Discovering Mindfulness with Heather Noto: Lost in Thought

Exploring Mindfulness with Heather Noto
Heather Noto photo by Claire Hageman

Where are my keys? I can’t find my cell phone. I just had that book in my hand. That file was right here on my desk.

Sound familiar? How often do we search around for things that we need and can’t find them?

I experienced an AHA! moment when reading a story in Thich Naht Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness. My “affliction” for losing things was explained by Mobi Ho, the Vietnamese translator of the book, when he recounts an episode that also “nurtured his mindfulness practice”. While “cooking furiously”, he can’t find the spoon he has laid down amidst pots and pans. Teacher Thich Naht Hanh walks into the room and asks Mobi what he is looking for and Mobi says, “The spoon!  I’m looking for the spoon!”. Smiling, Thich Naht Hanh says “No, Mobi is looking for Mobi.”

WE ARE LOST. Not the spoon, or the keys, or the cell phone. They are exactly where we put them. The problem occurs because we were lost in thought when we placed them and have no recollection of where that is. So, the question is, not where are they, but where were we?

I admit to having a vivid imagination and often live in my head. I expect many of you do, too. Creative thinking is needed and wonderful in order to solve dilemmas and develop new ideas. Without creative thinking, innovation and artistic expression would come to a standstill. But it isn’t creative thinking that I’m talking about. It is those all-consuming thoughts where we conjure up scenarios that haven’t happened yet or ruminate over things that did or did not happen in the past. Lost in thought, we’re missing reality. We’re missing what is actually occurring right now in our lives. When we’re not present, we don’t remember things that people told us or experiences that we had, because while those things were happening, we were gone. Distracted, somewhere else, busy planning or fretting over our lives.

Awareness is everything. When we become aware that we’re lost in thought, we can step out of our imagination and into the present moment. We can practice mindfulness. Mindfulness adds order to our day. It adds texture to our experiences. If we begin to pay attention to the present moment, we find that we are more alert to our actions, as they are unfolding. We remember where we put the keys because we mindfully placed them on the counter; we can see ourselves doing it because we were there!

I invite you to bring your attention to the number of times a day you find your thoughts on something other than what you’re doing in the moment. Whenever I notice this happening, I chuckle and think, “Heather is looking for Heather”. And that helps bring me right back into the present. The more aware you become of your tendency to be lost, in thought, the more opportunity you have to bring your attention back. It takes practice. Next month, we’ll talk about the best way to live in the present moment. Until then ….

Mindfulness exercise: If there are things that you habitually misplace, use those things to practice mindfulness. Commit to paying full attention to your keys, your cell phone, your spoon, whatever it is. Focus on when you pick them up, how you use them and where you put them when you’re finished. See how this simple exercise can begin to work in other areas of your life.

Until Heather reestablishes her online presence, she can be found on LinkedIn or via email.

By Contributing Author, Heather Noto