everyday mindfulness not day dreaming

Don’t change the channel

Mindfulness is effective in treating many mental health problems and psychiatric conditions. For those who don’t suffer from the above, it seems to still be beneficial in terms of focus, mood, relationships and results – based on many people’s personal experiences. Why then, is it so difficult at times? It is difficult for the same reason than escapism is easy. I am not Bill Murray’s biggest follower, but in one interview he said:

I would like to be more consistently here… I would like to see what I could get done if I didn’t cloud myself with automatic [thoughts]… If I were able to not change channels in my mind and body.

everyday mindfulness not day dreaming

He didn’t say anything ground-breaking, but his channels analogy really struck home with me. Having listened to this interview in the morning, I was on an uncomfortable journey between two cities today. To the right of me was a morbidly obese gentleman who sprawled himself across about three seats in an unorthodox position rarely seen in public. To the left – a lady who evidently led a lifestyle that didn’t involve too much personal hygiene. Having sneakily moved to another seat, I was putting my headphones in, prepared to sail away into a safe and pleasant day-dream. However, in my mind, I could hear the echo of the interview: don’t change the channel. Some voice of cognition questioned what I could possibly gain by being present when the present is like this? I wasn’t sure. What did I have to gain by being in a day-dream? A mindfulness devotee would surely say: nothing. Well, if people never day-dreamed, we would still live in caves. If we didn’t rehearse situations, ruminate, “mind-read” and obsess, the world would be different. I guess some may even argue it would be better. I am not sure.

I wish it was clear cut. I wish this story had an elegant twist where being present resulted in some kind of miraculous revelation. Instead it made me more aware that it is as easy to slip into the mindfulness cult as it is into a day-dream.

Ironically, Spotify shuffled to a nice house remix of R. Kelly’s Bump and Grind. As my mind was indeed very distinctly telling me “No“,  I took my headphones out. I could feel so much resistance. It angered me and made me sad that instead of floating off into a day-dream, I righteously deemed it necessary to stay in the present moment. I felt a bit like a Brave New World character without her soma. It felt necessary to stay present though. I ended up just being aware – of a storm inside.

Now, at the end of this mindful day, I can’t proudly declare that I feel at peace. There was no external conflict whatsoever, but I feel like I’d been in a blazing row for hours. With it though, there’s a certain exhausted clarity, like everything has been unreservedly said and it is all out in the open.

Faced with a choice like this again, I will probably choose mindfulness over the day-dream – again. I will stick with this channel called Reality, as we know it, rather than If I were with my friends or some other blissful escape route to rainbows and unicorns. Being honest, in part it is because I “read it in a book” and the high priests say it’s good for me. However, in part it is because I appreciate just how rarely I am even present enough to make this choice.

The day-dreams will happen regardless, the awareness won’t.

how to stop daydreaming

Published by

Dr Martina Feyzrakhmanova

I am a hospital doctor and founder of an education platform. The will to power refers mostly to power over yourself. Avid reader and writer of deep introspective blogs.

24 thoughts on “Don’t change the channel”

  1. I practice mindfulness and am appreciative of its benefits but when I hear phrases like “I would like to see what I could get done … if I were able to not change channels in my mind and body.” Not just being able to change channels but being unable to not change channels is a gift of evolution. If we had been powerful mindfulness practitioners back when humans were hunter-gathers (ca 10-12,000 years ago) we would have ended up dead. Any predator big enough would have picked us off early.

    Evolution forces us to switch our attention around. Our eyes are designed to flit our focus around both large scale and very small scale. We may not be subject to predation any more (at least not physically) but there are still reasons supporting these behaviors. I guess I am suggesting understanding and acceptance of our mind’s tendency to jump about, within some boundaries. An appreciation of the value of those abilities, I think, allows me to drop into extended periods of my mind staying put. Too often, the think we are working to change gets painted as a “bad thing” because it is opposing our will, but one might want to stop and ask why the opposition is there.

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    1. Yes, completely. All of our automatic thoughts at the end of the day are there because we need to stay safe, have enough to eat and have babies – but the point is, I assume you agree, is that a lot of these aren’t as relevant today and tend to get hijacked. It’s a great point though. I also agree about opposing our the thing we’re trying to change – so true.

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    2. > If we had been powerful mindfulness practitioners back when humans were hunter-gathers (ca 10-12,000 years ago) we would have ended up dead. Any predator big enough would have picked us off early.

      I was confused by this statement. How so? I thought the mindful people will be keenly aware of their surroundings and notice the predators before others, but the day-dreamers will get eaten.

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      1. Interesting point. The reason I agreed in the first instance is that mindfulness presupposes non-reactivity, overriding automatic responses, etc. Mindfulness, meaning the deliberate practice, is only possible when you’re not in immediate danger, I think. At the same time (and the reason I haven’t responded to your other comment yet), I am currently learning a lot looking after a sick stray cat. She seems to prioritise awareness over everything. She keeps looking around in every situation rather than getting carried away doing whatever she’s doing.

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      1. I think they coexist. The emperor, clothes and no clothes 😀
        I think if we narrow the discussion that could be interesting (and make more sense.) A topic that fascinates me is income. Particularly how people self-report and identify themselves. If we take Spain as an example:
        34% of people live on or around minimum wage which is under €700
        Another 25% make between €700 and €1200. That’s the majority right there.
        In France the situation isn’t that different. Only 1% of people make more than €8,000 per month.
        All of those numbers are to show how the narratives we hear are skewed. There are actual debates on whether football players making tens of millions per year should or shouldn’t pay a bit more tax. I spent much of my 20’s trying to understand how it was that I made less than most of my circle (as reported by them), but lived what seemed to be a more affluent life. It turns out some people were lying. In response others were lying by omission. And suddenly we have a whole distorted reality where everyone is modeling themselves on the top 1% or the top 5%… but it’s all a construct.

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      2. How interesting – and absolutely a great example. Isn’t it so much more interesting though now that you’ve figured out the reality? The alternative is to be in the daydream trying to be the 1%, being jealous of your friends and participating in all related follies? That, I think, is what mindfulness helps with – to see past the BS.

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      3. I absolutely get what you mean. So many wonderful people I was friends with are no longer accessible to me. They keep believing certain things that I have understood are false, but they love believing in them. I feel that I can’t relate to someone who refuses that which is in plain sight the same way…

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  2. In a world that is information overloaded, taking control of what your mind sits on instead being taken over by the most stimulating information is a very important part of a healthy and confident life.

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  3. How complex the mind is. We have so many options to choose from. Choosing mindfulness (on this day) likely filled a need you weren’t even aware of. It was the “right” choice because you cognitively pursued it. It became another learning experience initiated by an emotional response. This type of experience would make me look forward to “tomorrow” and the unknown.

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  4. I think mindfulness implies changing the channels intentionally, rather than it happening out of your control. It’s about choice vs. compulsion. So in this story – I don’t see moving to another seat as not being mindful – perhaps you were very mindful of your surroundings, mindful of their effect on you, and deliberately choose to take a specific action.

    I don’t actually think day dreaming (or listening to music) as something that is *always* not mindful. Yes, it shouldn’t be a channel that turns on automatically – but if it is entered deliberately, and exited when necessary, I think it’s all good.

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  5. Very interesting post. You never really take the time to think about being truly in the moment you currently are in and it can seem hard to do that even when it slips into your mind especially if you find yourself in an unpleasant environment. I wish I could be more in tune with reality and after reading this I will try to do just that as I myself is a big fan of tuning out a lot with music. Mindfulness is something I have been in search of achieving more in life, thank you for sharing this

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