Unless you have been living at the top of a mountain somewhere, you have probably noticed that a lot of people are talking about mindfulness. If you have been sitting at the top of a mountain somewhere, it is likely that you were practicing some form of mindfulness. Regardless, it seems like mindfulness is everywhere; there’s mindfulness meditation, mindfulness retreats, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful… everything. Despite how popular it seems to be, there are still some misconceptions about what mindfulness really is. Here are 6 common myths that I have encountered among my clients and online:
1. Mindfulness and meditation are the same thing.
While meditation is often a core component in learning mindfulness and also a part of many people’s formal practices, they are not the same. There are different forms of meditation, and mindfulness is not exclusive to meditation. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is occurring in the moment and can be practiced in almost any activity. If one is fully present and engaged in an activity, they are practicing mindfulness.
2. Being mindful means being passive.
One of the core components of mindfulness is practicing acceptance. This is often confused with simply being okay with how things are and not allowing for change. Remember that accepting something is not the same as agreeing with it or condoning it. Many people seem to think that accepting something as it is somehow implies that they are okay with it and cannot make changes. This simply is not true. One can accept how things currently are AND make steps to change them for the future. Many times mindfulness can be used as a method of understanding a problem and seeking a solution.
3. Practicing mindfulness will bring me calm, peace, and/or tranquility.
These are often byproducts of a good mindfulness practice. However, this outcome is not guaranteed and at times, may not be possible. Mindfulness has been shown to relieve stress and alleviate tension, both physical and emotional. Striving for the outcome, however, often deters people from meeting it and can also lead them to feel as though they must be doing it wrong. I have heard clients tell me that they did a meditation or a breathing exercise but that it didn’t help, that it didn’t bring them any relief. I frequently remind them that this is not the purpose of the exercise, that it is meant to help them discover how to be in the present moment. Sometimes the present moment is not a pleasant one and striving to relax or calm your mind can lead to even more distress.
4. Mindfulness is about deep breathing.
While the breath is frequently used as an anchor, a way to focus one’s attention on the present experience, it is not the sole component to the practice. Mindfulness means paying attention to the body breathing, paying attention to where the breath is felt in the body- in the nostrils, throat, belly, or chest. It is not about changing the way one is breathing but to pay attention to it. The breath might be shallow and choppy, smooth and deep. The point is to pay attention to it.
5. Mindfulness is just a distraction from one’s distress.
Many people believe that mindfulness is a means to push negative thoughts aside and not help to address them. When beginning a mindfulness practice, people often think that it is a means to distract from the emotional pain that they are feeling. Mindfulness does not allow one to turn off automatic thoughts. The truth is that your mind is going to wander; it’s okay. It’s just what minds do. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, it is likely that distressing thoughts will pop up uninvited. Mindfulness is about allowing these thoughts to come and go without judgment, without getting caught up in the turmoil. Think of it as standing on the banks of your stream of consciousness, without getting carried away in the current. In this regard, mindfulness can allow us to have relief from our distress.
Once learned, mindfulness can be used as a means to turn toward rather than away from feelings of sadness and anxiety. It is a means to explore those feelings more deeply, to think about what it means in this moment to feel them. This is also true of physical pain. In mindfulness, one can explore these feelings more deeply and come to understand them.
6. Mindfulness is easy.
As many practitioners, myself included, can attest, mindfulness is often not easy. Whether it is the difficulty of setting aside time for a formal practice or simply the act of practicing mindfulness itself, it can often present challenges. As mentioned before, distressing thoughts can occur while practicing mindfulness and sitting with these feelings can definitely be uncomfortable.
Whether you are just beginning a mindfulness practice or are a seasoned practioner, there is always more to learn and discover- whether about mindfulness itself, one’s self, or the world. Every journey begins with a single step, and it’s never too late for a new beginning.