Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but when did everyone get so interested in mindfulness?

I thought I was all on my own when I picked up a book on meditation around New Year’s. Most days since then, I’ve managed to sit quietly in a room and try not to think about anything for a few minutes.

“I am not my thoughts,” I remind myself. “My consciousness is like the sky and thoughts are like clouds that float by … I wonder what’s for dinner. Did I feed the cat? Don’t forget to call the dentist.”

But now everywhere I look, I see references to mindfulness – a state of active, open awareness to the present (according to Psychology Today) – and how to achieve it through the practice of meditation.

We’ve always known about the meditation practices of musicians (John Coltrane, The Beatles), movie stars (Shirley MacLaine, Richard Gere) and other celebrities (the Dalai Lama).

But now there are football teams, business leaders and members of Congress who are saying that a practice of mindfulness will break political gridlock, seal big deals and keep opponents out of the red zone. Even the Marine Corps is testing “Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training” as part of its preparedness regimen.

What’s going on?

At least part of it is that you tend to see in others what’s happening to you. As I try to stop slipping into the fog of empty-nest middle age, I’m noticing all the others who are doing the same thing.

I’ve seen this before. Right after my first child was born, I started seeing babies everywhere. There were babies being pushed down the street, babies in restaurants, babies in the library. I wondered if we were in the middle of a new baby boom.

But then, as I was out walking with a child-carrier backpack, I saw childless people in their 20s, just a few years younger than I was at the time, and it was clear from their expressions that my baby and I were invisible to them. I felt like they could walk through us like we were ghosts.

There really is more talk about mindfulness these days, though – it’s not just me. So something else is at work here.

It may be that people talk most about what they want, not what they have.

Status symbols are not important to people with real status. Internet moguls can show up for work barefoot, while sleazy little dictators of unstable governments wear the flashiest uniforms.

At the same time that Americans are talking more about mindfulness, we are out buying more devices to distract us. Soon a smartphone that beeps all night with incoming emails, texts and social media mentions won’t be enough. We will be installing computers inside our skulls, while we sign up for workshops on how to stay “in the moment.”

The all-time champ of be-here-now, by the way, is my old landlord. We invited him into our apartment to get after-the-fact permission for a new puppy. While we were talking, the dog jumped in his lap and urinated.

My wife and I went into a panic, but he said it was OK: “It felt really good for a second.”

Now that is in the moment! How often do we fail to appreciate the pleasures of the present because of our obsession with the future? Sure, in a few seconds his clothes would be cold, wet and bad-smelling, but what about now? I mean right now.

But I doubt executives like Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini or Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, are meditating in order to increase their tolerance of puppy urine.

“There’s nothing touchy-feely about increased profits. This is a tough economy,” writes Ariana Huffington, who is another entrepreneur-meditator. “Stress reduction and mindfulness don’t just make us happier and healthier, they’re a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.”

That’s not exactly what the Buddhists had in mind when they introduced the practice to the West. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master, told The Guardian newspaper: “If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose. It may look like the practice of mindfulness but inside there’s no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It’s just an imitation.”

Peace. Joy. Happiness. I’m not there yet.

But if I could just find a way of getting to the bottom of my email inbox without giving in to an uncontrollable urge to check my voicemail, or dip into my Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google Plus (just kidding – no one checks Google Plus), or peek at a half-dozen news and opinion sites, I might be heading in the right direction.

 

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at [email protected]