Tell me: as you are reading this article right now, are you already thinking about what to do next and how to get it done and over with? Are you constantly worried about your work despite it not being in front of you? Do you always find faults in others for their mistakes in the past? Do you often talk about the “what ifs” and cling on to something that you couldn’t have changed?
But if you’ve said no to all of the above, if you realise that your existence doesn’t belong in your thoughts and that you are here right now – reading this article – then you’ve, perhaps, mastered the art of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a state where you are actively thinking about present – the now. Your attention is dedicated to your present thoughts without judging them and distinguishing them as good or bad. It is similar to being focused, but you are aware and not too overwhelmed by the background noises and anything else that surrounds you. It is what some people might associate with when you are praying and meditating. You are aware of what you think and feel, without letting them consume you. No matter how deep you are in your thoughts, the act of mindfulness would be there to snap you back to reality. Mindfulness is also one of the keys to minimise your negative thoughts that would otherwise make you feel more anxious and to some extent, depressed.
When you’re used to multitasking, mindfulness is difficult and we tend to absentmindedly go through our errands and do things “just for the sake of doing it”. It is why you keep misplacing your car keys or keep forgetting what you were about to say despite the words being right at the edge of your tongue.
Mindfulness during prayer – typically known as khusyu’ – is probably the most crucial but the most difficult to establish. Remember the time when we completely humbled ourselves and our minds were in sync with what we recited?
Do you remember the feeling?
We don’t shut off from the world – not entirely, anyway – but we are aware and prioritise what is more important at that moment than the other. Just imagine, if we were completely shut off from the world, only to find out after you are done with your prayer that there was a fire in the next room? Again, mindfulness isn’t about neglecting your feelings and thoughts but it is our ability to manage them, without being enslaved by them. It is about connecting the dots between your rationale, as well as what sits right in your heart, without one overwhelming the other.
It’s hard and a continuous battle to master the art of mindfulness because we are easily distracted. We are living in the world of social media and the Internet where we are constantly receiving information – useful or not – without us even realising how what we see, hear and touch impact the way our minds work. Our minds are so powerful that we are able to create our own worlds and imagine beyond what reality is able to withstand. It is so powerful that we’d unconsciously become enslaved by them – more than the One who created our minds.
Whenever negative thoughts come in, I would not shut them down, but recognise their presence and counteract them with what I could see and hear at that moment. Be it the trees, the white noise from the air-conditioner or my cat rudely walking over my keyboard. Whatever it is, I’d become more present and hence, calmer. In the long run, I’d also become more productive and less anxious about what my future may hold and less attached to the things that I clung on to so much in the past.
But more importantly, I had stopped being the slave of my own thoughts by consciously reminding myself that God is closer to me than my own jugular veins* and He is the Master of my thoughts. I’d let go of the things that I couldn’t control.
“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein” (Surah Qaf:16)
Being mindful allowed me to practise tawakkul (consciousness of God) more effectively and know that I am not in control. I stopped expecting and started hoping. Mindfulness has helped me so much that I wouldn’t go back to the delusional place in my head that once defined me.
He created me.
He is Master to me, even to the extent of the intangibility of my thoughts.