Question: Is it possible to be mindful while being intensely focused on something like studying, or being “in the zone”?
Answer: Hello there, it depends on how you are focusing. For example, if you are intensely focused on your studies, and a fly starts buzzing around your ear, how do you react? If you start to get really annoyed, and then ten minutes goes by, and you realize you’re “out of the zone” and are in a bad mood, this isn’t what mindfulness is about.
Inversely, you’re on the right track if you’re able to notice, “oh, a fly is buzzing, no problem, just some sounds in the background, I’ll keep on with my studies.” In other words, in mindfulness practice, focus needs to be paired with an eye to self-understanding or “wisdom,” noticing our different reactions, emotions and thoughts. This aspect of “wisdom” helps us have more choice & freedom in life – which is the ultimate aim of mindfulness. Most people find it really helpful to develop this through “formal practice,” but you can absolutely do it through other activities too.
It has a bit of Buddhist jargon, but I found this short article really insightful – it tells the story of when someone asked when of the top Buddhist meditation masters of the 20th century, “what is the difference between rock climbing and meditation?”