Before we get into the common misconceptions associated with mindfulness, let’s talk about what mindfulness is! Have you ever zoned out while driving home from work and found yourself at home, with no memory of how you got there? Or, have you ever been driving to the grocery store only to accidentally drive to work or somewhere else? If you said yes, don’t worry, it happens to the best of us, myself included! But this is the opposite of mindfulness. When you zone out or operate on autopilot mode, you are not being mindful.
So what is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “Awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” And for me, that simply means being present in each moment of life and accepting whatever that moment looks like. Yes, some moments will be happy and joyous, but others will be full of pain and suffering; both are part of the human life experience. Mindfulness helps you accept the reality of life by focusing on all the experiences of our everyday lives, not just the pleasant ones.
Mindfulness helps you find acceptance of the moments of life by focusing on all of the experiences of our everyday lives, not just the pleasant ones.
Here are four common misconnections about mindfulness:
I have too many thoughts to meditate:
Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Believe me, if you have ever tried to stop your thoughts, you know this is impossible. Thoughts keep coming one after another, no matter what you do, and the more you attempt to exert control over them, the more dominant they become. It’s kind of like when someone says (or writes) don’t think about a pink elephant. What did you think about?
During meditation, thoughts will come and go, the goal is to acknowledge the presence of these thoughts without pushing them away or judging them. Allowing ourselves to just be with the thoughts and let them pass. The next time you meditate, I encourage you to congratulate yourself each time you have a thought. The awareness of having a thought is you practicing mindfulness! The more we meditate, the more aware we become of the space between thoughts, the natural pause that exists.
I don’t have time to meditate:
I hear this one all the time. There is a saying that goes, “If you don’t have time to meditate for an hour every day, you should meditate for two”. I smile every time I think about this one because it feels so counterintuitive.
The truth of the matter is that you do not need to invest hours a day in your meditation practice. You can even start with a few minutes a day. Just a few minutes of daily mindfulness has been shown to have benefits. Meena Srinivasan refers to SMART, or Short Moments of Awareness Repeated Many Times. This is a great way to start! Find one or two things you can do each day with your full attention. I like to drink my coffee mindfully in the mornings. Instead of watching TV, which I did previously, I sit and stay present, savoring each sip. Sometimes on my couch, other times on my front steps or sometimes sitting in the driveway of my complex. There are so many ways to invite informal mindfulness practices in your life. You can check my post on informal meditation practices for more tips.
I can’t sit cross-legged/I don’t have a meditation bolster
You can meditate in any position that is comfortable for you. You can sit in a chair, stand up or lay down on the floor. There are even walking meditations that do not require the body to be still. How you position your body is not the key to mindfulness. Listen to your body and what is true for you on that day and choose a position that you can stay with comfortably for the duration of the practice. And, guess what, you can change positions! Remember, there is no perfect way to practice mindfulness. There is no perfect way to meditate. Listen to your body and adopt the position that works best for you on any given day.
If you prefer a seated position, elevating the hips higher than the knees can be more comfortable. If you don’t have a meditation bolster, you can use a firm pillow or folded bath towels for the same effect.
Mindfulness makes everything better!!
I wish it was that simple! Mindfulness is not a panacea. Life is not always perfect and our experiences are not always pleasant. Mindfulness cannot change that, but it can help us better navigate through the realities of our existence. It can help us accept what is true for us.
As you continue on your mindfulness journey, I encourage you to remember these four things:
Mindfulness and meditation is for everyone
Thoughts are okay
There is no perfect way to be mindful
Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you have never tried mindfulness, or just want to develop a more regular practice, I have the perfect opportunity for you. Learn more about The Mindful You: 2 weeks to a More Mindful Being.