay with me longer. (Hey, I never said I was Socrates.) Besides, most all of the aspects of the human condition can be found in Warner Brothers cartoons, so it’s as good a place to start as any.
Wile E. has several things going on at once that contribute to his busy, yet ultimately unsatisfying, existence. Paramount among them is his relentless pursuit of the Road Runner. Nobody can accuse him of not having a pinpoint focus when it comes to his favorite adversary, and although he uses it in misdirected and harmful ways, he is nothing if not committed to his cause.
The problem is that, while our friend is capable of setting elaborate traps and making complicated plans, he lacks the ability to carry any of them out to a successful conclusion because he is incapable of having the insight that would allow him to see the fruitlessness of his endeavor in the first place. In a perfect world, Wile E. would possess both a laser-like focus and an expansive, mindful quality that would allow him to see the reality of his situation and perhaps be able to avoid running off cliffs, blowing himself up, and being crushed by so many boulders.
So would I.
Concentration, at its core, is just the ability to force the mind to focus on one object to the exclusion of all else. Skillful use of concentration can be a powerful force for good. Unskillful concentration is usually harmful, especially when it is directed in a way that is intended to do damage to others. So when you picture Mr. Coyote unpacking his latest purchase of deadly cargo from the Acme company and carefully assembling it, you can see that lack of concentration, even if that concentration is misguided, is not his problem.
His problem is that he’s got nothing to temper that laser-like focus with. He lives in a world where there is only the Road Runner and the end of the Road Runner. Every single action he takes, in every minute of every day, is directed toward the bird’s destruction, with no attention given to why he even feels the need to catch him so badly. Obsession, greed, and craving are what drives his single mindedness, leaving no room for any balance in his life. He lacks the ability to see his life clearly and objectively from a distance. He is unable to look through any lens besides the one he has always known. He is determined to stay blind to the truth.
Back at the cave, our friend Canis latrans is steeped in concentration, as he assembles his rocket skates, but seriously lacking in the mindfulness department. If he weren’t, perhaps he’d be asking himself what his motivation is in chasing the Road Runner in the first place. Perhaps he’d see that his life is passing him by as he pursues his single minded goal of catching what, he thinks, will bring him happiness. Maybe he would wake up to the fact that harming the road runner is tantamount to harming himself. Perhaps he would realize that freedom from the Road Runner would allow him to have a more meaningful purpose to his life. But then, that wouldn’t be a very funny cartoon, would it?
**NOTE: If you were expecting an episode of Ten Minutes of Awesome today, I have pushed it back by a day because it will include a very special guest that, due to her touring schedule, could not record an interview until today. The podcast will appear at 12:01 am on Wednesday morning.
“Paul Overton is a prolific blogger, maker, writer, and ukulele player living in Durham, NC with four dogs, two co-conspirators, and a lawn that makes his neighbors want to call the authorities. He delights in the unusual and can often be found in his tiny studio next to the record shop, whipping up some sort of self-indulgent nonsense for his own amusement.”