Mindless or Mindful


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Are you mindless or mindful?  Maybe you are both, mindless and mindful?

I have been thinking about these two words and what they mean for me, especially over the last few weeks as we pass through the midwinter season.  I try and be mindful all of the time. I find it helpful as I negotiate my way in life; in my relationships, how I look after my body, mind and spirit and in the choices I make. Being mindful involves effort; you need to pay attention. “Pay attention!” This takes me straight back to the classroom; one of the first lessons as children we are taught. What a valuable lesson to learn!

The mind is an abstract thing; we can’t define it, touch, see, smell or hear it. It’s not tangible, but we can sense it, we know it exists, we are aware we have one because we  have thoughts. Being mindful then is being aware of our thoughts. Simple.

Unfortunately being mindful is not simple at all: in any given moment we have an agenda, a primary agenda — whatever we are doing in the present moment, but thoughts crash in and we can get diverted by these thoughts, by the secondary agenda.

I try and be mindful so I don’t get diverted, so I can stay with my primary agenda, the what I am doing in the moment, the what I have chosen to do, that which is best for me and those around me, but not always is this easy, especially when we are with others or being bombarded by the trappings of traditions and customs as we are this time of year.

Have you given thought to what you are doing now? Are you being mindful?


So what about being mindless? Is this just the opposite to being mindful and if I strive to be mindful because I have discovered the benefits being mindful brings in my life, do I then want to avoid finding myself in a mindless state? Are mindless activities seen as less beneficial and would I be better off avoiding this state of being?

I associate mindless activities with routine and habit, doing things without thinking about them, things that are repetitive, done without concern or worry. Mindlessness is an inactive state of mind and as such, can be a good thing. I can draw on the past, rely on rules and routines deeply imbedded, ones I can fall back on, ones that may have served me well. This can be comforting, relaxing even, but beware — these deeply imbedded automations may be governing what we do, rather than guiding us and as such may not be good for our wellbeing.

Have you given thought to whether you act out of mindlessness?

I believe there is a cost to acting out of mindlessness. I know this to be true for me, as I have suffered (and I have caused others to suffer) from not paying attention to myself and what is right for me. I have neglected my own wellbeing through not being mindful. Accepting things without questioning them is an act of mindlessness. Here’s a simple example: I grew up seeing and believing a family consists of a mummy, a daddy, and a child and if the child is fortunate, they would have a brother or a sister, grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. I grew up without a father, a mother who wasn’t able to mother and no siblings. I did not question that families were defined in this traditional way and so I hid and pretended all was well, that my family was like any other, when in truth it was far from being like any other. It caused me heartache and pain.

Moving from mindlessness to being mindful however is not always a conscious choice and sadly, I lived many decades before finding self awareness. This is common; many people live their whole lives not discovering mindfulness. For some, a shift or an awakening is needed. My awakening came when my mother died.

Here’s another simple, seasonal example of being mindful: last week I was in the city. It was manic with seasonal shoppers and bargain hunters. I had come into the city to meet with a writing friend, to share our work. After a pleasant couple of hours, we said goodbye and I headed towards the bus station. Passing Marks & Spencer, somehow I found myself drawn to go inside and before I realised what I was doing, I was in the womenswear department amid the crazed throng of shoppers. Fortunately, I caught myself – “what am I doing” I asked as I headed for the nearest exit, thanking myself for being self aware.


Now to the writing. What have my musings on mindfulness and it’s benefits in contrast to mindlessness got to do with writing?

To understand mindfulness, to remind yourself to practise it, or to explain it to someone else, consider a creative writing technique – the metaphor.

Metaphors that have the following elements are very useful in understanding mindfulness:

  • someone (or something) that represents you
  • something that represents your thoughts/feelings/perceptions
  • a situation in which you have an opportunity to react to your thought
  • a reaction that would lead to an undesirable consequences and
  • another reaction that would lead to more desirable consequences

Here are a couple of examples:

The River of Life — sometimes it feels like we’re being carried away downstream in the river, struggling to stay afloat amongst all the mud, filth and debris (i.e. our thoughts)     But instead we can choose to stand on the riverbank and watch as those thoughts, events, sensations, feelings go by.

The Mountain — whatever the weather, or whatever happens on the surface of the mountain – the mountain stands firm, strong, grounded, permanent.  We can choose to be like the mountain – we can observe our thoughts, feelings and sensations.


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