Life is not a journey you want to make on autopilot.Paula Rinehart
There’s a challenge that most people face that we are often not even aware of. It’s being on autopilot. You can call it mindlessness or habitual reactivity, but it all boils down to moving through life without being aware of the world around us. And it’s a state we spend most of our lives in.
This brings to mind my typical morning walk. Before the sun rises, I head to my local coffee house. So, as you can imagine it’s dark and there aren’t many people out and about. In fact, most of those I do see are homeless.
A little while back, as I was going on my morning walks, there was a young boy, about 18 years old that was standing on the other side of the street moaning and crying out. I continued to walk each morning and noticed that his location changed slightly, but he and his cries continued to be in the background.
Every day, I walked on my side of the street, on autopilot, eager to get my cup of coffee and start my day. Admittedly, I was not really at my most mindful state in those early morning moments before caffeine officially started my day. But day in and day out, nobody seemed to hear the cries but me.
It was clear that the young boy was in rough shape, perhaps in need of medical care. He looked like he hadn’t showered or changed his clothes in many days. I could see that he was in need. In my mindlessness, my morning walk on autopilot, I had missed that it was an actual boy suffering in front of my eyes. Where was my humanity, my motherly nature, my generosity for my fellow human being? Where was my mind at?
As a mother of three sons, his moans and crises deeply pained me. I thought, “Does your mother know where you are?” And still it was days before I connected with the situation and processed it emotionally.
I imagined what his life was like. Where did he stay? Did he have food? Did he have medical care? Was he cold? Does he have a home? These thoughts brought out a flood of compassion and tears.
While I sat with those feelings, I took action. I purchased him a jacket, a change of clothes, and filled the pockets with food gift cards. The next day, I approached him with the gifts, introduced myself, and asked his name.
His name was Tyler. He was 19 years old. I shared that I had noticed him morning after morning and wondered if he could use some warm clothes. Tyler thanked me sincerely for the bag.
I could have helped Tyler sooner had I not been on autopilot, had I not been preparing for my coffee and planning out my day. Once I allowed myself to not only give attention but to also set an intention, my response was quite different.
What have you missed while going about your day? Think back on what you saw or heard in the background, or possibly on what you actively chose to ignore. Give it attention and set an intention. For it’s when you wake up that you notice that you were sleeping.
To see how easily we accept a single story and the mindlessness in which we approach others, view this fantastic TedTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie here: