The Unfashionable Practice of Paying Attention

These days, there sure is a lot of hype about mindfulness and meditation. As the yoga pant Mecca of North America, Vancouver is a flurry of meditation and yoga activity – in daily conversation, blogs, news, advertisements, and often incorporated into routines. You just can’t get away from it.

If you have ever tried yoga, or given meditation a concerted effort, the positive – maybe even peak – experience you may have felt, can be a testament to the hype. Aside from those with an aversion to all things New Age, or unless these practices somehow conflict with your existing belief set, mindfulness in its Western form is a relatively non-controversial and commonplace practice nowadays- so long as you’re in the yoga studio, or say, at Hollyhock.

In every day life: think again. Every where you go, more than ever you’ll find people not paying attention. In restaurants, people are snapping photos of their food or texting, while sitting across from their dining partners (who are maybe doing the same). In meetings, people are present in body but not mind, as they hide behind laptop screens, typing frantically. On the street, the perils of being struck by a car or bicycle are ever-present to those who walk with their heads down, and obsessively bent over an iPhone.

It is a curious irony which has become increasingly difficult to ignore. It’s the relationship between one’s consistent unwillingness to focus attention on the task at hand, and enthusiasm to jump on the mindfulness train. The more distracted we are, the more we crave focus, and the more we engage in practices to cultivate it. The missing piece: its application.

Much like yoga, there are multiple reasons to practice meditation. It is an effective treatment for stress reduction, it can help improve quality of sleep, and it may slow the mechanisms which are involved in aging. However, when you leave the cushion (or mat) and leave mindfulness behind, you are missing the point of the entire practice: paying attention.