I was traveling recently and stumbled into the hotel’s fitness facility. I don’t know, maybe I sleepwalked there. Hate exercise, so I was earplugged into Pandora with poor old Stevie Ray Vaughan wailing about “The Things That I Used to Do,” trying my best to put my body into an acute state of activity at 7 a.m. against the powerful argument of my creaking knees and rasping lungs.
But, okay, after a few minutes, the pain subsided and I got into the spirit. But just as I had a good sweat going, the thought popped into my head that I had a meeting at 8:45. I’d done the dreary calculation beforehand, of course, but now my suddenly anxious brain started doing it again. How much time to finish the workout? How much time to get back to the room, shower, change, and get to the appointed meeting place? I figured I could make it, but I’d have to quit the gym no later than 7:45. It was going to be close.
As these worries crowded my mind, I suddenly found myself thinking about mindfulness, a very trendy idea that I confess to admiring, at least in principle. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Psychology Today describes it as “a state of active, open attention on the present.” It’s all about being in the moment, alive to experience.
Clearly my worries about the ticking clock were undermining any possible harmony I could be having with the universe.
Well, that just won’t do, I said to myself. I’ll just push all these distractions about the day’s schedule out of my mind.
Except, oops, what about that meeting? If I turned off my mental clock, shut out all thoughts but what I was experiencing right now, there was a very good chance I’d miss it. Did I care about the meeting? Did I care about my job? Check, check. On a larger scale, does anyone care about getting anywhere on time? What about work, commitment, responsibility? What about simply getting things done?
There’s a place for mindfulness: A nice meditation on a Sunday morning when one’s schedule is perfectly free. An early morning be-here-now session with an alarm set to snap you back to reality. Aside from that, there’s really no way to be mindful with, you know, responsibilities. So, my carefully considered conclusion comes down to a simple principle: If you have any respect for others, keep an eye on the clock, plan ahead, and don’t get lost in your thoughts.