A recent survey conducted by Microsoft concluded that human beings now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. The average human attention span according to this survey was eight seconds, down from twelve seconds in the year 2000 1.
Most human beings in the modern world are living with an overly stimulated nervous system. Does this sound like you? Are you plagued by a mind that’s always thinking? Are you torn between several competing thoughts, projects, or web sites all at the same time? Do you go to yoga class to stop the constant spinning of your thoughts, and calm the habitual stress response to life? Are you hungry to find a way to carry the benefits of your yoga practice – peace, clarity, calm and presence — off your mat and into life?
Life is getting more intense and complex than it’s ever been before. It’s requiring that we upgrade the “operating system” of our being. For thousands of years yoga practitioners have been the ones who felt a deeper call, who recognized a deeper longing in their own heart for “something more” than the day to day grind of everyday life. They sensed that there was a better, more efficient, more fulfilling way to live and they dedicated themselves to the practice of yoga to move beyond dukkha – the suffering and dissatisfaction caused by living life in separation consciousness.
So how can we upgrade the operating system of our being and open into a state of yoga in everyday life? We can use the ancient practice of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a synchronization of inner awareness and perception. It’s the ability to be present and bring our attention to what is currently arising in this moment.
Two Types of Mindfulness
There are two different types of mindfulness. The first type of mindfulness requires effort, concentration and focus — what Patanjali refers to as dharana in the Yoga Sutras (3.1). You probably have practiced this type of mindfulness during yoga class when you focused on your breath or felt the stretch in your hamstring muscles during down dog.
The other type of mindfulness that Patanjali referred to in the Yoga Sutras (1.3) is “the seer” or “witness consciousness,” – what he called drastuh. This is a more passive type of awareness, effortlessly running in the background of every moment, like a video camera, registering your experience. You might have experienced this type of mindfulness while sitting cross legged at the end of class — feeling relaxed, spacious and alert.
Mapusa, Goa, India, 2012
How to Practice Mindfulness in the Midst of Everyday Life
To explore mindfulness in everyday life requires “waking up.” Normally we walk through life in a habitual and conditioned consensus trance — moving along in an automated, unconscious way that is very efficient, but not very satisfying. Mindfulness is a two-step process. The first step is to simply “stop.” And the second step is to “pay attention” to what you are doing, seeing, feeling and hearing in this moment.
In everyday life you can apply this type of mindfulness, by stopping periodically throughout your day and pausing to presence what you are experiencing now.
What Mindfulness Feels Like in This Moment
As I do this mindfulness practice right now — I stop and get present to this moment — I feel my hips on the chair, the movement of my breath in my belly, and I notice a little buzz of anxiety in my throat, and a gentle trembling in my heart. As I stop and get present, I hear the hum of the refrigerator downstairs and I notice that my mind wants to know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight. I can feel my elbows resting on the desk and I notice that I’m slumping my low back area. I take a conscious breath, and focus my attention here on my breath. As I do this, I notice that I am more alert, open and available to this moment. This focused type of mindfulness helps me feel more “here” in my body and present to this moment.
Once I’m embodied like that, I can relax my gaze and open up to presence the greater spaciousness in the room. There’s a much more passive, open, receptive way in which I’m mindfully receiving this moment now. I can register a lot of different levels of sensory input all at once without feeling overwhelmed. There is so much space in which to hold everything. I can relax and easily pay attention to receive each unfolding moment. This passive “witnessing” type of mindfulness allows me to pay attention effortlessly and as a result I feel more at home and relaxed.
It’s A Wake Up Call
It’s not our destiny as human beings to have a shorter attention span than goldfish. It is a modern day wake up call, inviting us into the next stage of our evolutionary development. Mindfulness – both focused and passive forms — can be practiced in the midst of everyday life to help us slow down, breathe, feel, and open into a place of greater spaciousness and openness, so we can participate wholeheartedly in the life we are living.
1. Attention Spans, Spring 2015 – Microsoft Advertising (PDF, 2.04 Mb)