Mindlessness or Mindfulness? What is the difference?

sky crop

This morning I sat for hours in the vegetable garden weeding, dirt up to my elbows.  At one point I got hot and took off my shoes and socks and just crawled around in the dirt like an infant.  I was not thinking of anything in particular, just plucking tiny weeds (but not eating them).  My mind felt particularly blank.  I had no stress, no urgency, no need to be any place but where I was, no need to do anything but what I was doing.   For me, being fully engaged physically with the air and sun on my face is like meditation.  I am at peace inside and out.

Tonight I am wondering about the difference between mindlessness and mindfulness.   Maybe it is a matter of intention.  When I am being mindless (like this morning), it is simply a state of being.  There is no real intention but to be present in the moment—and even that is not really intentional.  It just is.

Mindfulness seems more like working with intention, working at being present, working to be conscious.  In other words, it seems like work.

What is the difference for you?

I have met so many people who work so hard to be mindful and conscious.  I suspect that there is a level beyond that where being is simply enough—there is nothing to work toward, nothing to work for.  In all my years of meditation practice, I had a difficult time quieting my mind in sitting meditation.  But put me in the garden or even in front of a sink full of dishes and meditation happened naturally.  There was no more fight between my mind and my body—they were one.

I remember a story about two young men who were seeking realization.  One went in search of realization, traveling far and wide, studying ancient texts and sitting at the Guru of the month’s feet with devotion and attention.  The other stayed and worked the earth, tilling, planting, and harvesting.

Which one attained the goal?

I remember another story about a woman who waited long hours in a darshan line in order to get a message for her life from the Guru.  She had a small infant with her and the baby got fussy and tired of being held.  When the woman finally got in front of the Guru she implored the Guru, “Please Sadguru, give me a message for my life, a message of direction and purpose.”

The Guru looked at the woman and the infant and said, “Your baby is crying.”

“Yes, yes, I know.  We have stood in line for a very long time to hear a message from your wisdom and strength.  Please, a message . . . .”

The Guru looked again at the woman and said, “You’re baby is crying.  Take care of your baby.”

I love this story.  So many people are searching for what is before them and available at any moment in time.  The baby is crying and we need only take care of the baby.

One final story along these lines.  I loved Voltaire’s book, Candide–such a spoof on the seekers of the world.  Candide goes in search of “the best of all possible worlds” and along the way he has many adventures and mishaps.  He finds El Dorado, falls in love, is shipwrecked (I can’t remember them all) and in the end he returns and marries the girl of his youth but by now she is rather portly and dowdy.  He sees a neighbor sitting at the edge of his garden with two grown daughters attending him.  It is clear to Candide that this man has found “the best of all possible worlds” and he wants to know what he did to attain that.  The man just said, “I just tend my garden and it takes care of me and everything else.”

Now, it has been a long time since I read this book and I may have done some creative improvisation with the story—but that is how I remember it.

We should stop torturing ourselves.  Life is what is happening while we are in search of the best of all possible worlds.  It is here.  Now.

In the meantime, I have strawberries to pick . . .

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still


strawberry in the hand

Note:  Apologies for the constant gardening stories, but tis the season.  Be sure to subscribe below and share with others if you would like to get my weekly post.  Thanks to all of you who leave such wonderful comments or send me personal notes!

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Mindlessness or Mindfulness? What is the difference? — 11 Comments

  1. I love the gardening stories – but then I love garden! What a nice strawberry! Hmmm….you know what would be good – some strawberry rhubarb sauce on some ice cream – oh wait! We had that last night – tonight – a pie!!!!

  2. Your garden description sounds like “flow” to me. 🙂

    I love your blogs. But I have a question…I have wondered why you have apologized in times past for missing a week here and there. It seems to me a blog would be a place to write something when you have something to say…and that may or may not be every week…Or is there a deeper reason for the weekly discipline? I’m just wondering is all.

    Beautiful berry. Harvesting the bounty from a garden has always been a time of thanksgiving for me. It is truly a marvel that so many good things can be born from tiny seeds and little plants. It amazes me every time!

  3. Ahhh yes, life happens while you are looking for it. Thanks Patty for all the wonderful fables (garden related)!!

  4. My hands in the dirt “grounds” me. Mowing the lawn is my best mediation. It is for my sisters too. So when we move together we tease that we will have to have a schedule.
    The Bead People have been a hit so far with the volunteers at Hospice. I am talking up the idea of someone doing more with them.
    Love the strawberry picture!

    • Hi Bess,

      Yes, hands in the dirt! I also like mowing. Milt is allergic to grass so it naturally falls to me, but I don’t mind. We are off to Wisconsin tomorrow to see my daughter and her family in their new home in Chippewa Falls. Any movement on your plans?

  5. You make an important distinction between mindlessness and mindfulness. I am still in the question of whether there is some benefit to being mindful rather than mindless, what that benefit is, and when it is called for (if at all). If I had to venture an opinion now, I’d say there is a benefit to the rigor and energy put forth in being mindful, and that the benefit has something to do with creating the world you want. Mindlessness is maybe more about enjoying the world as it is. Both seem vital aspects of life.

    • Hi Heidi,

      Yes, I am still pondering the difference myself. It is almost like one is floating (mindless) and one is with oar in hand (mindful). Both have purpose and benefit. But sometimes I when I think I am being mindful I am really just trying to impose something from my own mind into the natural flow of things and it doesn’t always work very well. Then I step back, let go, and it all returns to a more natural rhythm. Thanks for checking in. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

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