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Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Headshot

Mindfulness Meditation -- Achieving 'Unentangled Participation'

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No doubt we all time travel. Our minds constantly wander to the future or cruise to the past. I started studying mindfulness meditation when I discovered how often I wasn't really 'present' in my day to day activities.

For example, I might eat a meal while thinking about a project, my kid's homework, or something I failed to do, and not even notice my food disappearing. I might be in a conversation with a friend and actually thinking about my own troubles instead of listening to them. Worse, I might be on holiday and thinking about a past one or fantasizing about a future one while missing the one I was on.

Once I realized how often my mind wasn't present, I began to alter it. I did so with many exercises like meditation, yoga, walking in nature, and art. I've found it easier to 'be present' with any experience -- good or bad -- through these practices.

Ironically, it's made my time travelling mind a lot calmer and a lot happier in time travels as well. Now when my thoughts venture into the future -- to daydream, to imagine -- I do so without an emotional 'clinging' or 'striving' or 'wanting' attached to it. When I wander down memory lane, I do so with less wanting as well, without an anguish to wish I had made a different choice, or with a guilt or sadness attached to the choices I made.

I seem to be able to look at events in the past or future as if I'm being told a story or as if I am visiting a friend in a far-way land. A friend said it's like you are a time traveler but now have packed just the right suitcase -- with just the right clothes for the trip -- no more, no less; a perfectly packed suitcase to enable me as a player in the adventure to wear the right clothes and be adequately prepared for the part.

A monk, Ajahn Amaro, called this sort of awareness 'unentangled participation'. I can't think of a more perfect way of describing it.

Time travel or present moment experiences conducted with unentangled participation means experiencing life -- whether that is travelling to the future or past or not -- without the excess baggage. It is experience without becoming entangled or snared by emotions or thoughts of desire, wanting, striving, avoidance, fear, greed, etc. It's a means of accepting things as they are and at the same time, heightening one's awareness of the forces that entangle us.

I think of Br'er Rabbit when I hear the term 'unentangled' and the experience of being caught in an Elderberry bush of emotion or thought versus the freedom when we are not.

Mindfulness is a practice that hones our skill as Br'er Rabbit might, to move stealthily through the garden of life without getting 'caught'. It makes time travel so much more enjoyable.

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