Writer: Erin Lee
Let's face it. Spacing out feels good and relaxing, blissful even. After we’ve had a long, hard day, we just want to lay back on the couch, and do or think nothing for a while.
I have friends who sometimes share that they’ve just had some wonderful moments of mindfulness. When I inquire further, they'd tell me they were doing nothing and simply spacing out.
"There was just nothing going on..." they would say. "I wasn't thinking about anything. I was just being mindful."
The state of spacing out (also known as "zoning out" or "blanking out") is often mistaken to be the same as being mindful, and this stems from having an incorrect understanding of mindfulness.
When we are spaced out, we are mostly disconnected from the reality of our experience. Our attention tunes out from what is happening inside and around us, or from the task we are supposedly engaged in.
We may also be daydreaming while spacing out, although we might not actually be aware of it and perceive that we are not actively thinking about anything.
When we are spaced out, we are essentially on autopilot.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a state of relaxed alertness, during which we practice being aware of every moment as much as possible.
When we are mindfully aware, we make an effort to pay attention to our experience, so that we are conscious of what is happening inside and outside of us. Even when we are tired, we gently attend to the tiredness in the body and mind.
Spacing out disengages us from the reality of our experience. Mindfulness connects us back with it.
Is spacing out bad for us then?
While I wouldn’t say that spacing out is necessarily bad or wrong, from the perspective of practicing mindfulness effectively, it is important to distinguish between the two.
On top of allowing rest and relaxation, spacing out can potentially invite creativity and produce new ideas, like those “aha” moments that arrive while you are relaxing in the shower.
Mindfulness serves a very different purpose.
We don’t practice mindfulness to relax or to get good ideas. We practice mindfulness so that we stay present and learn to be with our experience as it is.
We intentionally tune in to what is arising in each moment of our present experience - thoughts, emotions, physical sensations in the body, impulses, tendencies, and habit patterns.
We cultivate full awareness of our internal states and invite healthier, wiser responses to even the most uncomfortable moments we encounter during practice.
You can now see why spacing out and being mindful are two very different things. We cannot therefore replace a mindfulness practice with a session of spacing out.
So space out if you’d like to. But when we set the intention to practice mindfulness, we want to make sure sure that we stay in the know of the present.