I've been giving a little thought to this concept of "mindfulness," the idea that we should live in the moment and clear our minds, keeping free of distractions.

It's an age-old concept that has been practiced by followers of various philosophies and religions. It's a form of meditation that helps many cope with the accelerating pace of life in modern times.

Zen practitioners talk about concentrating on simple things, like tooth brushing, or just sitting alone in a room, and focusing entirely on the present: the atmosphere in the room, the sensations we feel, our breathing. The mind must be clear and still. It should not wander outside the room. It should not recall past events or bring up thoughts of the future.

One thing about this has stimulated a little internal debate. I raise a question: if we could master this type of mindfulness, wouldn't we be just like the animals? I'm sure they live mainly in the moment. But isn't thinking like a human being what makes our species unique? The ability to consider abstract concepts is an advanced mental skill. Most animals don't seem capable of that. Without imagination, we would not have built our civilization. Without planning, we would not have created cities, advanced medicine or developed agriculture.

So in the end we can't devote ourselves completely to the practice of mindfulness. It's really about using meditation as an antidote to our increasingly schizophrenic existence. It's about restoring a balance.

Re-training ourselves to focus on the present is a useful tool that we can employ when our humanity, stimulated by the rush of moving forward, conditioned by splintered thoughts and multiple distractions, is at risk of falling into a state of unhealthy mind-body imbalance. Finding ways to still our thoughts and just "be" -- here and now-- , is a positive way to reduce stress. Then we can return to work on next week's agenda or discovering the next renewable energy source.