Many people have asked me questions about mindfulness that are somewhat misguided or simply hold false understandings of what it is, what it does and how to practise it. I have written this article to clear up the confusion and provide clarity to the common myths that exist around mindfulness. Below are the 10 main myths of mindfulness.
Myth #1: Mindfulness and 'Mindfulness meditation' are the Same
These two terms sound similar but are actually quite different in their application to everyday life. Mindfulness meditation is time one spends employing concentrated effort to bringing ones awareness to the present moment, which is often done focusing on single object such as the breathe or sensations in the body. Mindfulness meditation is usually done sitting or lying down and the aim is to get us out of our 'thinking mind' into our feeling and sensing awareness. Mindfulness alone is different as it can be applied at any moment during ones day - you need not sit or lie down. An example of being mindful during the day could be when washing the dishes and feeling the warm water and bubbles on your hands or when you are walking and you pay attention to the world around you including the sounds of the birds, car, the feeling of your feet on the ground and the fresh air on your skin. Both mindfulness and mindfulness meditation serve to prevent us from operating on autopilot or be stuck in ruminating and overthinking patterns.
Myth #2: Mindfulness is about Relaxation
The idea that mindfulness is calming and relaxing is a myth. Mindfulness isn't relaxation. Stress reduction may be a side effect from being able to step back from the emotional charge of your worry thoughts. Remembering to be mindful requires effort and many people find that checking in with their thoughts or feelings and sensations, even if it is not necessarily restorative, is definitely illuminating. Sometimes its relaxing and sometimes it's quite the contrary and can be uncomfortable when unpleasant sensations or thoughts come up. The importance of practising mindfulness here despite the fact that it does not always offer us comfort is that instead of filling your time with business, we allow the space to be in touch with how we are feeling and whats happening within us, rather then sweeping it under the carpet and suppressing the emotions. Mindfulness therefore provides us the space not for relaxation, but rather reflection. With reflection we can navigate our lives more mindfully and make wiser and more meaningful decisions and interactions.
Myth #3: Mindfulness Conflicts with Religion
The idea that mindfulness is attached to religious practise is a misconception. There is no religion or belief system connected to mindfulness, even though it was originally taught by the Buddha. Mindfulness is therefore available to all people including atheists, agnostics and religious people alike. Mindfulness practise is neutral and is a technique for enriching your life by learning how to enhance your awareness and fully engage in your moment to moment experience.
Myth 4: Mindfulness is Ethically Neutral
Mindfulness was not intended to be ethically neutral. What you do off the cushion does matter if you desire your practise to be effective and of greatest benefit to your well-being. You can practise mindfulness irrespective of wholesome actions in your daily life for example, the focused attention of a sniper looking through sight of a rifle. However, this is not how mindfulness was intended to be and will not serve you. Mindfulness should be practised in conjunction with intentions not to harm and the proactive intention to be kind, compassionate and generous. Mindfulness as a practise is inseparable from the intentions of the person practising it. Skilful mindfulness is about bringing both both mindfulness practise and efforts towards morality together to be of greatest benefit to the individual.
Myth 5: Mindfulness is Pleasant and Easy
Actually, no. Mindfulness requires concentrated effort to bring the mind back to the present moment - This is not always easy to do. From a young age we have been conditioned to think in unfocused ways which therefore make it much harder to master in later life. The brain is running old software programs and mindfulness is a way to uninstall the old software with new programs - this is brain training. Like it required work to go to the gym and train your muscles to get stronger, it is also the same with the mind. The brain is a muscle that needs training to function at it optimal and most useful state. Mindfulness requires commitment in order to see positive changes in ones thinking, however, it is normal and common to have days where you can't quieten your thinking mind but they key is not to beat oneself up about the noise. Mindfulness promotes the concept of bringing attention to the present moment without judgement. Its important not to judge your daily mindfulness experience, rather treat yourself with kindness and compassion on the days your mind is unable to settle and instead focus on being committed to try again tomorrow.
