A new-born baby can start focusing on objects between 8-12 inches away in the second week of life. We’ve all been there; before we knew sounds were language, before thought, when our awareness was completely with our body, feelings and senses. Once we acquired language, we also developed the capacity to think, and from that point on, our minds became the magnet for our attention.
On a typical workday we think on purpose, for instance, planning and problem-solving, and working and communicating with others to get things done. In terms of our attention, the real story is that for about half of our day we’re also unintentionally imagining, commenting, judging and drifting, as our minds wander. Of course, some of the drifting thoughts may be useful. For instance, you may gain a useful insight when unintentionally rehearsing a future conversation, as you take a shower. Unfortunately, the research shows that automatic thinking tends to run downhill in negativity, judgement and criticism, so we feel less happy when our mind wanders.
From a practical mindfulness perspective, being refers to a mode of experience that is connected with the body and senses, as opposed to thinking, which is often disconnected from present-moment reality. When we go off in thought, we lift off from grounded reality into an abstract and conceptual realm, almost as if we defied gravity in that moment. Dropping into being is about returning to the body and senses, in all its rich complexity, beauty, and wonder.
Although there are some differences, ancient cultures all viewed the material world using the four elements of air, earth, fire and water. These are useful symbols to work metaphorically with this distinction, as air relates to mind and earth to the body. Imagine a horizontal line that separates the two modes of experience. Air is above the line where everything is non-physical, abstract and conceptual, and earth is below the line where everything is physical, biological and sensual. So, we can ask ourselves, are we spending our time in air or earth, lost in thought or grounded and connected in being?
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