Mindfulness

Mindfulness Makes Life More Meaningful, and Longer

The observer-observed dichotomy, and how it can extend your life.

Posted Oct 23, 2019

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Many people struggle with detaching from their day-to-day events. I believe this is because they have strongly wired neural pathways corresponding to habitual ways of thinking and acting. Unfortunately, for many people, these sets of habits often do not include being mindful.

Our attention spans are degrading, and anything that is not new is boring to the ego.

My job is to show you the potential of mindfulness, but I have to avoid making it boring. So let me introduce some novelty to what you think mindfulness is.

Do you know what the dichotomy of the observer and the observed is? I admit it may not sound all that fun. However, I promise you that it is extremely meaningful and at the root of why mindfulness is so powerful:

That which is observed is anything that is being experienced.

The observer is that which experiences.

Nothing you feel or ever will feel will change who you are at the deepest level, because you are part of all, and you are not the same when you’re reading this word, or this. From one moment to the next, the ego can maintain the illusion of being non-ephemeral. But how could something last from one point in time to another when everything in the universe is constantly changing?

If your ego is what you’re thinking and feeling, how could the sensation of time having gone on not mean that you’ve also changed?

Try to define who you are: The person in the mirror? The experience of reality in its entirety? The feelings and emotions you have?

You are an illusion.

The illusion of the self is the attempt of your brain to create an accurate model of the world. When you’re talking to someone or studying for an exam, it is economically sound for the brain to assume that there is an autonomous entity inside of your head that does all the thinking and talking. The reason the illusion exists in the first place, I believe, is because it saves us energy to not see every moment as new. We have a strong confirmation bias doing its thing in our mind to convince us of the existence of the self.

Seeking the next reward is another reason people believe they have an ego. Constantly chasing feelings leaves no headspace for introspection and chokes awareness.

The ego can be great for short-term productivity. If we build upon the assumption that the self exists, we can shift our attention to other concepts and build mental models around them.

The problem arises when we never snap out of the short-term productivity mindset. If we’re always doing, we’re never solely observing.

Are you stuck in doing, seeking, acting, and pursuing modes, not knowing what the ultimate meaning of it is?

Doing and 100% observing are logically contradictory states of being.

I’m not suggesting that you should drop everything you’re doing in your life; I’m suggesting that you start practicing mindfulness. If you get good at observing your emotions and thoughts, you will have better self-knowledge, which will result in better control of your own behavior.

Mindfulness is not about caring less; it is about caring more about the things that matter, by letting go of the illusory emotional meaning that your mind assigns to meaningless things.

Let go of your ego. Try to find space between you and your emotions.

Observe.

Be okay with what is, and let the beauty of it unfold in front of your eyes, you don’t have to do anything. That’s the essence of mindfulness.

If you get into a state of ego death, complete observe-mode, the question of the duration of life completely changes its meaning.

Experienced time is not the same in higher states of awareness as in day-to-day life. When you’ve practiced mindfulness for a long time, you can get into states of experiencing forever, in the present.

One time that I had such a timeless feeling was when I practiced the Wim Hof method. I had been in a mindful state the entire day and started deliberately hyperventilating with a friend of mine in the cold environment of a Swedish forest. The practice entails 4 rounds of 30 breaths in and out, with the final full out-breath followed up by holding one's breath as long as possible. When the breath can no longer be held, the round is completed by one deep in-breath.

During this in-breath, my mind was no longer concerned with who I was, where I was from, or what I had to get done later in the day. I was truly in the present, and it felt like I was there forever.

Time as measured by the clock (and thereby age) is not a good measure of the amount of life well lived.

Would you say that you’re experiencing an hour the same way when paying your bills as when having a great conversation with a close friend?

You probably experience the quantity of time to be larger when paying your bills, because it’s boring. The experienced quality of the time spent with your friend is probably better.

To get a grasp of how to value the clock-time of being alive, consider the quality of the experiences you will be able to fill the clock-time with.

We should focus on the quantity and quality of experienced time. I believe we do this by engineering our experience, specifically by becoming more mindful.

I see much more value in adding life to years than in adding years to life; I would rather live 30 years in the present than 180 years of being stuck in an unhappy ego.

I believe that my experience of 2019 was more than 3 times ”as long” as 2015, when I was addicted to gaming and had no purpose in life. There’s so much more to life than constantly seeking the next surge in pleasure. Pleasure is meaningful in the moment it happens, but it often negatively affects you in the long-term.

Mindfulness helps you see vividly which pursuits get you closer to your long-term goals and, if you’re good at it, helps you find more meaning in every moment. If you compare the meaningful experiences I had in 2015 with those I had in 2019, the multiple goes up into the millions. I had meaningful experiences more frequently (as baseline, actually) in 2019 than in 2015 (2-second dopamine hits), and they felt like they were longer per clock-second.