Myth #6: Mindfulness is about Stopping your Thoughts
The idea that mindfulness requires a blank mind is a myth that makes many people think they can't be mindful. Mindfulness is not about stopping your thoughts, rather stepping back from them. A helpful analogy is to imagine that you are standing behind a waterfall. You can see the water rushing down fast but you are not getting caught in it and not being swept away by the water. The opposite of mindfulness is being caught underneath the waterfall and this is where we get caught up wasting time with thoughts and swept away with worry, planning, problem solving issues that do not even come to fruition.
Ultimately we lose productivity, effectiveness and our sense of calm. Therefore, mindfulness isn't exactly a suspension of thoughts, rather a suspension of judgement of our thoughts which allows us to be more centred, calm and self aware.
Myth #7: We need to Practise being in the Present Moment All the Time
It is most important to learn how to be mindful but you don't have to be in a mindful state all the time. It's like learning how to drive a manual car. Once you've learned how to drive it, you become more empowered and if you needed to drive another manual you would be able to do so. The same goes for mindfulness, once you know how to be mindful, you can choose to be in a mindful state when you need to be effective and centred. If you only learned how to drive an automatic car, you would not be able to operate a car manually when you needed to. The same goes for thinking on 'automatic pilot'- if this is all you have done for the majority of your life it becomes hard to acknowledge and recognise how to get out of that mode of thinking. We need to be able to know how to drive both a manual and an automatic. Being on automatic pilot and allowing the mind to wander is useful at times where we want to think outside the box, be creative. If we had to be in the present moment all the time it would be overwhelming and we would be overstimulated. However, on the other hand it is also important to have the option of being mindful as mindfulness helps us filter out irrelevant information in the mind and allows us to be more productive and effective in daily life.
Myth #8: Mindfulness is the Cure to All Mental Health Problems
There are countless psychological conditions and co-mobidities which exist in which many treatments and interventions are available. Individuals experiencing a mental health condition must be treated individually and treatment plans need to be uniquely tailored to address the persons specific needs. Mindfulness is only one solution which is more suited to conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety. Other forms of mental illness such as bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorders or psychotic symptoms may not be adequately addressed with mindfulness practise alone and generally involvement of other treatments would be necessary. When an adequate level of recovery has been reached in the aforementioned population, it could be of value to incorporate mindfulness practise into recovery so the benefits of mindfulness can be experienced. Please speak to your doctor first for advise that is right for you.
Myth #9: Mindfulness is for People who are Relaxed and Spiritual
Not at all. Most people who walk in for mindfulness meditation are far from relaxed. These people are from all different walks of life from the business men of the corporate world, to the busy mother of three, to the alternative hippy, to the nurse of the healthcare industry. By the time mindfulness courses are over, many feel they have gained an internal sense of control and are able to ride the turbulence with greater ease. You do not need to be a relaxed person to start mindfulness, but you do need to start mindfulness in order to be more graceful and relaxed during the more difficult moments of life.
Myth #10: Mindfulness Teachers are Always Mindful
Actually, no. Often the reason mindfulness teachers are attracted to mindfulness is because it was needed in their lives or someone close to them. Perhaps the car keys were constantly getting misplaced, stress was building up, appointments were being forgotten or a lot of time and energy was being consumed in thinking rather than doing. Mindfulness teachers and facilitators have often done countless meditations but can still find themselves in plenty of mindless moments. Yes, with consistent and regular practise, it is possible to train the mind to be more in the present moment which results in a more organised, smooth functioning and balanced life. Mindfulness teachers are not yogis but their consistent efforts with the practise will move them to further forward to develop themselves.
For more information, please see this link: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a2f40a41f318d38ccf0c819/t/5b28988170a6ad07781beeb9/1529387171804/smiling-mind-mindfulness-guidelines-for-schools-whitepaper.pdf