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Knowingly, Let Your Mind Wander

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Even though mindfulness and spacing out both allow for navigation of one experience to the next, the difference is knowing when we are wandering versus not knowing. Choice less awareness or open focus is going with the flow but without directing the flow. That involves letting go, non striving, and active acceptance, qualities that exist in the present moment.

I recently read an article about mindfulness and mind-wandering. It was a good article albeit too wordy which ironically tends to move me in the direction of unconscious mind-wandering if I am not diligent.

The shorter blogging format works better for me because if I can’t express something simply, I tend to wait to express it until I can. I had been thinking about this subject recently after someone in my class asked me what the difference was between “spacing out” and mindfulness.

How “Spacing Out” Is Different From Mindfulness

At first glance the lines between mindfulness and spacing out can get blurred. From the outside looking in there are similarities as both approaches allow for the navigation of one experience to the next.

I’ve done my share of both approaches and it seems to me that the difference is knowing when we are wandering versus not knowing.

  • Knowing implies a connection with the experience which allows for a full spectrum embracing of what is happening.
  • Not knowing implies that our attention can be anywhere without us actually being connected to it.

This is problematic because we know that the experience of being disconnected induces and perpetuates the stress reaction. When we are disconnected (our way of coping with extreme stress) the body interprets it as meaning that there is danger present….thus the relation to stress.

In the world of trained attention I call it choice less awareness or open focus. 

Benefits Of Letting The Mind Wander

Nonetheless there is something to be said for the benefits of mind-wandering/spacing out as it relates to creativity, resilience and restfulness. Combining mindfulness with wandering-mind/spacing out is something I enjoy very much. In the world of trained attention I call it choice-less awareness or open focus. I liken it to shifting a car into neutral and just letting the engine idle. It allows the car to “rest” and prepare for the next engagement of the gears.

Choice less awareness or open focus melds alert attention and no choice. It’s being present as the world streams through us without directing the experiences. Going with the flow so to speak but without directing the flow. That involves letting go, active acceptance and non striving. These are qualities that exist in the present moment and qualities that are complimentary to positive mind-wandering/spacing out.

So feel free to enjoy the mind-wandering….just make sure you are present while doing it.

Paul Sugar
Star Expert

I am the founder and Director of the Scottsdale Institute for Health and Medicine. I completed the advanced MBSR teacher training in 1994 at the Center for Mindfulness pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and am a Certified MBSR instructor through the Center for Mindfulness at the UCSD School of Medicine. In addition, I am a Mentor for the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) certification candidates there. I have taught over 60 Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction- 8 week MBSR and MBCT programs and have delivered hundreds of mindfulness based workshops for over 20 years .I've taught mindfulness in the health care, corporate, academic, sports and private sectors. I have been practicing and teaching meditation, yoga and tai chi for over 40 years.

Paul Sugar
Star Expert

I am the founder and Director of the Scottsdale Institute for Health and Medicine. I completed the advanced MBSR teacher training in 1994 at the Center for Mindfulness pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and am a Certified MBSR instructor through the Center for Mindfulness at the UCSD School of Medicine. In addition, I am a Mentor for the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) certification candidates there. I have taught over 60 Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction- 8 week MBSR and MBCT programs and have delivered hundreds of mindfulness based workshops for over 20 years .I've taught mindfulness in the health care, corporate, academic, sports and private sectors. I have been practicing and teaching meditation, yoga and tai chi for over 40 years.

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