Have you ever driven home, and found that you did not notice the journey itself? Is there an instance, where after eating a meal, you realised you have not noticed how the food tasted like? Or have you forgotten where you left your phone because you weren’t paying attention when you placed it down? These are instances of being in the autopilot mode, which is not being aware of what is happening within us or around us. In this mode, our physical bodies go through the motions while our minds could be elsewhere. Sometimes, it is due to our minds wandering off to thinking, regretting about our past or worrying about our future, making us unhappy. At other times, we could have spaced out or are heedless, and that affects the task at hand. Autopilot is our default mode. That is to say, we are in this mode more often than not.
The opposite of the autopilot mode is being mindful. If we choose to be mindful, then how often should we be mindful? The answer is every waking moment. Mindfulness is not to be practised sporadically. It is to be practised at all times. In other words, there can never be too much mindfulness. Each moment of mindfulness builds up the energy and concentration to see the present object more clearly.
So how can we get out of the autopilot mode and be in the present moment? The only way is to remember to do it. For instance, you need to go to the ATM to withdraw some cash, or you need to go online to complete a registration. These events require you to remember and act on it.
In practising mindfulness, when we find the mind has wandered off to thinking or is heedless, we remember our intention to be present and bring the mind back. Each time it happens, we remember and bring the mind back. Hence remembering our intention to be present is the impetus to direct our attention back to the present moment. We not only need to do this during formal practice like sitting meditation but also during our daily activities. One way is to constantly remind ourselves to ask whether we are aware of the present moment, by mentally saying “aware”. We can also set everyday activities as a reminder. Like noticing clearly your arm movement each time you push a door open. Be aware of your standing posture each time you wait at the traffic light. Or eat one mouthful of food mindfully during each meal
In conclusion, mindfulness practice is difficult because our habitual behaviour is the autopilot mode. We are working against the grain. So put in the effort to constantly remember to be in the present moment and you will be well rewarded.