Most mornings, as I pedal going nowhere on the stationary bike at the Park Cities Y, I multitask. Glancing at two TV screens, watching the stock-market ticker and the guests of the morning talk shows, I also assemble my myriad newspapers and magazines and scan simultaneously. I cherry pick the articles that interest me over and above extreme weather and the shootings of the day. These feature stories can be as conflicting as they are informative and entertaining.
Here’s what’s new: the mind, or focusing the mind in order to de-stress from the sort of multitasking I am doing. As usual, there is no consensus on how to do this, only a consensus that we should, ought to, must.
Just as experts told us not to eat chocolate, coffee, coconuts, or butter – or drink alcohol – a couple of years ago, the experts have now told us coffee is good and can enhance students’ performance before exams, coconut milk is terrific, and butter is better for the heart than margarine.
If you’ve cut out grapefruit, cheese, and bread, and feel deprived, not to worry. Just live a few more years, and some expert will tell you – after further study – that it’s beneficial if you’re not allergic. (Go ahead and indulge. I’m in a newspaper, which practically makes me an expert, and I love and eat them all.)
But the body is not what’s trending right now, it’s this billion-dollar business of de-stressing our minds in the information age. There are a spate of books, workshops, and gurus on mindfulness: regaining sanity amidst the barrage of tweets, posts, clicks, texts, traffic, and the news. Reconnecting with self. For many, that equals meditation.
Of course, to the baby boomers, this is déjà vu: the Sixties’ age of hippiedom, the Beatles off to meditate with a guru in India, tuning out and turning on. But this movement is not about the new recreational pot laws in some states or ™blowing your mind.∫ This is so very Steve Jobs, the great meditator and innovator, albeit also a reason we are now so stressed with his technology.
Corporations, individuals, and couples are signing up for courses in meditation and mindfulness. Pain can be refocused in patients, marital problems observed with detachment, corporate team-building achieved after getting a better sense of self. The technique is to focus on the breath until all distracting thoughts are observed and sent non-critically away, until there is a mental rebooting. Following meditation, the idea is to focus mindfully on the mundane, like ™wandering aimlessly∫ and feeling the foot’s heel and sole when walking. You can pay $300 for a weekend to practice this homework. (Or maybe just turning off the cellphone is the poor man’s start to ™mindfulness.∫)
However, some experts insist that all this mindfulness eliminates creativity or ™implied learning∫ – reading facial expressions, learning grammatical cadences, and registering rhythm comes through a sort of osmosis when we’re tuned out, not in. It’s important not to focus so much on a mantra or the breath but to daydream, space out, and focus on absolutely nothing. (Like many of my students did when I taught school.) It’s during such times we have epiphanies and ™a-ha∫ moments, when inventions and discoveries are made. So another debate: tiger mom or soccer mom? Mediterranean or protein diet? Focus or daydream?
I can relax because I already do both. I can daydream and space out pretty well, especially during boring meetings. As a childhood asthmatic, all we did was focus on my breath, so I think now I’m off the hook. And I have had aimless wandering down pat for several years now, focusing on … ™What am I looking for? A-ha! My car keys. To go get … what?∫
Lightbulb. Oh, yes: some coffee at Starbucks and a brownie. Do you mind?
Len Bourland is blogging these days at lenbourland.com.