When I was 14 I realized that a yucky, repetitive chore like mowing the lawn would end so much more quickly if I just allowed my mind to wander. In time I realized I could escape pain (physical and emotional) by shifting focus into an internal place of imaginative wanderings. As I write this it seems as if I chose to function in a vague dissociative dimension that is commonly referred to as autopilot. This mindless functioning is similar to how many people go through their daily lives, unaware of their unawareness.
To me this choice to go into autopilot is a stress management tool and can be an effective way to mange difficult moments; e.g., a root canal. The downsides of living life mindlessly by shifting focus to a place or time that is other than the present moment are:
1) life passes us by and we’ve miss wondrous moments – infant smiles, sun rises, bubble rainbows, falling stars, eye contact
2) we interact with others more from an imagined place, conversation, or conclusion than from reality itself
3) physical pain becomes chronic due to muscular tension that builds up from internal rehearsed arguments, speeches.
I have come to realize there is a physical tightening or bracing that unconsciously occurs while we are in our head. It is as if the brain senses the danger that comes from inattention and thus braces for an imagined attack from a saber tooth tiger or the possible fall that could occur while reading and walking.
4) we respond to life’s challenges from places of learned conditioning and imagined possibilities. For example, I have found myself grieving the ending of a Mozart piece while in the middle of the music. Thus sadness created from an expected outcome deafens me to the moment by moment experience. I call this personal crazy making.
So to pause in the middle of these emotional and mental rapids is to intentionally bring a roaming mind into the present. This intentional returning to self is to experience the refreshing flow of the breath; the movement of music as it travels throughout our soul (and to be with the music until it is no more and ask of ourselves, “where did the music go?”).
To quiet the ongoing ramblings within the mind and bring oneself into the present environment is to witness the dance of light and shadow upon a wall or the flow of steam above a cup of coffee. This stilled silence allows us to emotionally connect with another through the art of listening that guards us from injecting ourselves into their story.
When I do this I find that that these moment gift me with peaceful bliss as yesterday is not here and the next second has paused. In truth, despite all the worldly worries, possibilities, have tos, and shoulds this moment of non- judgmental awareness is life.
My awareness of this brings me to an intention. An intention that when doing yucky chores I will bring my focus to the sensual experience – the various sights, sounds, tastes, sensations, scents associated with dusting, washing dishes, sweeping, ect. Yet, I soon realize I unwittingly traveling through a land of Oz. So I non-judgmentally smile to myself in greeting and return to the moment, knowing and accepting that I’ll soon realize my mind has taken me elsewhere once again.
Research has found that mindfulness is associated with improved stress management, health, pain management, and problem solving. So to identify a event in one’s life — listening to music, bathing, walking, eating, knitting, writing in which to set out to be intentionally present is the door by which to learn how to be with oneself and to become aware when we have slipped away into a realm of mind making.
A daily formal meditative practice is good but most people struggle with setting aside 10 – 15 minutes for themselves (even though they will set aside hours watching TV).
So periodically throughout a day, I recommend a returning to the moment for a few minutes by asking oneself:
What am I thinking?
What physical sensations am I aware of in this moment?
What feeling am I feeling?
Where in my body do I feel this?
Shift your attention to the physical sensations of your breath. Be present with your breath for 3 cycles of in-breath, pause, out- breath, pause.
Ask yourself, “are my thoughts and/or feelings asking me to do something?” Listen to yourself for an answer.
End this mindful practice by bringing your awareness once again to your in-breath and with the out-breath release with a sigh. Gift yourself with a smile.
On a personal note, when I ask myself, “what am I thinking?” I often find that I can’t recall my thoughts.
May I welcome the peace within my in-breath. May I smile with the flow of peace within my out-breath. May all living beings know peace.
2 replies to “autopilot”
I love this. When I was young I know I spent a lot of time escaping into my imagination when routine or boring tasks needed to be done. It’s a habit I am working to change through mindfulness and meditation, but I could really relate to your story here.
Thank you. I enjoy reading your comments.
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