Mindfulness is a word and concept that has become increasingly mainstream as we continue our march forward into the 21st century. It is increasingly used in conjunction with various forms of therapeutic treatment approaches – in physical and mental health settings. It is used in hospitals to facilitate healing. It is used in schools to reduce emotional and behavioral outbursts. It is used with first responders and veterans to help reduce the impact of trauma. It is used in addiction treatment to assist with emotion regulation. It helps reduce the impacts of anxiety and depression. It is used as a cornerstone in several psychological treatment modalities to engage self-compassion, reduce shame and identify our judgements and thoughts about our given circumstances.
So, what is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight.” Ronald Siegel says that, “mindfulness is a particular attitude toward experience, or way of relating to life, that holds the promise of both alleviating our suffering and making our lives rich and meaningful. It does this by attuning us to our moment-to-moment experience and giving us direct insight into how our minds create unnecessary anguish.” Mindfulness allows us to be conscious, conscientious and intentional with our thoughts and actions.
Sometimes, in order to define what something is, we must challenge the notions of what it is not. This post is about the myths of mindfulness that still show up in my conversations with clients.
Mindfulness conflicts with certain religions.
The concept of mindfulness comes from Buddhism but is considered a secular practice and does not rely on any religion. It has been used for thousands of years on its own or as part of a larger religious practice. It is becoming increasingly mainstream as the he
MYTH #2: Mindfulness will make you weak and you will lose your drive for success.
In fact, the opposite is true. The “non-judging” element of mindfulness has been tied to greater perseverance in the face of difficult situations. “Acting with awareness” (a mindfulness component) has also been tied to the ability to maintain interest in goals over a period of time. This is to say that mindful people persist more on a difficult task, are more engaged at work and less impulsive in their actions and emotions.
MYTH #3: Mindfulness makes you morally ambivalent.
Studies have shown that it seems to decrease egocentrism (the belief that we should be the centre of attention) and increase compassion which is then likely to lead to more ethical behavior. In Buddhism, there is a teaching called “right mindfulness” which is tied to the principle of non-harming. There is an overall caring component to mindfulness which allows us to take action in a moment of imminent harm to ourselves or someone else. The compassion element allows us to build healthy relationships with others.
MYTH #4: Mindfulness makes you turn inward and become more isolated. Mindfulness is passive.
The opposite is true in that our social relationships become stronger as we learn to regulate our difficult emotions and allow us to “agree to disagree” or have difficult conversations. It also helps us connect with the suffering of others. Neuroscience shows that a mindfulness practice increases our level of compassion for others while also being more tuned in to the suffering of others. This makes us more likely to help. There is a specific practice of loving kindness meditation that assists in this process.
MYTH #5: Mindfulness makes you overly mellow.
Studies are showing that practicing mindfulness provides greater vitality as well as less personal distress when difficult situations arise. It can improve the quality of your sleep (I can certainly attest to that!) as well as improve your sexual satisfaction.
MYTH #6: Thoughts and emotions are distractions. It is about suppressing or stopping our thoughts.
Suppressing or stopping our thoughts is impossible. In mindfulness meditation, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations are just things to pay wise attention to. Even in the deepest states of meditation, there is always some directed thought (in the form of a mantra, question or idea, for example). It is about acknowledging the thoughts that come and go as we are constantly bombarded with thoughts about the future or the past. These thoughts can deplete our energy, put us in a bad mood and keep us up at night. The more we try to quiet the mind, the more we increase the distress caused by our busy mind – whereas being present to our mind, emotions and body tends to reduce the stress.
MYTH #7: You are supposed to be mindful throughout the day.
As with myth #6, this is also impossible and unrealistic since we need to rely on our instantaneous reactions to engage in many of our daily tasks and activities. The skill is practiced so that when you especially need to be mindful in a stressful situation, it is there for you to access. Mindfulness helps us notice when we are distracted and helps us filter out irrelevant information.
MYTH #8: Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are one and the same.
All meditation is mindfulness but not all mindfulness is meditation. There are formal and informal mindfulness practices. Formal practices include meditation, yoga, mindful walking and body scans. Informal mindfulness practices can be incorporated throughout your day. Engaging your five senses at any given point in time can help you become present to the moment at hand so you can practice mindfulness at your workplace, while taking a shower, while eating a meal, just to name a few.
Mindfulness is a wonderful tool that has a variety of benefits to our physical, mental and emotional well-being. It is definitely not a “cure-all” and there are situations where practicing mindfulness without the support of a therapist would not be recommended (eg. When dealing with trauma). Mindfulness does not stop difficult things from happening in our lives, nor does mindfulness stop us from feeling our emotions but mindfulness can make the rocky times feel less so and allows us the space to move through difficult situations with greater resilience.
If you are struggling with difficulties in your life and would like compassionate support to increase your self-care toolkit, you can contact me at 778-242-1124 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment or arrange a free 30-minute telephone consultation.