A critical part of mindfulness is paying attention to our experience in the present moment.
In fact, every definition I’ve ever heard of mindfulness includes this element in some form. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
The very first step is recognizing what your present experience is. Paying attention to and noticing whatever we are perceiving, thinking, and feeling in the present moment is a crucial aspect of mindfulness. There’s a risk — particularly as mindfulness becomes more popular in the West — that we will end up merely practicing mindfulness as if being mindful is the end goal.
Moving Beyond Noticing
Within traditional Buddhism, mindfulness is not everything. It is only one part of the Noble Eightfold Path. I get the feeling that there is often a misunderstanding as people get introduced to mindfulness: The assumption is that the goal is to simply become more and more mindful…and that’s it.
If you want to address your problems and interactions with technology, start by noticing how you feel and what you’re thinking while you interact with technology. This is important as a first step.
However, this is the beginning and not the end.
Noticing is a necessary but insufficient condition for addressing the problem. If all we do is notice and never turn that noticing into action, then we won’t improve. Noticing has been so focused on in the West because we do so little of it, but we need to be careful not to just stop there. We have to use what we notice to guide our actions.
Tap Into Mindfulness
The mindfulness teachings I’ve studied don’t tend to focus specifically on our current relationship with technology. Some mindfulness teachers I’ve encountered seem to assume that practicing mindfulness on its own is enough to help people solve all of their problems with technology.
That may be true, but it may not be the most effective or targeted way to address our current technological ills.
Moreover, most of the specific tech-related mindfulness teachings I have seen tend to focus on noticing but stop there. They teach something like “Look at your email and pay attention to how you feel when you look at it. Make note of your thoughts and emotions. The end.” Although I consider this kind of practice helpful, in my own experience, it is just the first step.
I noticed my own frustration with this and felt that I wanted to go beyond just noticing. As a result, I developed a series of mindfulness exercises called “Tap Into Mindfulness” based on my combined experience in both traditional mindfulness meditation and martial arts (which you could think of as applied mindfulness).
In martial arts training, you learn how to pay very close attention to a punch when it’s coming at your face. You learn to become incredibly mindful and still so you can be focused and not wrapped up in fear. It takes a lot of practice to see that punch coming at your face. There is a lot of noticing that you work on. But you don’t stop there. There are all kinds of actions you learn to do in addition to the noticing, and that’s why I’m calling all of this “beyond noticing.”
With all of the problems we seem to be having due to our use of technology — the stress, distraction, and disconnection between people — I felt like we needed to go beyond noticing.
That’s what Tap Into Mindfulness does. It gives people practical ways to develop and practice how to act based on what they’ve noticed in order to become more mindful and less enthralled by technology. It’s all by supplementing mindful noticing with action.
I have hope that applying traditional mindfulness teachings to our current relationship with technology and using those teachings to develop more healthy behaviors is the next stage of mindfulness’ development in today’s world. I am excited to be a part of it as well as the conversation and development of mindfulness practice and teachings to address the suffering that we experience as a result of our interactions with technology.