Did ‘Mindfulness’ Exist Before Technology?

When you think about it, I mean really think about it, the concept of Mindfulness (to be ‘present’ and aware of your surroundings and senses) is quite ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a believer and have probably read every major book written on the topic and even been to a mindfulness meditation retreat.

However, when did we start needing reminders to be conscious? I mean actively conscious and aware of our world? Why are authors and gurus making millions from writing books to ‘train’ people on how to be aware of the world and what they do… When did it all go so horribly wrong, that we needed Mindfulness to kick-start our consciousness again and awake from a zombie state?

I’m guilty of it. I just spent the last hour sipping a cold beer at a bar in Sydney overlooking the water. Now that I look at it, and look is the wrong word really… One can look at a Dali painting and not necessarily recall all the detail and colours of melting clocks and composition… What I mean is consciously look and pay attention. I see it really is beautiful. Small waves shimmer across hues of blue and green before licking the sharp, jaded oysters that litter the dank, damp mud. The wind howls gently through the wispy trees, deliberately planted along the river bank as a wall of dense grey clouds approach, bringing a stormy southerly change. Yet I’ve sat here on my iPhone on Twitter and Instagram and haven’t taken any of this in. I could be sitting in a dumpster for all my consciousness cares… How sad.

This beautiful grandma is the only one experiencing this moment first-hand... What a brilliant photo! Courtesy: the viral internet
This beautiful grandma is the only one experiencing this moment first-hand… What a brilliant photo! Courtesy: the viral internet

You see, I’ve seen the zombie apocalypse. I see it every morning and evening, and it’s not on TV in some crass horror with a poor soundtrack and predictable narrative. It’s on the train in my morning and evening commute.

People sit, dead-bodied, convulsing gently in sync with the train’s movement. Their eyes glazed, staring at small screens. Frantic thumbs and fingers fondle touch screens in a Tourettes-like fashion. Ear buds are pushed deeply in dark ear canals to block out the silence… They have all their senses completely shut off… Luckily breathing is a subconscious and automatic process or people would forget and start passing out on commutes all over the world! What’s worse is when the train arrives at the station, the zombies try to walk, head still tilted down as they text. I honestly think that the spatial awareness of human beings will improve in the next 2000 years, simply because we never look where we’re walking anymore… Our brains seem to autopilot our spatial environment as our senses are busy having a conversation with someone in other place, another country, another world. Surely nature will eventually adapt to this and like bats, we will have some sonar sense evolve so that our eyes never need to leave a screen again.

Don’t misunderstand me. Unfortunately, I have my own zombie moments. It’s hard not to. All of us now travel about our day with a device in our pocket that is capable of interacting with anyone in the world. A device capable of connecting us to anything or anyone and with more computer power in it than the first rocket that sent man to the moon. Just try leaving it in your pocket on your morning commute and your manic mind-chatter begins craving stimulation!

There are of course, benefits of this technology. Staying in contact with people on the other side of the planet, and being able to digest information from anywhere is incredible. The internet is no longer a series of websites, servers and Ethernet cables, but a collective consciousness that is the human race in ones and zeros. If you unplug from it, you may find yourself very alone… Well, I don’t know what would happen really because I haven’t tried. The closest I got was during my meditation retreat where not only wasn’t I allowed to talk, but all smart (or dumb) devices were banned… It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done!

Anyway, I just wonder if before all this, before Steve Jobs brought us the iPhone, before Television, did we need ‘mindfulness’? Or was mindfulness just our natural state of consciousness? Before smart phones I honestly don’t remember, how did we; wait in line, wait for a bus, meet a friend, find a restaurant, avoid ‘awkward’ eye contact with another real human being? How did we get in an elevator with a stranger? I mean, did we have to say ‘Good Morning’ before the iPhone? Our pocket has become the warm, familiar sanctuary that we go to in order to avoid human conversations. Another human approaches and we slide our shy hands down into soft cotton lined ‘excuse bags’ to pull out iPhones and pretend to check for text, or log in to Facebook… Not having an iPhone in a small confined space with a stranger feels like the days when you’d share a sleeper carriage on an old steam train. By the end of the journey, I’m sure you’d be best of friends… But the thoughts of not having a plan B scares the crap out of me! Now in another 100 years time perhaps there will be books that remind us to speak, or walk focusing on one foot in front of another, or breath, or remind us to eat just like we now need to be reminded to perceive our own world.

Finally, to prove that I’m not throwing stones in my own glass house, here’s an album of selfies and smartphone obsessed moments in some of the most incredible global destinations… Wake up zombie!

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