The mind wanders all the time, even when we are attempting to focus on a single object. It may even wander before you get to the end of this paragraph. That’s partly why neuroscientists describe wandering as the brain’s “default mode.”
All direct experiences trigger that wandering part of the brain. So when you have the direct experience of seeing somebody whom you know very well your brain may immediately wander off into memories, comments or fantasies about that person.
Whenever you notice your mind has wandered off, you’re back in the moment. So getting better at noticing you’ve wandered off is a key aspect of mindfulness practice.
Here’s a mindfulness practice that I often build into my day by doing it whenever I have, literally, a minute to spare. It helps me to get better at noticing my attention has drifted and at bringing it back to the moment:
For about two minutes, keep your attention on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. No need to be precise about this: just guess.
Notice how often your attention wanders off even in that short time and how often you have to bring your attention back to your breathing.
Each time, gently come back to awareness of your breathing.
That’s it. Whenever you do it you will notice how often your mind runs away from the moment. No wonder some mindfulness practitioners talk about the “monkey mind” which jumps about all the time.
But every time you notice you’ve wandered and bring yourself back you are building your capacity to improve your present moment awareness.
Why does this matter? It matters because that wandering mind
Can keep us stuck in the past as we continue to relive experiences while failing to engage fully with our world as it is right now.
Can lead us to worry excessively about the future, beyond the point at which that worrying achieves anything.
In particular, can keep anger, resentments, and regret alive long after it is helpful to do so.
In reducing the time we give to negative mind wandering, that simple exercise, done regularly, can pay big dividends.
My online course, Easy Mindfulness, can help you to relate to challenges and issues in a healthy way.
Image by Khadeeja Yasser
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