The practice of mindfulness is increasingly becoming part of the mainstream of western society as more people are turned on to the benefits of leading mindful lifestyles. Just like anything else that achieves a lot of media attention though, mindfulness is not without its misconceptions, many of which are quite off base. The following are just a few of the most common mistakes and misconceptions about mindfulness. You may want to keep them in mind as you build your own practice.
The Reclusive Monk Stereotype
Not everyone who practices mindfulness feels the need to join a monastery or spend extensive amounts of time living as a hermit. While some of the most famous adherents to mindfulness may have been lonesome wanderers or hermetic monks, today, most who practice mindfulness are ordinary people like you or me. We all practice our own lifestyles in our own respective ways, often without showing any distinction between ourselves and anyone else in the outside world. Mindfulness is no different from yoga, weight-lifting, therapy or any other form of self-care in that respect.
Specific Rules Apply
Mindfulness does not come with strict rules you have to follow. There is not a specific time or place you have to practice. You don’t have to sit in lotus or half lotus position. 🧘 You don’t have to repeat a certain mantra or hold your fingers in the form of a mudra. It is much simpler than you might think it is, and in many cases, you already practice mindfulness in some areas of your life.
When you are eating a meal in silence without distractions, where does your mind go? If it doesn’t concentrate on your food, you are eating mindlessly. To be more mindful, all you have to do is think about what you are eating, the tastes and textures, the temperatures, and how it makes you feel. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is easy.) That is what mindfulness is. You are tapping into your thoughts and senses, and allowing the present moment to happen, without thinking too much about the past or future, and with curiosity and grace, not judgment.
Mindfulness is a Religion
I meditate with people of the Christian and Jewish faiths, people who deeply study Buddhist teachings, and people with no faith at all. I remember a friend asking me when I told her I had become a mindfulness teacher, “Isn’t that a Buddhist thing?”. Mindfulness is most closely associated with Buddhism and Buddhists. Other faiths have similar contemplative practices but the positive influence of its cultivation and teaching in Buddhism over thousands of years has been immeasurable. While some forms of mindfulness might implement aspects of various religions into their practices, mindfulness, as a whole, is not inherently religious. At base, It has nothing to do with spirituality, the afterlife, deities or any sect or aspect of religion. Mindfulness is about non-judgmental present moment awareness. When mindfulness practitioners refer to a “soul,” they often mean that nameless energy inside of us that makes us unique. While those of us who are spiritual may also deepen our spirituality through this practice and connect with a Spirit within in the religious sense, you don’t have to believe in the words of Jesus Christ or be a devout student of the teachings of the Buddha to have a deep, meaningful, and moving mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a practice available to all with whom it resonates. It is not a religion.
It’s All About Peace and Calm
No, a mindfulness practice is not all about peace, calm, or escaping from reality. It is about present moment awareness – which means awareness of the joys and the sorrows. A byproduct of an ongoing practice for many is a more peaceful and calm outlook on life. But your peace and calm may indeed be disrupted. And that is often where the growth lies. You will find though that less phases you. You may be able to see what is what is going on around you from a different perspective than you did before. You may be able to recover from triggers and setbacks more quickly. But it does not mean that you won’t be triggered or you won’t experience setbacks. This is a lifelong and ongoing practice within the context of our own lives. It does mean that some things that triggered you before will no longer do so. Or with other things, you will be triggered less often, to a lower degree, or will manage them differently. You will actually notice that you were triggered and will be better able to choose how to respond, rather than automatically react. Mindfulness is not fairy tale land though.
My Daily Run Calms Me Down So That’s My Mindfulness Practice
I hear this one often, particularly from people who run. It is not the act itself that is the mindfulness practice. It is the intentional state of mind while doing the activity. Just as we can practice mindfulness when brushing our teeth or washing dishes, we can practice mindfulness while running. The act of running (or anything else) in and of itself though is not a mindfulness practice.
Visit my Programs page for a series of workshops to help you build mindfulness into your daily life!