Idiomdrottning’s homepage

Savoring & Wandering

I’ve always had a hard time doing boring things like washing the dishes or walking or just existing but recently I got two pieces of advice that, although they kind of contradict each other, taken together they have really helped.


A few weeks ago I read Francine Joy’s Lightly. For the most part it’s just minimalism basics and nothing new to people who know what that’s about (for those who are unfamiliar with minimalism, though, it is a very good intro that I definitively recommend. She’s well-read and intentional and explains wide-ranging topics clearly and simply). I also was frustrated with the metaphoric image of minimalism as “lightly”; I want to live my life fully, not breeze over it.

Then I got to the “savor” chapter. Now this is more to my liking! She uses the metaphor of savoring, really carefully tasting, to explain awareness practice and mindfully doing whatever you’re doing fully. Taking a walk is boring but might as well enjoy it, examine things along the route, being curious about the aches that keep plaguing my old hips, being aware of what I’m doing. Same goes for washing the dishes; enjoying the brushstrokes, the sound of water, the plate getting gradually cleaner, figuring out a good order to place the dishes in.

Not that that approach is new to me; it’s core to the kind of meditation practice I’ve been into for the past decade and a half.

It’s just that the “savor it” mental model cleanly encapsulated the idea, making it easy to remember, and making it intrinsically appealing as opposed to something to do out of some sense of duty to a practice.

The Wandering Mind

Once I learned to value the “when sitting, just sit” approach, the one-thing-at-a-time awareness practice, probably better known as the focused totality of my telepathic abilities, boring things sometimes was really joyful.

And other times they were even more boring than ever before. Painful, even. I’d alternate between being this totally centered Zen Master and nobody had noticed, vs losing all control and giving up completely and totally numbing myself with records and TV and IRC and Fedi and video games.

And the “better” and “more offline” I’d be one day the more lost and outta control I’d be the next day. One day being good, having my GTD lists or reading or resting, the other day completely giving in to being nerd-sniped or watching YouTube or cartoons.

Doing boring things felt like moving a mountain.

Enter Stolen Focus:

It’s an ambitious book that covers a lot of topics and in many cases it comes to some pretty wack conclusions so I hope I get an opportunity to return to it in another essay, but I’m gonna start with the “wandering mind” idea. Daydreaming. Being OK with your thoughts not being with the task at hand but with anything and everything at all. Having your own internal noise machine, what some Qin era buddhists called the “monkey mind”.

Hari, the author of Stolen Focus, argues that this is not an entirely bad thing. Giving yourself room to think freely is one of the things missing from today’s society. “Don’t you have time to think?” as Feynman famously phrased it.

I don’t know if that’s obvious to you or not, but to me it was mindblowing. It felt like getting permission to absolutely drop the ball while simultaneously doing things more focusedly than ever.

I’ve been trying it out. Not all the time but as an “at least it’s better than headphones and sitcoms” kind of thing, just like doing something “little-and-often” is better than not doing it at all. I don’t want to lose out on my awareness practice, but doing something with a wandering mind sounds heck of a lot better than not even being able to do it without a ton of digital anaesthesia, and doubly so if Hari is right that it’s this sorta daydreaming is actively beneficial.

Now, I’ve already found myself missing a way to write down and capture some of the wild ideas I come up with when my mind wanders like this. When I first got into GTD, I was really good at what it calls “the capture habit”, but the more I applied GTD successfully, the simpler my life became and things stopped rattling around in my head unsortedly or falling through the cracks so I stopped having a pen in my hand at all times. I do enough “mind sweep” sessions as it is (that means deliberately going into mind-wander mode while scrawling down and mindmapping things that come to mind, to later sort them onto the GTD list). But maybe that’s something I could bring back a little bit.


The wandering mind was a mistake for me. I am committed to my meditation practice. I need it and it needs me.