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Heads or tails living

This opinion piece is over 9 years old

​Martin Stepek on positive attitudes and mindful thinking

Imagine that we are asked to choose between eating a Mars Bar or an apple. We choose the Mars Bar. By doing so we no longer have the opportunity to spend that same moment choosing the apple, because the moment has now passed.

In a sense we do something like this very often in our daily lives and it has everything to do with mindfulness, your own happiness, and making the most of this one precious life we have.

Instead of the choice between an apple and a Mars Bar we usually face a very different and more subtle choice; the choice between choosing where we want our mind to go, or just unthinkingly going to wherever our mind happens to wander off to.

Let's take an example. I'm writing this in Hamilton on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday it was windy and snowy; today windy with heavy rainfall. I look up from my laptop where I'm writing this and I see lines of rainfall streaming down the living room window and trees being tossed about by the wind.

Heads or tails living

Mindlessness is allowing our mind to take us to wherever it wants to be. This is normal living

My mind starts an inner monologue: "God I wish I could be in Spain or Greece or somewhere warm and relaxed. This weather is woeful. We've been stuck in most of the day."

In response to this inner voice my mood gets a little gloomy and I silently curse life.

Say this takes a total of about twenty to thirty seconds. It's a very common, realistic scenario, one we play out in different ways maybe dozens of times a day. The mind just creates a view, seemingly out of nowhere: daydreams, moans, irritation, anxiety, worry, depression, annoyance...

This is like the Mars Bar or the apple example except we don't see the choice. We always have a choice but we're not alive to that possibility.
Mindlessness is allowing our mind to take us to wherever it wants to be. This is normal living.

Mindfulness is realising we have choice, and when the mind tries to take us to, say, moaning about the weather, we can decide whether to go with that inner monologue or let it go gently - perhaps using a focus on our breath to get back in charge of our mind - and do something different... like getting on with this piece of writing. That's mindful living.

I've titled this Heads or Tails Living because life at any given moment always offers only two choices: to go with what pops up in our mind, or to let that go and think afresh, with full, open attention to what is best for all in any given situation.

I hope you feel that it was better that I chose to finish writing this for you than fail to complete it because I followed my mind chose whinging about the weather today. Now you have choices to make!

Keep Well.

Martin Stepek teaches free Mindful Living classes every tuesday evening at the University of the West of Scotland.

Martin Stepek is chief executive of the Scottish Family Business Association and director of culture and communications at Wright Johnston & Mackenzie LLP. He teaches mindfulness and is author of several books on mindfulness. This blog was first published on his own website.