What’s So Bad About Ourselves?: The Creeping Spectre of Mindfulness


“When you don’t feel yourself, time flies by; when you do feel yourself (in the shopping queue, any waiting situation) time drags. That’s why people, even when they have to wait only for two minutes at Starbucks, check their smart phone. They want to get distracted from themselves and time.

Boredom means ‘I am bored by my own existence, therefore I seek distraction from myself.’”

“Entertain Yourself” by Stuart Whatley in L.A. Review of Books

It’s me. I’m the problem.

I have to admit that I have a bad habit: I read when I walk.

My work is a fifteen minute walk on a bad day from my apartment, but I despise making the commute without a book. My partner, who is originally from France, where life moves at a decidedly slower pace, and usually much more focussed on the slow pleasures of food, leisure, and beautiful things, thinks I am crazy. When I live in a picturesque little neighbourhood, on one side bordered by a university, the other abutting sprawling trees and the Northwest Arm only a stone’s throw away, how could I possibly close myself off from it?

Plus the risk of getting run over by a car. Or something. (It’s actually pretty major coming from him; he’s a voracious reader, as well.)

And… Well. It’s because I can’t stand it, only until I read the above quote, I didn’t really know what I couldn’t stand, not having the right word for it.

I don’t like feeling myself.

The difference between “myself” and “like myself”

Let me be clear that that’s “myself” and not “like myself”. I am talking about being conscious of my consciousness, aware of my awareness, feeling my boredom, feeling my body instead of the lake of information it sits in.

If that sounds a lot like mindfulness, it probably explains why mindfulness does not easily gain traction among the very subpopulation who would most benefit from a few body scans.

Nope, I downloaded the Longform app six months ago so that, at the touch of a button, I can now feel any of a universe of information in lieu of myself, including, but not limited to: why Chelsea Clinton will be stuck being first daughter again, analysis after analysis of Brexit, and something about potatoes. In fact the article that the quote was lifted from was digested while on just such a crusade against mindfulness.

It is hard work to be mindful, is what I’m trying to say. I combat it daily.

However, the key, I think, is not to beat one’s self up about these “bad” habits. The inability to practice mindfulness is probably endemic to the human condition; it’s certainly not helped either by the type of world we live in now, permanently crippled by social media’s demand of more, more, more tweets, emails, thoughts that don’t flow.

I remind myself that it’s enough just to try, as a start.

So I try to allow myself a mindful moment each day. The setting is always different. Two days ago, I whipped out the Pacifica app tuned to the famous deep breathing exercise, whilst parked under a tree in the Halifax Public Garden. Yesterday, I took a moment to notice the feeling of water as I squeezed in a workout at the local pool. And today I sunned myself for exactly ten minutes on a patio at work over lunchtime, relishing the dumpling clouds in a rare blue sky.

And yeah, so what if I listened to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in the shower, every time I shower, because I can’t stand not thinking about anything in the shower, hashtag #noregrets!

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