Great Philosopher, Blaise Pascal once wrote, " All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
Our conscious attention is like a precious natural resource and like all natural resources, it's limited. Our conscious brain can only take up to 60 bits of information we receive every second the rest 99.9994% is processed by our subconscious mind. The average human attention span is for eight seconds, that's one second less than that of a goldfish. So, we tend to multitask, only it doesn't work. It's a cognitive illusion sort of like the way when we go to watch a movie, we know what's happening on the screen is just a barrage of visuals but it feels like movement and we don't second guess it for a moment. All of this happens so fast that we don't even notice it. It's like the greatest trick the mind ever played was to fool itself. Multitasking increases the level of stress hormones, cortisol in our bloodstream, making us more anxious by the day.
In 2010, social psychologist Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and his team asked undergraduate students, a lot like you and me to sit in a sparsely furnished room for up to 15 minutes (Hickey M., 2018). One by one these people were placed alone in an empty room for fifteen minutes just to be with their thoughts. The only catch was they were asked to not push this button which would trigger an electric shock that would hurt them. Well, guess what? Humans being humans obviously pushed the button. About 25% of women and 67% of men pushed the button several times in fifteen minutes.
Why on earth would they push that button?
It could be boredom, could be anxiety, could be the fact that sometimes pain feels less painful than thinking. Personally, I think I wouldn't push that button. But who knows? Over the past year, I've realized how I've been living unconsciously, just so unaware of everything. I used to wake up at 4 pm, was living on just one meal a day and packets of poison or in more layman terms, chips and wafers. It was only when my skin started breaking out very badly, I started listening to my body. Your body, your soul, your surroundings are trying to tell you something and the only way to listen is to be mindful.
Now, mindfulness is not a mystical way of being. Mindfulness is simply the practice of paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and without any judgment. When we pay attention to the present moment on purpose we favour circumstances less, and choices more. When we can do all that with no judgment, that's where something special begins to happen; it is then that our mind gets really good at making a really quick evaluation. It goes like, " I like it", what's next? "I don't like it", what's next?.
In this process, our mind becomes a really good storyteller, and the stories that you tell start to become you. You are in the way you craft your narrative, kind of crafting your character. We start getting more interested in what the present moment has to say about itself and a little bit less caught up in what we have to say about it. We begin to make a little space around our stories for the stories of others. We start to notice things we could not before, sensations beneath sensations and feelings beneath feelings. And thus we see greater social connection& compassion.
For most of my life, I've been someone who worries a lot about everything. I mean don't get me wrong, my friends think I'm a very chill person but I worry, we all do. It's okay to worry but when your worries start becoming you, that's where the problem begins. So I had a messed-up sleep cycle, I was surviving on junk and worrying about my future. It's funny you know I was constantly thinking about my future when all that was wrong was in front of me. Thanks to YouTube and my unmindful scrolling, I hit the jackpot. I started meditating and it didn't miraculously change my life but I felt more aware. From this one change in my life, I've made a hundred more and that's primarily because- the way we do one thing is the way do everything.
Just take this with yourself from this article if not anything, everytime you breathe in the oxygen you inhale enters into a network of vessels so intricate and vast, that if you were to thread it together into a single string, that string would be 60,000 miles long, would wrap around the earth two and a half times, it's wrapped around you.
Everything that you're looking for is within you.