Mindfulness has been around for ages, and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it is becoming more popular here in the West year over year. As mindfulness becomes more prominent and more people are talking about it, there are sure to develop certain myths and misconceptions about its practice.
Some of these myths I have discussed here. Many of them continue to be prevalent, so I thought I would revisit the topic.
1. Mindfulness means becoming complacent or passive.
This is a big one, and one that I touched on in my previous post. People continue to think that being mindful means accepting one’s situation then wallowing in it without intention of changing it. This comes about due to the fact that acceptance is a core component of mindfulness. It’s the interpretation of what acceptance means that leads people astray.
Acceptance, or taking a non-judgmental stance toward our thoughts and our experience, is fundamental to mindfulness. This means that as thoughts or emotions arise during the practice of mindfulness we take notice of them, acknowledge that they are there, and let them go. We notice without assigning value. Our thoughts are just thoughts; they are not good or bad, right or wrong.
Acceptance does not equate to passivity however. We can accept our current experience as it is and still move forward toward our goals or our ideal situation. It seems almost paradoxical, but it’s true.
I accept the fact that I am overweight. I’m not okay with it. I acknowledge that the sum of my choices has led me to this point. There is no gain from beating myself up about it. By accepting it as my current truth, I am able to let go of the guilt and shame. I can then set myself on the path toward change.
2. Living in the moment means being impulsive and not planning for the future.
The practice of mindfulness means living with our awareness on the present- the here and now. I have heard people state that if they are living in the moment, they cannot plan for the future.
Okay, a couple things wrong with this one. First, no one can be mindful ALL the time. If we tried to do that, our brain would become overstimulated and overloaded. We need downtime, and we need distractions.
Mindfulness is practiced in one of two ways- in formal mindfulness meditation and through informal practices throughout the day. A formal exercise typically involves some form of meditation whether it’s mindfulness of the breath, mindful walking, or a body scan meditation. These typically last 30 minutes to an hour.
Informal practice involves taking notice of things in our everyday experiences and can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. The more you do the formal practices, the easier it becomes to incorporate the informal practices.
The point is, even those that seem to be mindful all the time, aren’t. Our brains just couldn’t handle it.
Second, there is a difference between living in the moment and living for the moment.
Living for the moment is when someone does something stupid or risky right after yelling, “YOLO!” These are acts done to try to take advantage of one’s youth and perceived invulnerability. There is no care given to potential consequences.
Living in the moment, however, means being present wholly in our experience. Our brains are almost always on autopilot. We daydream or worry about the future and ruminate about the past.
Bringing our awareness to the present moment is powerful. After all, the only thing we can control is what we are doing right now. We are powerless to change the past, and can merely influence the future (and sometimes, we can’t even muster that much control).
Mindfulness is about taking advantage of the present moment, and really, that’s all we need to do.
3. Mindfulness is about clearing the mind or turning off your thoughts.
Your mind is one of the most powerful and mysterious objects in the universe. The things your mind is capable of… WOW! It’s an organic supercomputer capable or taking in, sorting, and prioritizing massive amounts of information.
Even now, as you’re reading this, your mind is in the background humming along. Right now you are translating these lines and squiggles into letters, those letters into words, those words into sentences, those sentences into something meaningful (hopefully). Go you!
One thing your mind is terrible at… turning off.
You know what I mean. You’ve been there on those sleepless nights when your mind just.won’t.shut.UP! You would give anything for two seconds of quiet, two seconds of peace, because you know that two seconds is all you’ll need at this moment to fall asleep.
But your mind likes to play the “what if” game. It likes to play the “let’s run through every negative scenario we can possibly imagine will happen to us” game. Except those games are no fun. Trust me.
“But wait!” you say, “I thought mindfulness would help me achieve some semblance of peace and tranquility, that it would help me deal with stress! You mean, I’ve been lied to?”
Alright, calm down there, buddy. Take a breath. Mindfulness does help one deal with stress and can lead to an increase in calm and tranquility. Just not in the way that most people think it does.
Mindfulness is not about clearing one’s mind or turning off their thoughts. After all, that’s impossible.
Remember earlier when I talked about acceptance? That’s your ticket to dealing with stress and worry. Acceptance of our thoughts and our emotions- our experience- allows us to disengage from them and allow those troubling emotions to pass.
For many people, mindfulness is very difficult. We are constantly moving, constantly striving, constantly doing.
Mindfulness is the opposite- it’s about being. This doesn’t come naturally to most adults. Hell, we were great at it when we were kids; we just forgot, or rather, had it taught out of us.
Mindfulness is powerful. In fact, I can honestly say that it has changed my life radically for the better. I am a better husband, a better father, and a better human because of it. It can help you too.
For more information about mindfulness or how it can help you, give me a call. I welcome all comments and questions.