Being Present and Improving Life With Mindfulness

By Conan Milner
Conan Milner
Conan Milner
Conan Milner is a health reporter for the Epoch Times. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.
September 7, 2016 Updated: September 26, 2016

Like it or not, the thoughts you hold in the morning can shape your mindset for the rest of the day. A new book titled “Mindful Morning” aims to start your day with a clear mind and an open heart.

Author David Dillard-Wright, Ph.D., teaches philosophy, religion, and ethics at the University of South Carolina–Aiken. His book takes inspiration from a variety of sources, including ancient philosophers, modern scientists, Christian mystics, and Taoist masters.

The book contains many voices, but the basic message is easy to follow. Mindful Morning is designed to be a slow read: one page a day. Each page starts off with an inspirational quote, followed by a simple exercise to strengthen your peace and awareness.

Science has shown that practicing meditation and mindfulness can develop noticeable benefits for the body and mind. But cultivating such clarity takes commitment, so much so that many shy away from it before giving it a fair try. Dillard-Wright says devoting just a few moments a day to clearing the mind can improve quality of life. 

“I’m a college professor, and even though I’ve been doing this for over 10 years, I still get nervous before classes,” Dillard-Wright said. “But if I can center myself and do my meditation before I go to class, I think my lectures go better. I interact better with the students and I’m happier in my teaching. I think the same thing applies no matter what job you have.”

Epoch Times talked to Dillard-Wright about his book and why we should take time for quiet contemplation.

Epoch Times: What is mindfulness and why should we cultivate it?

David Dillard-Wright: Mindfulness is about attending to what’s around us at an immediate point in time. I think the reason it’s important is that it keeps us from living in the past or in the future.

Sometimes we can get bogged down in regret, and the bad things that happened in the past can hold us back and keep us from what is good in the present moment.

In regards to the future, sometimes we have grand designs and quasi-magical visions of success and grandeur. But if they’re not rooted in what’s happening in the present, they don’t really mean anything.

If we can live in the present, then it is ultimately a more satisfying experience. It allows us to see the good and beautiful things around us. We can better attend to everyday life and cut out some of the distraction.

Epoch Times: Your book recommends mindfulness cultivation first thing in the morning. What’s so special about the morning? Why focus attention on a time of day that many people dread?

Mr. Dillard-Wright: In principle, you could and should do this at any time. So if the morning doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. But if you can get things on the right track when you’re first starting out in the morning, it becomes easier to do for the rest of the day.

If you have a hyperactive morning where you just bolt out the door, that tone is likely to continue throughout the rest of the day. But if you can intervene early, get centered and grounded, get a hold of the situation, and get yourself in the right mindset, it helps the rest of the day to go better.

Epoch Times: What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation, and how do they relate to one another?

Mr. Dillard-Wright: With mindfulness, you’re trying to stay completely immersed in the experience you’re going through. You could be working on a PowerPoint or spreadsheet, but you’re trying to put your whole attention on what you’re doing, rather than going off into fantasyland or trying to do two or three other things at the same time.

I think meditation is a foundation for mindfulness. If you can center yourself in that space of meditation, then it becomes easier to practice mindfulness spontaneously as you’re going about your everyday life. If you don’t have that baseline foundation, it’s going to be much harder to be mindful.

Epoch Times: You’ve written several books on meditation and mindfulness. Why is it important to you that people seek time for reflection?

Mr. Dillard-Wright: It’s a really important part of my life that I can’t imagine doing without. To me, it doesn’t really matter what tradition you belong to. You can be a completely secular person and meditate. It helps calm me down. It gets rid of anxiety and helps me perform better.

No matter what I’m doing, it helps me stay tuned in. It helps me maintain my peace of mind, but I think it’s good for everyone in my life. It helps me pay better attention to my kids and helps me be a better husband.

Epoch Times: Your book pulls quotes from a variety of sources. Were these the statements that best articulated what you wanted to say, or were you just trying to appeal to a wide audience?

Mr. Dillard-Wright: It’s a mixture of those things. I wanted to show people that there is something about this practice that is universal, because it’s in all these different world traditions. I don’t want to say that all religions or philosophies are the same … but certainly there are aspects that overlap.

I think you can find the wisdom anywhere if you’re looking for it. 

It’s easy to get bogged down in theological or philosophical controversies, but that’s ultimately not very helpful. What is helpful to people is figuring out how to have more calm and more peace in daily life.

Epoch Times: Talk to me about the pace of your book. You want readers to just take in one page a day, and focus on just one thought. Why so slow?

Mr. Dillard-Wright: It’s designed to be used one exercise at a time, but I understand that people will flip through it. It won’t hurt anything if you read ahead or skip a couple days. But at the same time, there is a discipline to staying with your assignment for that day.

This book is about getting to the silent and uncomfortable places, like boredom. You know, boredom has a real value to it. I think we forget that because we’re so wired all the time.

We think that we’re never supposed to be bored, and that’s a tremendously bad idea, because creativity actually feeds on boredom. If you’re never bored, your mind is probably not working at full capacity. Some of my best ideas have come from getting bored and frustrated. If we keep ourselves entertained all of the time we probably won’t be very creative, because we won’t have to be. Someone else is already doing it for us.

That’s what the one page a day is all about. As human beings we’re known to devour things. We’ll binge-watch a whole season of a TV program. But there’s a lot to be said for taking things slowly. The older I get, the more I see there’s never a benefit in rushing things.

Epoch Times: What do you hope people get out of reading your book?

Mr. Dillard-Wright: I hope they will be able to cut down on stress and anxiety, and feel less pressured in life, and manage whatever it is that they’re facing.

I don’t think meditation or mindfulness is going to magically take away anyone’s problems. It’s not going to pay your bills or give you magical powers. But in a way, being calm and centered is a magical power.

When you’re calm and centered, and your mind is clear, it becomes easier to come up with solutions for the problems that arise in your life, and it’s not as easy for people to take advantage of you.

If you can cut back on distractions it leads you to not only be calmer, but to have a more productive and satisfying life.

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Conan Milner
Conan Milner
Conan Milner is a health reporter for the Epoch Times. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.