How many times per day do you hear “be mindful” or “be present”?
Frankly, as a social entrepreneur, I’m sick and tired of it. Here’s why.
Yes, there are demonstrable health benefits to being present in the moment, especially for good moments. And frankly, for most of us with time to read an article of this sort, most moments are pretty good. Enjoying them more makes us all healthier and happier.
But I’m not very good at that.
Right now, in Somalia 6.5 million people are at risk of starving to death, largely as a result of climate change. The entire country is experiencing extreme drought and children—the most vulnerable to famine—are beginning to die. More than 100 people died in two days from starvation-related causes. (The British Red Cross is on the scene working to alleviate suffering and prevent massive death—donate here.)
About six million women and children will die this year from the smoke of cooking fires inside their homes. That is about 11 people every minute. For some reason, I don’t feel the need to be present while I warm up my left overs in the microwave. (Learn more about clean cookstoves from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves).
When I’m out for my run in the morning, I can’t focus on my stride length, cadence or breathing because right here at home in the United States, 28.5 million people lack health insurance and another 14 million are threatened with losing theirs if Trumpcare is adopted. A study published by the Harvard Gazette reported that as of 2009, 45,000 people in the United States die from a lack of health insurance every year. While that number likely dropped in recent years due to the Affordable Care Act, the numbers could quickly spike again. (Write your congressional representatives to encourage them to expand coverage under the ACA rather than shrinking it.)
Not everything that distracts me is terrible. The number of polio cases is the world has dropped by 99.99 percent since the mid-1980s when there were almost 400,000 cases every year. Last year there were 37. This year could be the last year that anyone on the planet gets polio. Yes, I’ve said that for the past three years. No, I’m not giving up hope that this year will be the one. (Donate to Rotary’s “End Polio” efforts here.)
And let’s be clear, when I’m walking the streets of Salt Lake City thinking about my next article, my strategy for increasing my impact or reducing my carbon output, I’m not present. I’m not thinking about my feet in my shoes, the wind on my face or the beauty around me. I’ve seen it before. Hundreds of times over more decades than I care to count. Frankly, I’m thinking and worrying about something much more important than how much I’m enjoying my day.
Years ago, I learned that taking a few deep breaths when I’m stressed can have a big impact on my stress and my health. I do employ that technique consciously on most days because something gets me worked up. I’m ashamed that the things that really get me worked up are stupid, first-world sorts of problems. I should be getting more worked up about people starving in Somalia for starters.
You are probably more like me than you think. Perhaps you don’t worry or think about any of the things I’ve listed above. Maybe you are more focused on caring for your aging parents, or for your own young children, or keeping the job you absolutely need to keep your family fed and sheltered. Being mindful is a luxury for the wealthy and the world would be better off if they weren’t so mindful.
Someone is sure to point out that being truly mindful means contemplating the very things I’m talking about. Wonderful! Let’s all be mindful in that sense. But let’s not pretend we can be present in the moment appreciating the world around us and simultaneously be aware of others removed from us by great distances or dire circumstances. To be mindful of others is anathema to a focus on oneself.
Life is not supposed to be one continuous amusement. Your life has meaning, purpose and real joy when your attention is focused more on the wellbeing of others.
So, the next time you start to feel a bit guilty because you are not “present” or “mindful” enough, just say to yourself, “I’m not mindful because I’m not a narcissist.”