I am currently living in a Buddhist community in northern Thailand. Everyday we practice meditation, and mindfulness is a way of life; it is embedded in the way we talk, walk, work and eat.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is awareness, appreciation and acceptance of ourselves in the present moment, without judgement.
Mindfulness in meditation is simple. It's not about levitation, chanting "om", or reaching some sort of superhuman state of consciousness (though that would be great); in the words of New Life Foundation's meditation coach, "the goal of this meditation is simply to be who we are, right here and now, in this very moment. So you literally can't do it wrong."
This is one of the reasons why mindfulness is so wonderful: It's accessible.
But why then is it so damn hard??
As someone said to me recently, "The problem with being in the present moment is that you don't have foresight, and then you fuck up the future."
They have a point. I mean, if you don't think ahead, you'll get stung by immigration for overstaying your visa, or fail the exam for which you didn't plan to revise, or miss out on taking a holiday because you didn't book time off in advance.
And as humans, we have evolved to look ahead. It's how we've survived; stockpiling food for the winter, executing organised military plans of attack and even surprise birthday parties.
But there's a point after which planning is futile surely, and second guessing the future is just pointless, even costly (financially, emotionally, or physically).
Take my situation: I planned to volunteer at New Life for a month. I was then going to head across the border into Laos and volunteer at Project Kajsiab, an initiative that brings Western travellers into contact with local women to share skills and creativity, then I was going to meet my friend from London, who was coming out for a holiday, and we were going to go into the jungle together; I had it all figured out. I booked my spaces over the Internet from back home in the UK and waited for the adventure to begin.
After around 4 days at New Life, I changed my return flight home to give me another month at the Foundation. A couple of weeks later, my friend told me she'd been offered a job and wasn't going to be coming out to southeast Asia anymore. A week before my trip to Laos, I cancelled the jungle trip and space volunteering with the Lao women because I'd been offered a longterm place at New Life, so I needed a new visa from the Thai embassy in Vientiane, which had to be factored into my trip.
Everything changed. And largely based on how I felt about New Life within only a week of finalising my itinerary in my flat in Deptford.
Now, take affairs of the heart. You can't plan to fall in love. 'I'll just finish this, and pencil in falling in love in September.' Said noone ever. It just doesn't work like that.
Things change and life happens. It's not always possible to stick to the original path; there's a fork in the road and we have to choose a direction. We are forced to choose without research, without knowing where the path leads, what we'll encounter along the way, or whether it'll be painful. Our evolutionary skill at planning becomes futile; we have only trust, in ourselves, our instincts, in those we meet along the way and trust that the Universe knows what it's doing, even if we don't.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, 'Everything comes at the appointed time.' Resistance only leads to suffering; embrace change and life becomes easy.
"A situation only becomes favourable when one adapts to it" (The I Ching), so sure you can plan, but be mindful that it can only get you so far. Then you adapt to survive. And that's another one of mankind's greatest evolutionary tricks.