I was supposed to be driving to work but was so mindful, I had no idea where I was going!
Have you ever had that experience?
I have. And it wasn’t because my mind was wandering. My mind was so in the present moment, I didn’t know where to go next!
This happened to me in the first week of learning meditation, around 20 years ago.
The teacher had taught us to be mindful and to live in the present moment. But I took it to the extreme and was so present, I was noticing all the colours and feelings within me but couldn’t remember where on earth I was going!
I learnt my lesson, and took things a bit more easy .. but not for long.
Mindfulness Almost Made Me Fail My Degree
Practising mindfulness and meditation caused a big issue during my third year of Engineering at the University I was studying at - Imperial College.
The first two years I worked hard and did well. But once I’d learnt the joy of living in the present moment - which was totally mind blowing for me! - I engrossed myself in books on spirituality. I was reading all sorts of books like Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, Thich Naht Hanh’s Peace is Every Step, and Be As You Are by Ramana Maharshi.
The problem was, I wasn’t living a balanced life. I spent all my time either reading or meditating. I went from blissful meditative experiences to periods of deep thought and reflection and I lost interest in my degree. I hardly went to any lectures, and it’s a small miracle I managed to pass the year. My grades were so low, the company who sponsored me almost pulled its support!
I can’t blame meditation totally for all this, of course; I’d tried Chemical Engineering as a job in the summer and hated it! But I’d lost motivation for my course and discovered the joy of living in the now instead.
My final year, I’m glad to report, was far more balanced. I turned up to classes and worked on my project. Most students worked around the clock to get the best grades possible; I worked from 10am to 6pm and then let it go.
Other students in my group criticised me for being lazy - but I figured 8 hours a day was enough to retain the right balance. In the end, I was right.
Perhaps I had to go to extremes with my mindfulness practice to find the right balance for me. Eventually, the experience helped me find more wisdom and more balance between my spiritual practice and everyday life.
Balancing Mindfulness and Everyday Life
Here are my tips to discover if you’re being ‘too spiritual’ and need to rebalance your life;
Is your mindfulness and meditation practice having a negative effect on your daily responsibilities?
If so, you may be using the practice to avoid facing the fact that you don’t enjoy your work or home life. Instead of avoidance, try being mindful of your thoughts and feelings at home or at work - and use that experience as a way of deepening your mindfulness.
A spiritual life isn’t about avoiding things. Spirituality is about facing up to your challenges with gentleness and kindness.
This doesn’t mean you need to spend your whole life doing something you don’t enjoy, of course. Try changing your attitude or the situation...or both!
Are you using mindfulness or meditation as a form of emotional avoidance?
I don’t think I’ve done this so much, but I’ve met people who’ve gone through significant difficulties in their lives and, rather than process those experiences by sharing them with a trusted friend or counsellor, or being mindful and kind to the feelings themselves, they just try and meditate on an object like a mantra, their breath or some other focus instead.
The purpose of meditation is to let go. By facing up to your inner feelings with kindness you can process the emotions through your body. This is done by simply bringing up the feelings when it feels right to you, and noticing where you experience them in your body. Meet those feelings and sensations with care, gentleness, peacefulness, acceptance or curiosity - whatever attitude feels good to you.
Community and friendship are a vital part of mindfulness and spirituality, too. So sharing your challenges with a friend is just as mindful as meditating on your own - perhaps even more so.
Are you acting mindful or spiritual as a form of identity?
Mindfulness is about being authentic and true to yourself. Spirituality is not about acting calm and eating kale just because everyone else is doing so!
When you’re true to yourself rather than being who you think you should be, you’ll feel more comfortable in your own skin and people will love you for it. This is because they can tell you’re not putting on an act. No one wants to be a fake - or around someone who is!
So, how do you let go of your idea of what it means to be mindful and just be yourself?
a. Drop your ideas of what it means to be mindful or spiritual and relax into your own personality. How? Pick the friend you’re most comfortable with and relax into being yourself around them. If you don’t have such a friend, see if you can spark new friendships at your local adult education college or volunteer organisation etc. Let go of your need to impress new people and practice being your true, kind, relaxed self.
b. Spend time with friends who aren’t into spirituality! Don’t restrict yourself to friends who share this one interest. Open your mind to other people with different outlooks and expand each others’ horizons in the process.
c. Be yourself when you’re with yourself, too! Carve out a bit of free time and ask “What would I really like to do right now?” Perhaps something unrelated to your work or home life, even if you love your work or home life. Pick something different for a change. Maybe a walk in the woods, reading some fiction or just having a nice, hot bath. Something not directly related to mindfulness or spirituality!
The Buddha taught the path of the middle way. He tried a life of extremes and discovered it only lead to suffering. So, take his advice and seek balance in your life.
It’s wonderful to being mindful, kind and generous to others. It’s great to meditate. But balance that with some fun activities unrelated to mindfulness and mix with people who hold different interests, too.
Avoidance towards leaning in
Mindfulness or spirituality can be used as a way of avoiding your responsibilities or to repress feelings. Do the opposite. Use mindfulness and meditation to lean into life, to face up to your challenges and to move towards the emotional difficulties we all share, with kindness...which bring me to my final point...
Above all, be kindful
As always, when you move towards your challenges and emotional difficulties, do so with lots of gentleness, kindness and love. Listen to your body, mind and heart, and do what feels right to you. Don’t listen to my advice - listen to yourself.
Hey, hope you enjoyed this post! Are you too mindful or spiritual? Or do you think that’s not possible? I’d love to discover what your thoughts are on this in the comments below.