At a recent follow-up session with participants from a Mindfulness workshop, one of the participants provided feedback on her experience washing the dishes mindfully. She had chosen this as a daily task that she would do mindfully – she would really be present and attend to what she was doing. Rather than spending the time doing the dishes thinking about something else she was going to be mindful of the experience – feel the temperature of the water, notice the shape of the plate, be conscious of the amount of dishwashing liquid etc etc. What she reported was her surprise that she was much happier doing the dishes mindfully than she had been doing them in autopilot… doing them while distracted.
This is a great example providing support for some recent scientific research that has been published under the title A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind. For a simple summary of the research see the Scientific American. A fuller explanation of the research is also from 12 November 2010, Science 330, 932 (2010). The research analysed the experience of over 2000 people as they were asked at random times during the day to rate their happiness, to describe what they were doing and to say whether they were thinking about something other than what they were doing. Even when we are doing something we don’t associate as being fun, it seems we are happier when our mind is on the task. The research also indicated that a wandering mind is part of being human – mind wandering was going on in almost half the samples.
Learning to keep the mind on task takes practice – the mind is just as likely to go off into the past or future. The research and the experience of the participant I mentioned at the beginning shows us that there is something to be gained by spending time training the mind to be on task.