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Live mindfully to give each day meaning

Most of us are pretty sure that we know what we are thinking about any given subject and at any time of the day . at least when we're awake.

Most of us are pretty sure that we know what we are thinking about any given subject and at any time of the day . at least when we're awake. After all, that's part of being a conscious sentient being, isn't it? When you really think about it, are you sure?

In a retreat where meditation is practised, a gong sounds and all who hear it stop whatever they are doing - eating, gardening, walking or conversing - and ask, "What am I doing? What am I feeling? What am I thinking?"

These questions bring us back to the moment and bring greater awareness to our consciousness.

Often we find that our minds were not on what we were doing, having drifted away from the present.

Somehow time has passed and we weren't paying much attention to what we were doing.

You might be eating your breakfast while listening to the radio, scanning the newspaper and half-listening to the conversation at the table. At the end of the day, if you were to be quizzed on what you had read, heard or even eaten, you may be lucky to remember half of it.

At work or at school, on our ways to and from wherever we must go, and in our conversations with one another, most of us drift in and out of focus, not fully conscious of what we are doing and thinking.

We are not unlike mice trying to find our way out of the maze, always scurrying forward, often distracted by what has just passed and what is coming up, and thrown off track by novel varieties of cheese randomly tossed before us.

We all fall into habits of being and patterns of thought, but we are not fully aware of these patterns until we pause and reflect upon them.

Like mice in a maze, if we lose sight of the big picture, we think and act reactively. Time passes and life goes on as we find ourselves in unexpected places a bit further from our goals.

This state of awareness - where we are not centred on what we are feeling, thinking and doing in the present moment - has been called mindlessness - the opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is both a form of meditation and a way of being.

Why is this important? When we are inattentive or mindless in our relationships, we stop listening to one another, we take each other for granted, we react in anger and self-defence, say and do what we don't mean, and drift further apart.

When we drive distractedly, we are more likely to get into an accident, speed through school zones and crosswalks, and harm others.

Our thoughts underlie our emotions and our emotions influence our actions.

Catastrophizing and thoughts of worry fuel anxiety and cause us to panic and avoid our fears.

Negative thinking provokes sadness, resentment and anger and can lead us to attack or withdraw.

Being aware of our own thoughts and mastering them is the first step towards emotional and physical well-being.

Today, step out of the maze and see the world as your temple. At the sound of the gong - which can be a red light, the ring of your cell, a strong emotion or the lunch bell, return to the present moment and reflect on your thoughts.

For more on mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy, listen to my latest Positive Potential Medicine podcast at, read my posts at davidicuswong. and look for future articles in this paper.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper.