The cursor on my screen moves along swiftly. My wifi is off and my mobile is on “do not disturb” – so no emails, no notifications, and no phone-calls or texts. I’m not worried. I know that in about 30 minutes I’ll check all those devices and whatever I need to attend to can wait until then. Just now I have to write this column and I want to be mindful and present for the task. In many ways, there’s something delightfully calming about this, which is paradoxical because it’s still work.

It seems that as mindfulness is gaining more space in the public conversation, our daily lives are frequently the opposite of this: while minds are full, we’re not mindful. Though mindfulness practice advocates a calm and aware presence in the world, our modern lives are generally marked by a variety of attentions frenetically divided between concerns for others and ourselves managed across a whole variety of devices. We can now reach the world through the device in our pocket, and this device invites our attention more than is healthy for most of us. Are you more mindfull than mindful? Answer a couple of these questions to find out:
  • What were you thinking about when you brushed your teeth this morning?

  • What was the quality of your commute this morning? Do you remember what you were thinking, where you mind was?

  • Can you think of a single image or sense from the moment you woke up to your first cup of tea or coffee?

  • Where was your mind just ten minutes ago?

Answer truly, how present were you within yourself for these events? When running a workshop, I often start by asking participants to take a moment to be mindful of their journeys: from the moment they got out of bed until they arrived at the venue. Time and again I hear about the rich experiences that are recovered during this short meditation, experiences that otherwise would have been missed; the quality of the skylight as they left their home; the kind smile given by the woman who sold them a newspaper; the first whiff of autumn or spring. All of these experiences had happened, but were not registered because the mind was otherwise occupied. Our minds have always been elsewhere. Mindfulness meditation, which originally comes from Buddhist enlightenment tradition, was with us long before we became inundated by technology. While there are libraries full of the variations of mindfulness theory and practice, it can really be reduced to the simple title of Ram Dass’s famous book Be Here Now. That is, quite simply, to focus your attention on the present moment, without judgment and without attachment. Simple. It’s not just spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama or Thich Naht Hahn advocating mindfulness practice for compassion and enlightenment.  There is a lot of good science singing its virtues as a way of dealing with depression, managing terminal illness (See Jon Kabat-Zinn's excellent Full Catastrophe Living) , stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, and everyday concentration.
There are simple ways of pulling mindfulness into your daily life rather than giving in to the easy distractions that surround us all.
While starting a mindful practice as a regular aspect of your daily life  is probably the best way to receive its benefits, there is no reason why you cannot grasp moments of purposeful mindfulness during periods when you would normally allow your attention to be drawn to that smart device in your pocket.

What would it be like if during your commute you sat in quiet reflection rather than distracting yourself with Candy Crush Saga? What if, during a task that requires your concentration, you chose to shut down all other distractions so you could focus your all? This is a way of pulling mindfulness into your daily life rather than giving in to the easy distractions that surround us all.

Try this. Next time you leave your desk, do it mindfully: leave your phone in the drawer. Feel the fresh air as it hits your face for the first time. Feel the weight of your body through your feet as they hit the solid earth. Inhale the air and look around taking in everything: the sights, the sounds, and the smells. If you’re going for lunch, stop to taste it and feel the textures in your mouth. Have a sensory experience. This is being present. This is being mindful. Surely it beats Candy Crush Saga?