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December 21, 2012 / A Mindful Traveler

Elementary Mindfulness. It’s Not the End of the World

I didn’t see this New York Times article by the psychologist Maria Konnikova about mindfulness on Sunday, but my mother thoughtfully shared it with me.  I highly recommend reading it in its entirety but would like to highlight two quotations for the text that summarize its key points nicely.

(1) “Though the concept originates in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese traditions, when it comes to experimental psychology, mindfulness is less about spirituality and more about concentration: the ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention on the present, and dismiss any distractions that come your way.”

(2) “Mindfulness may have a prophylactic effect: it can strengthen the areas that are most susceptible to cognitive decline. When we learn to unitask, to think more in line with Holmes’s detached approach, we may be doing more than increasing our observational prowess. We may be investing in a sounder mental future — no matter how old we are.”

The emphasis on the word “unitask” is my  own.  I think it’s telling that I found this word unusual since I (and I suspect most people) are more used to multitasking both as a concept and in our daily lives. Unitasking is something I’ve found is important when arriving in a new place.  What’s often most overwhelming is not knowing what to focus on, particularly when faced with the diversity in every sense I’ve encountered here in Bangkok.  A frequent piece of advice given travelers arriving in a new place is to focus, first of all, on reaching their destination.  In this case, it means avoiding touts, distractions, and people trying to sell you things.  I think the same applies for life, albeit with the added difficulty that relatively few people are aware of their destinations.  (I’m certainly not for one.)

Fortunately, according to the Mayan calendar, today marks not the end of the world, but a new beginning.

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