Mindfulness

I need to be more mindful. I need to be much more aware of what I’m doing and, probably far more importantly, what I’m not doing. This insight came from an unexpected source: my weekly iPhone Screen Time Report.

Here is a photographic reproduction of a portion of that report. There are a few significant elements.

I am being completely honest when I say to you that I have no point of reference to know where my daily average of one and a quarter hours (rounding down) sits on the spectrum of smartphone users, but I do know, based upon the evidence of this report and therefore of my own eyes, (my standard measuring stick) that it is 75% less time than I spent on there the week before.

The other thing to note is that I’m not showing you the full image. If you’ve ever seen an iPhone Screen Time report you know that in addition to telling you the average time you spent staring at your phone they are kind enough to break down how you spent said time. They categorize, first, into Games, Social Networking, and Productivity. They show it to you in a lovely stacked bar chart. The games portion is a lovely deep blue. Social networking is an equally pleasant sky blue. Productivity is brown. (I’ll just leave that alone, although the humorist in me says, “Run with that shit!” and then the layers of symbolism in that thought overcome me and I lay in a laughing puddle on the floor for several minutes – very counter-productive, actually.)

Needless to say that if I were to print that portion of the screen report, enlarge it, have it printed onto canvas using a large format printer, and then framed it to pass it off as abstract expressionist art, the only title I could give it in good conscience, is “Arrangement in Two Shades of Large Blue Blocks, Each Infected with a Thin Brown Line.”

And I’d chuckle about brown again, but less this time.

But, as usual, this post isn’t really about what I’ve spent the entire opening section discussing, i.e. my Screen Time Report, abstract expressionism, or things that are brown. (huh huh).

Image credit: Wildheart Media

It is about Mindfulness.

I expect this is a phrase that means something slightly different to anyone who considers it.

Let me tell you what it means to me.

To me mindfulness is (and must be, as I’ll explain later), making a concerted effort, at all times, to THINK ABOUT WHAT I’M DOING. At the very least. This becomes even more effective when I do that thinking in light of a goal I have set. Allow me to elaborate.

To me mindfulness is making a concerted effort, at all times, to THINK ABOUT WHAT I’M DOING

S.J. Varengo

First, it is probably not too shocking that my goal, eternally, is to write. I want to write productively, meaning either working actively on a project or producing something to be disseminated via the social network – and this latter, for me to feel it was a legitimate use of time, refers to something writing-related (such as the post you’re reading), or something designed to discuss or advance an important issue, (such as asking people to #wearamask).

Not my hand, notebook, or laptop (or delightfully rustic work surface), but this is how I work, interestingly (or not).

Therefore, if I’m practicing mindfulness, everything I do during the day, including those things which have nothing to do with writing, must be done with the goal in mind.

Therefore using my phone to post an image of myself wearing a mask as an encouragement to others to perhaps do the same is not running counter to the goal, but playing Homescapes is. Does this mean I will never allow myself to relax and play a game on my phone? Of course not. It just means that I have to be mindful of how doing that will effect the goal. I can play as long as I want (or until I quickly burn off all my lives on a difficult level) if I’ve already gotten 2500 words in the can for the day. If I haven’t, then playing the game is probably negatively influencing my chances of meeting the goal.

Obviously, there are non-writing related tasks that I have to do on any given day. Eating, they tell me, is essential to staying alive, and I must be alive to write, so therefore it’s connected, but not directly. Unless the project at hand is a cookbook. I have a wife and two adult children who don’t really need me much these days, but they still seem keen on interacting, so of course, I carve out time for them. To be brutally honest if there is one area in my life that usurps more writing time than any other, it is my family. Once you’re done gasping or disappointedly shaking your head I will qualify that statement by saying that if my back is against the wall I will ALWAYS pick family, but there is mindfulness in this as well, and that brings us to the next layer of the process.

Being mindful based upon a goal involves a weighting of the non-writing aspects. If I’m not going to write, it has to be because I’m doing something of sufficient import as to not make me feel guilty for doing the alternate activity instead. Family carries the most weight, (and no, I’m not calling them fat), and it will not be wasted time. Food and drink, ditto. Keeping my living environment from morphing into a set from a war film is also weighty.

But at some point enough weighty things can pop up in a given day, and I begin to feel as though it’s become too much. I’m no longer doing necessary things, I’m doing necessary things to the goal’s detriment.

Not my face, not my sweat, but this is how I feel when being resolute, interestingly (or not).

And some days are going to be like that. It’s okay. As long as I’m mindful of it. As long as I tell myself, “These things are necessary, and today they are going to prevent me from writing or writing all that I planned. Tomorrow I will strive to meet the goal once more.”

The key to it all is understanding that being mindful doesn’t have anything to do with beating myself up for failing to achieve the goal for that day. It has to do with recognizing the things I do that can legitimately be considered wasteful of the hours I have been gifted, the hours in which to be productive, and then consciously endeavoring to not drift into the same behavior once having recognized it, having acknowledged it.

This is something I’ve learned from doing guided meditations. One part of most of these, once you’ve begun to relax, is to survey your body, just to recognize and acknowledge any feelings or sensations, without needing to label them as good or bad. My task is just to be mindful of their existence, and then return my focus to the goal.

And so we’ve come full circle, arriving back to the Screen Time Report. I will not lie and tell you that the realization that I’d decreased my time on the phone by 75% didn’t both please and appall. But the difference between this week and the prior seven days to which it was compared is two-fold:

#1

I was mindful of all the things I’m doing that impeded my writing, and I either delayed them or avoided them altogether, depending upon their weight.

#2

I wrote.

I started a new project that has fired my imagination and I feel it is a sustainable story, which is to say it has to bones to become a novel. It is, however, so embryonic that this is all the dirt I’m dishing for right now.

I mentioned above that I’d explain the definition of mindfulness that I use. To say that for me mindfulness is (and must be), making a concerted effort, at all times, to THINK ABOUT WHAT I’M DOING, reveals a truth.

This man, a butler named Austin, is both the boon and bane of my existence!

It is ridiculously easy to not be mindful and to spend 75% more time playing Homescapes. For me, it has to be a concerted effort to stay on track.

Yes. I literally need to be mindful about being mindful. But even at this level of understanding, I’m admitting to you that all of the effort I’m putting into focus, into mindfulness is designed to recognize the fact that as a writer some of my most useful, even practical ideas come out of the blue at inopportune times, and I need to mindful of their potential value.

Bottom line, I’m putting my gradually reawakening mind to work on policing itself, so that I can continue using it to make art.

If you write this mindset may prove useful to you and I welcome you to adapt and adopt. But it works for any goal. If everything you do in the time between when your eyes blink open and when they eventually close for the night, you do thinking about how it will act upon the weightiest thing in your life, you’re going to close your eyes happily at the end of many productive nights.

Writers, make an appointment with your keyboard today and…

…be, mindful, my friends!

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