Absence of mind doesn’t mean you are careless or lacking in focus, it just means the mind is meandering through fascinating labyrinths invisible to the open eye.
All of us have moments when we lose track of the present, traipsing off into another world. Scientists, poets philosophers and creative people are most notorious for their absentminded ways, hence the “absent-minded professor” syndrome. Several anecdotes revolve around Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton due to their scattered, forgetful ways. Einstein once called the University he worked at to ask for his own address. Newton would forgetfully keep visitors waiting for hours, and had to be reminded to eat. Einstein, too, needed reminders to eat and take his classes. GK Chesterton once kept trying to open his door with a cock screw he borrowed from neighbours, rather than the latchkey in his other hand.
With multifarious distractions and mind-boggling technology today, the “absent-minded professor” syndrome strikes in newer ways. Forgetting where you kept your car keys, having that panicky moment when you think you misplaced your cell phone, before you realise you are talking on it, forgetting why you walked into a room or why you opened the refrigerator, or forgetting why you called when someone takes the call ——- are commonplace.
Once a colleague reported trying to open his house door by swiping his I-card. Another kept trying to use her cell phone to increase the TV volume. To a mind focussed on the here and now, absent-mindedness may seem a negative that holds you back from worldly success. Children are reprimanded for daydreaming and taught the virtues of staying focussed. But, wait a minute, being absent-minded is not to lack in focus. Sometimes we are focussed on something else that is not of this world —— an elusive element that we seek to chase, understand, grasp and perhaps bring back into this world as poetry, writing, a sketch, a unique thought or a great discovery. It points to a “mindlessness” that allows us to soak up experiences and knowledge that too much mindfulness of the present reality cannot give us.
In THE LAST SAMURAI, Nobutada, son of the leader of the Samurai rebellion tells Tom Cruise, “Forgive me, too many minds…..” and counsels him that to be a Samurai, he must seek a “stillness of the mind” “No mind, no mind…” he advises.
When the mind phases out and floats away, it takes away with it any sense of ego. “I” ceases to exist and you float in “mindlessness”, like an empty cauldron ready for new, unique experiences. We no longer see the world so lucidly, though we see more clearly facts and truths hidden from us earlier. Sufis say that in order to reach God in this life, we need to die before we die. Rumi says that in order to open the doors of Heaven on earth, we need to melt down ego. “FANA” is to melt down the consciousness of “I” and to be reborn here and now, in the consciousness of the Divine. And from such Divinity, flows great beauty.
Rumi says mindlessness helps you unite with the Divine. For Rembrandt, Paul Gauguin, Turner or Bach, mindlessness united them with their work. For Einstein or Newton, it fetched unique concepts. So the “creator” and the “created” become one. How can you separate the “dancer” from the “dance” ? When you become mindless, you unite with the Universal flow, allowing the “right brain” to take over. You are in a unique position where you absorb, understand, discover, become One and create.
So, what’s wrong with being absent-minded ? Far from being a “negative”, it is a desirable state that everyone can, or even should, aspire to.