The Opposite of Mindfulness

Some things are up for debate. Should toilet paper be rolled over or under? Is it okay to tell a white lie if it will prevent hurting someone’s feelings? Is a hotdog a sandwich? 

Other things are not. What side of the road should you drive on in the United States? What internal temperature makes chicken safe to eat? Is it okay to cheat on your taxes?

I used to think of the positive value of mindfulness over multi-tasking to be planted firmly in the not-up-for-debate camp. I mean, can you argue against scientific studies touting the physical, mental and emotional health benefits of focusing your awareness on the present moment? 

Yes, actually, you can. 

Don’t get me wrong; there are many good reasons to practice mindfulness. But just because something is good doesn’t mean that the opposite of that thing isn’t also good. 

Let me give you an example. An exercise often suggested for beginners in mindfulness is washing dishes with attention and intention. As you run a plate under hot water, notice how the ceramic feels in your hands; smell the dish detergent and hear the foaming bubbles.  Take deep breath and just be in the moment. Completing an exercise like this can lower stress levels, increase gratitude and generate peace. These are all good things. But there are other good ways to wash dishes as well. 

I spent a lot of time at the kitchen sink today, and rather than situating myself in the present moment, I chose to mentally write this post. I came up with the idea, formulated a thesis statement, and determined a catchy introduction. I didn’t finish the load of dishes having achieved inner peace, but I did make the washing process more interesting and I saved myself half an hour of working through the details of the post while sitting in front of my computer.  

There is a time and place for mindfulness, and developing the ability to calmly acknowledge and accept your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations in a given moment—without making that mental to-do list, or rehearsing a future conversation, or ruminating about a past experience—is a worthy objective. But sometimes zoning out, or mentally multitasking, or even just singing a song that you like to yourself (or out loud!) can be a good use of time as well. 

Don’t be afraid to do the opposite of what seems like the “healthy” option. Fewer things are situated in the “not up for debate” category than we may initially think. 

Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.