Myth #2 You Can Be Mindful All the Time
Mindfulness arises from the intention to be mindful. The conscious mind can hold only one active intention at a time. By active, I mean presently arising as opposed to intentions that might have occurred before, and not yet to come to fruition. This “one-at-a-time” capacity for conscious intention means that many volitional mental formations compete for this very specific and very busy bandwidth. All day long our minds produce intentions, from those necessary for simple bodily functions such as changes of posture, eating or cooking, to more sustained and complex intentions necessary in earning our livelihood.
The ability to maintain mindfulness over the course of our days requires that we come back to mindfulness again and again (a function of very short-term memory) when our need for volition is not actively engaged with other needs. When we become skilled in daylong mindfulness, we find our minds nimbly moving back and forth between moments of simple mindfulness and other mental activities. This can happen so quickly and continuously that we have the illusion of continuous mindfulness. Indeed, as this ability develops something of this mindfulness can come to cover all the remaining moments.
The greatest challenge in this training awaits those whose livelihoods are intellectually laborious. While using the intellect in a sustained manner it is challenging to train the mind to return to mindful moments such as awareness of body postures, or mental notation. There is however some good news here. Even a little success in daylong mindfulness practice results in noticeable improvement in our formal sitting and walking.