Today I saw mindfulness in action in a way I never could have imagined!

I met a girlfriend (pictured above) in Tokyo for brunch. We hadn’t seen each other in several weeks and we were so happy to catch up. We grabbed a cup of coffee and then ate…and had another cup of coffee. We were talking a mile a minute – around and about and over each other. It was a delightful early morning buzz of caffeine and friendship.

After our brunch we decided to walk over to the Mori Art Museum and look out over the city from the 6o-something floor. We were surprised to find a technology exhibit going on. It wasn’t really what we’d come for, so we sat and talked on the benches for a bit, looking out with a birds-eye view of the urban blanket below and marveling at what it’s like to be living in the biggest city in the world.

Eventually, my friend suggested we check out the exhibit. The first one we came upon was a giant box with a seat in the middle facing the windows that look out below to the city. Surrounding the window on all four sides were triangle-shaped mirrors that could close in, thus blocking the view out the window.

The docent explained that we could sit in the chair and wear a headset that reads brain waves (this probably has some technical name, but I don’t know what it is). When we were “relaxed” and not focusing on our thoughts, the mirrors would remain open and our view would be of the city below. However, if we focused on something – a particular thought or image – the mirrors would close.

The most interesting thing to me initially was my own thought process in approaching this experiment. I felt genuinely “relaxed” and happy to be with my friend, but I knew I had a lot on my mind. I found myself really “wanting” the window to stay open. I wanted to be calm and at peace and meditative. I recognized myself setting this up as some sort of mindfulness challenge. Would I be able to be present? Could I allow my thoughts to pass without grasping on to them, over analyzing them or making them into a friend or enemy?

You can guess where this is going.

Once my headset was on and I was into position, the mirrors immediately started closing. My mind was racing around saying, “Be calm! Just breathe! Meditate!”

It makes me laugh now because it was so hilariously NOT what was going to make the mirrors remain open.

I was annoyed at myself a bit, but also completely fascinated to see this whole thing working in this way. And it was so consistent with what I’ve come to know about my mind already – it’s almost always whirring away. Usually the first ten minutes of my meditation practice are a blur thinking and bouncing all over the place. I come to a quieter mind after much, much mental movement.

So after a minute or so, I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Within seconds I could tell that the mirror was opening. I cracked my eyes, stayed focused on the breath coming in and out and I could see the mirror stop, open, close a bit. It was as if this experiment was the visual of my meditation practice. I even at one point found that I was really still mentally, but as soon as I began to strive to stay there – the mirror began to close.

Honestly, I could have stayed in this experiment for so much longer – observing the ins and outs of my thought patterns and my awareness of the world around me.

I found the visual imagery of the closed mirror (of the racing mind) versus the world below through the window (of the soft, open mind) incredibly beautiful.

And even home now, hours later, I feel so many emotions about this – excited, thoughtful, reflective, giddy at the cool science-ness of it and also so at peace with the ins and outs of cultivating a more mindful existence. Doing this experiment was an incredible reminder that the journey’s always going on inside whether we see it or not. We’re a little bit mindful here, a little less there, a little more there – but we’re mindful when we can be and how we can be. The key, as always, remains simply remembering to pay attention.

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