Engage Fully In Life

What do I mean by “engage” fully?

I mean two things, actually.  Both are ways of connecting with life in a particular way.  Both of these concepts are discussed more and more frequently in the last few years.  Just about every course I take, or book I read about happiness discuss these ideas.  I discuss them together because, to me, they seem very related.

The first way to better engage in life is with “mindfulness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn is a big name in the world of mindfulness.  He very successfully introduced mindfulness (an Westernized offshoot of Vipassana meditation) in a Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and his course has since been taught in hospitals, schools, churches and community centers throughout the country.  He defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment.”

Have you ever looked back on a day (or, in my case, a week or even a month) and not really remember any specific thing that happened?  I don’t mean this in a memory impairment kind of way, but more like everything sort of takes on a shade of gray…nothing stands out.  When this happens to me, it is as if I am on autopilot…either from boredom, or from overwhelm trying to fit way too much to do into a short amount of time, with the result that it seems I don’t have time to pay attention.

Does this sound familiar?  Lately, I’ve been suffering the consequences of taking on way too much.  I am not good at realizing my limits and knowing when to say no… to requests, opportunities, self-imposed challenges, etc…  The result is that my kids start school tomorrow, and I don’t remember much of summer.  It’s gone…and I don’t know where it went.  It’s not that we didn’t do fun things. We did.  But I had so much else on my mind––the deadline for an editing project, the appointments to fit in for a project I should never have taken on, the appointments and calls for another project, the blog project, the video project, the e-book project, my aging and ailing dog, my own health care, my own fitness goals…it really goes on and on.  I get tired thinking of it.  Sadly, I can’t say that I am completely enjoying and engaging in any one thing, because too much else is always on my mind.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to one thing only…the breath…the feeling of your heartbeat…the taste of a grape…the feel of your dog’s nose.  You get the picture.  It’s about focusing, and not being carried away by the incessant thinking that is always trying to get attention.  When you are able to be more mindful, even for a few moments at a time, you begin to see what you are missing by listening and being carried away by that voice in your head.

So I’m not doing so well at mindfulness right now, except that I am now mindful of my mindlessness.  As they say, admitting there is a problem is the first step toward fixing it.

The second approach to becoming more engaged in life is by finding “flow,” or being “in the zone.” This occurs when you are so immersed and focused on what you are doing, that time disappears…indeed…you disappear.  An athlete can easily relate to this concept; but in truth, we all have the ability to find flow.  Flow occurs when your skill doing something you love is equally matched by the challenge in front of you.  If you love to play chess and you are very good at it, the chances are not great that you will experience flow until you play someone of equal caliber.  Then again, if you love chess, but you are horrible, you won’t be in flow when you challenge a pro and are thoroughly trounced.

I’ve experienced flow reading pathology slides, reading something challenging, studying for exams and sometimes even taking exams!  These days, I mostly find it when I write…and sometimes when I am lifting weights.  You know you are in flow when the sense of time disappears, and when you are completely energized by what you are doing.

My goal is to experience mindful flow.  Now that would be a kick!