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  • Writer's pictureA D Ackerman

What Sudoku Taught Me About Mindfulness

So many people think that to be mindful requires years of study and the practice of specific, “weird” practices. That you must recite mantras, perform yoga poses, meditate daily, and go to silent retreats. While it can certainly help to do those things, for the average human, mindfulness does not require special equipment, apps, or practices.

Being mindful is being in a state of paying active attention. It is being aware of the one thing you want to be aware of. So, if I am meditating, and want to be aware of my breath, then that is the one thing to which I am paying attention. But what about when I am coaching? How am I mindful of my client’s needs and what they are saying?

By paying attention to ONLY the client, and not allowing myself to think about my NEXT client or my PRIOR client. By not thinking about my upcoming vacation. By NOT thinking about the next question I will ask, but by paying attention to their words, their unspoken messages, the energy changes in their conversation, and so on. I am not saying this is easy; in fact it’s quite hard to maintain complete attention on ONE thing only, whether in meditation, or in life.

I like to think in metaphors, and as I was trying to think of a metaphor or analogy for mindfulness, I realized that one of the ways that I can tell whether I am present or not, is what happens when I am working a Sudoku in my daily newspaper (yes, I still subscribe to a daily print newspaper—I feel it’s critical to support print journalism and freedom of the press—but this is a digression from the main point of this post). I realized that when I am fully PRESENT, I am able to block out all distractions and the Sudoku almost solves itself.

I have a process by which I go about solving each puzzle. If I stray from my process, I tend to make mistakes, even in the relatively easy puzzles. If I let my mind wander, I lose my place, I have a lot more trouble with the more difficult puzzles and may not be able to solve them at all. If I am able to really pay attention, I follow my process, and can generally solve all but the most difficult of them. I typically time myself. Therefore, for example, if I take more than ten minutes to solve an easy puzzle, I know I was not fully present while I was doing it.

If I do get distracted, I fully stop my Sudoku activity, pay attention to whatever seems to be important at that moment, take a few deep breaths, and then return to the puzzle when I feel that I can give it my full attention.

Based on my Sudoku experience, I seem to be able to more easily detect when I become less fully present in other circumstances. When I am thinking about what to cook for dinner while I am having a phone conversation with a friend, I notice, I take a full, deep breath, and I turn my attention back to my friend. Does it work every single time? No. Does it mostly work? Yes. And I am getting better at it the more I practice.

What about you? Do you have a way to know when you are fully present in the current moment? Do you have a metaphor for mindfulness? How important is it to you that the person you are with is fully present with you, and you with them? Is there a practice you can do daily that helps you to focus more completely on your current activity?


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