On Being Mindful

On Being Mindful

Mindfulness — what is it? It seems to be everywhere. There are talks, magazines, books, classes — all kinds of opportunities to become more mindful. What does it mean to be mindful, and why does it matter?

The 20th century Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton, described our society in this way: “Now let us frankly face the fact that our culture is one which is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. We live in a state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: we are not quite “thinking,” not entirely responding, but we are more or less there.”

Many of us seem to wander through life as Merton described. Or we approach people, situations, and ideas with the presumption that we have already figured out most of life’s searching questions, so we have no need to humbly listen and learn. But mindfulness is a state of being that realizes that we superimpose our own perspectives and ideas on every new situation we encounter. It is realizing that we need to learn to see people for who they are — deeper than just the surface presumptions or prejudices that so easily cloud our thinking. It means learning to approach people, situations and groups that may be foreign or new to us with an attitude of humility and compassion.

Being mindful means that we are learning to see and love our neighbor as we want others to see and love us.


Time in literature

There are so many nuances to writing, and it is important that the writer pay attention to every aspect of the narrative or the points that are being made. If the writer wants to give a particular sense of monotony or fast paced action, the way he uses time can be crucial In his classic novel, The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann has this to say about the way time works in a narrative:

“That may well cause amazement–and yet it is perfectly in order and corresponds to the laws of how stories are told and listened to. Because both good order and the laws of narrative require that our experience of time should seem long or short, should expand or shrink, in the same way it does for the hero of our story, for young Hans Castorp, who quite unexpectedly has found himself impounded by fate. It may also be useful to prepare the reader for other wonders and phenomena that are connected with the mystery of time and that we shall encounter while in his company–quite apart from this striking instance. But for now it is enough for us to remind everyone how quickly a number of days, indeed a great number, can pass when one spends them as a patient in bed. It is always the same day–it just keeps repeating itself. Although since it is always the same day, it is surely not correct to speak of “repetition.” One should speak of monotony, of an abiding now, of eternalness. Someone brings you your midday soup, the same soup they brought you yesterday and will bring again tomorrow. And in that moment it comes over you–you don’t know why or how, but you feel dizzy watching them bring in the soup. The tenses of verbs become confused, they blend and what is now revealed to you as the true sense of all existence is the “inelastic present,” the tense in which they bring you soup for all eternity. But one can’t speak of boredom, because boredom comes with the passing of time–and that would be a paradox in relation to eternity. and we want to avoid paradoxes, particularly if we are to live with our hero.”

Good writing requires paying attention to detail and creating a world where the reader can be fully immersed in the story or message that is being relayed. It’s about communicating through every available sense and medium.