July 1, 2021

The Difference between Mindfulness & Zoning Out.

I know anxious folks who know a lot about mindfulness, and I have friends who are balanced as f*ck without knowing much about yoga or meditation.

Why is that?

To be honest, this article is not going to give a final answer to this paradox—it’s probably causing even more questions.

As I am trying to find balance in my own life between caring and taking care of myself, I started wondering how we can find a balance between the two.

When I entered the world of mindfulness, my life was completely out of control: no job, drama with friends, and huge mental health issues. I did what every privileged brat would do; I took a yoga teacher training.

And that was a good idea. I learned a lot about my own patterns and started understanding how emotional instability caused a lot of suffering in my life. Emotional triggers were draining my energy, and insecurities made me run away instead of facing my challenges.

Substance abuse and an incredibly bad diet took their toll on my ability to deal with frustration. Yoga helped me a lot with that. Especially the practice of Yin Yoga taught me that sometimes less can be more. Sometimes we just need to consciously slow down our thoughts and check out for some time.

There are folks who are able to do this without any training—and there are infoholics like me who need help with that.

It was hard to accept the fact that thinking about problems, solutions, and the state of the world 24/7 caused my anxiety. Over time I implemented the concept of temporarily letting go into my life—and it (almost) worked.

But then it tipped over to the other extreme. After a friend of mine who is a yoga teacher suggested that I should rather watch inspirational content than the news, I spend endless hours watching gurus from around the world talking about mindfulness.

I didn’t change my pattern; I just moved toward a different topic.

Especially the talks of Sadhguru inspired me to let go of reality even more. I spent around three to five hours a day meditating, doing yoga, or journalling—all of that while religiously drinking smoothies and eating healthy. It’s probably not surprising that it felt quite good to live like that.

At the same time, I noticed how former friends started distancing themselves from me. I felt like it was time to let go of these people who didn’t even care about the new-age wisdom I kept talking about.

But I also noticed that being around folks who talk about real-world problems started giving me anxiety. I was feeling good in my self-created bubble but incapable of dealing with real issues.

“If it doesn’t flow, let it go” was the advice my yoga teachers gave me at that time.

After a while of trying to become the next Russell Brand by presenting my newfound positivity to the world, the old problems started showing up. I needed to make money and find a balance between taking care of myself and taking responsibility.

With the help of yoga and meditation, I got pretty good at zoning out and ignoring everything besides the present moment. I was joking with friends that my nonattachment practice was just off the charts—and then someone said something pretty smart to me:

Dude, what’s the difference between zoning out all day and living a mindful life? Do you really think you are more mindful than a stressed-out activist because you chill all day? 

And then I started taking a look around me. I was living in Costa Rica. Surrounded by mindful folks living the dream. Doing yoga all day, visiting occasional sound healings, or reading some Tarot cards—all good stuff. It seemed to work for these people.

But then I started running out of money—and it stopped working for me.

I asked some of the local gurus what to do about my situation because I really didn’t want to leave. Most of them told me something along the lines of believe and anything is possible.

Unfortunately, the concept of just believing and manifesting worked as well as the thoughts and prayers many of us express after deadly shootings in shopping malls. I lost my sh*t at these people. I started questioning the whole mindfulness jam. I felt ripped off.

I began reaching out to my old friends. I stopped practicing yoga and spending time on meditation. I started writing again and stopped ignoring the world around me—and it was super stressful. It broke me again.

In the meantime, many of my friends became pretty successful in their jobs. Unfortunately, a few of them also struggled with burnout. And to my surprise, some of them started meditating or doing yoga.

What fascinated me the most was that it worked for them.

I spent more than 10 years learning about several yoga traditions, reading books on breathwork, and watching hours of respected gurus on YouTube…and these folks took a few yoga classes and changed their life. What the f*ck? Who is their teacher? Where can I sign up?

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret any of the time spent on learning about mindfulness. I feel like I am close to finally getting it.

Yoga, meditation, and other practices that are designed to improve our well-being are beautiful tools to make our life better—but they are not self-sufficient.

If we meditate to calm our mind and set ourselves up to face challenges in life—awesome. If our goal is to spend the rest of our life to nail the perfect handstand—not sure about that.

These mindfulness tools are super helpful when we feel stressed out, but stress is not always a bad thing. If we never leave our comfort zone, we will most likely feel depressed at some point—at least, that’s my experience.

I am definitely not a supporter of folks who make fun of yoga while running toward burnout, but I am also not a fan of belittling the efforts of people who want to make the world a better place while not having time to visit sound healings.

As always, there needs to be balance.

I was laughing hard when a fellow yoga teacher told me that he participated in 58 Ayahuasca sessions in one year. I felt sorry for the dude who told me that he worked 80 hours per week for years before burning out.

There are behaviors in the world of yoga that make me cringe and laugh at the same time, and the same goes for the corporate world and its participants—but none of them is right or wrong, and I am not here to judge any of that.

I learned that there is a fine line between mindfulness and completely zoning out.

Many people say that money doesn’t bring happiness, and that is true. There are plenty of rich people who are more depressed than others living in poverty. I can certainly say that doing yoga all day doesn’t automatically create happiness—but it can help.

If you have enough cash to chill out all day and sniff essential oils for breakfast—awesome. But it is not a free ticket to bliss if our life has no meaning besides striking advanced yoga poses.

Mindfulness should never be an excuse to zone out and not care about the rest of the world and the people around us.

If we set boundaries to protect our bubble of ignorance, we are not helping anyone, and things might get worse. Not facing challenges in life while meditating all day is almost like using air-conditioning because we can’t deal with global warming—it only makes it worse.

As mentioned in the beginning, I don’t have the ultimate answer to this paradox, but I am still searching.

I have a feeling that many folks could use some more mindfulness in their life—but I also sense that some of us might need to step up their getting-things-done game and spend less time on zoning out.


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