How to Maintain Mindfulness During Work and Reading?

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Mohnish 4 years, 3 months ago.

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    Hey everyone! I’ve got a question I’d love some insight on about work and reading:

    What does mindfulness specifically look like when you’re working on a laptop or reading a book all day? The TMI book gave a stellar description of what mindfulness looks like for walking, but curious what that description might be for working or reading. Essentially – how do you stay mindful during these two very cognitive activities?

    To be clear: It seems like work is made of a few components: a) reading something online, b) actively creating something (i.e. an email, a post, etc.), and c) actively getting lost in thought to solve or think through an issue (i.e. thinking without noticing that your thinking) – curious what the approach is here. Thanks!


    Ivan Ganza

    Hi Mohnish,

    It is very similar to formal meditation, for example returning to the breath each time we are alerted attention has wandered.

    Basically you stay with the relevant activity you are doing, and that is pretty much it. If the mind then wanders, it is noticed, and one returns again to that activity. It is really very natural and becomes quite normal to be simply on the task at hand, happily typing away or whatever it is, and staying with that. There will also be a sense of the room and what’s going on the in background, which can usually be quite pleasant. For example, while I am typing this the light is shining ever so beautifully and I can hear the sound of the heating system as it’s cold outside here near Calgary.

    To Summarize; stay with what you are doing, when wandering is noticed, simply return. Eventually it becomes automatic (so you don’t need to do anything active) — it just occurs on it’s own.


    (DT Teaching in Training)

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 4 months ago by  Ivan Ganza.


    Ivan – you’re the man.

    This is fantastic. Totally cleared this up. When you said “there’s a sense of the room, too” (i.e. there’s still peripheral awareness) that clarified it for me.

    Obviously, focusing on work is great, but it looks like when you focus too much, that peripheral awareness goes away (i.e. that “sense of the room” is gone). Finding that sweet spot – between focusing too little (can’t understand the words) and focusing too much (peripheral awareness goes away) – seems to be key.

    Let me know if I’m on base here, but thanks again!


    Ivan Ganza

    Hi Mohnish,

    I think you are correct.

    However — depending on the task and context of situation — there may be times (at least in my experience) where there is not much peripheral awareness for a time. Then the balance will shift again.

    It is a natural ebb and flow….

    For example; If I am visualizing a complex computer problem in my mind, I may not have much peripheral awareness at that time. I need all my processing power just to ponder and resolve the problem. There is only so much conscious awareness to go around.

    There is no rule which says peripheral awareness must be maintained at all times (as far as I know). The appropriate balance in contextual.

    The appropriate balance of attention and peripheral awareness for the given situation.


    (DT Teacher in Training)



    Hey Ivan! Thanks for the follow-up.

    Just for clarification:

    – Mindfulness is the appropriate balance of awareness and attention (both inside and outside your head)
    – That balance can change depending on the context – whether you’re reading, talking, or just walking
    – Technically, that balance can be 100% attention and 0% awareness, if the situation calls for it, but you should generally try to have both

    So if those hold true, there’s two patterns I want to spotlight:
    – Unintentionally getting lost in thought (i.e. mind wandering, thinking about something irrelevant)
    – Intentionally getting lost in thought (i.e. solving a computer problem)

    It seems like getting lost in thought unintentionally and getting lost in thought intentionally (i.e. I want to stew over this math problem, so let me think about it) seem to have the same profile and character. Essentially, they feel the same, because in both, you’re lost in thought (if you’re thinking about a computer problem, you’re not aware that you’re thinking, you’re simply getting lost in thought about the particular thing you intended to think about). The only thing that’s different is that one is an accident, and the other is intentional.

    Here’s my question: if you are intentionally getting lost in thought about something (i.e. solving a computer problem), is that still being mindful? Intentionally getting lost in thought is a common thing that happens when you’re working (because it’s the only way to problem-solve or think through an issue), yet it doesn’t exactly feel like mindfulness – it just feels like thinking. Let me know!

    Also, thanks for all the awesome advice here. Appreciate the time.


    Hi Mohnish,

    Everything you say is correct, except that 100% attention and 0% awareness isn’t really possible. This is because attention operates within the field of conscious awareness, and everything that is taken as an object of consciousness must first appear in awareness. So attention may occupy nearly all of the field of conscious awareness, but some part of that field is always constituted by pure awareness. When doing the kind of work you are describing, it might be more like 98% attention and 2% awareness, where there is still enough awareness to provide a channel for new ideas to enter consciousness from the parallel processing going on in numerous other unconscious sub-minds apart from those involved in attentional processing.

    Reflect on the problem solving process as you have actually experienced it. Linear processing develops an idea up to a point. Then suddenly you realize the approach you are pursuing raises another problem. Or you suddenly realize there might be a better way to get where you are going if you back up a few steps. Or you realize someone is calling your name or shaking your shoulder to get your attention. These are all manifestations of awareness.

    Mindfulness allows you to intentionally enter a high state of concentrated attention – when it’s appropriate. Without mindfulness, we tend to enter and dwell in attention dominated states when not appropriate, especially when driven to do so by desire and/or aversion.

    As you increase total conscious power, you are able to sustain much higher levels of mindfulness even while employing maximal attention to a problem. The result is superior problem solving ability and much more creative solutions. You are optimizing the combination of very precise linear processing capabilities, with their reductionistic, analytic and synthetic capacities, and the more holistic, less rigidly categorical and axiomatically constrained parallel processing capacities of the other parts of your mind-system.

    You might enjoy reading the appendix on Analytical Meditation, and perhaps googling some of the research done on problem solving.

    Best wishes,



    Hey Culadasa! Great to hear from you. Seriously – thanks for doing a deep dive here.

    The point that awareness needs to be there at all times – even it’s just at 2% – definitely escaped me, so thanks for clarifying that.

    Again, there’s intentionally getting lost in thought (i.e. let me think about x), and unintentionally getting lost in thought – here, it looks like intentionally doing that is totally fine, since it’s a high state of concentrated attention and you’re not being pulled by aversion or desire. Also, with more total conscious power (with more practice), you get the best of both worlds (high attention / high awareness).

    I’ll look into the appendix again, and check out some of the research on problem solving, but this was a wonderful, in-depth reply, so thanks.


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