Mindfulness has been a hot topic over the past several years. Many scientific studies are showing remarkable benefits. It changes our brains, reduces stress and can even improve our memory.
However, there have been several misconceptions and confusions about what mindfulness is and how to practice it.
I hope this article will help debunk some of the myths and confusion around mindfulness. In fact, I hope in the future we think less about mindfulness, and practice it more.
1) Mindfulness and meditation are the same.
This isn’t quite true. Meditation is practiced through sitting, walking and lying down and is usually completed in 10-30 minutes. It’s a formal practice where you need to spare a certain period of time to do it. It usually involves focusing on your breathe, a particular part of your body or an object.
Mindfulness is about noticing what’s happening within us and around us as we go about our daily tasks. It involves a non-judgmental attitude as we note our breathing, thoughts, feelings, sensations and surroundings.
This is an important distinction because many people believe that they can’t practice mindfulness if they can’t meditate. The truth is, everyone can practice mindfulness!
As Sharon Salzberg says:
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”
2) We need to be present ALL the time.
The aim of mindfulness isn’t to be present in each and every moment. If we did this, we would feel too overwhelmed with our senses. We need to daydream to be creative and think of solutions.
However, mindfulness involves avoiding thinking about the past and future when it really isn’t useful. Buddhist master Thich Nhat Thanh explains this perfectly:
“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”
3) Your mind must be quiet to practice meditation.
Many people think they can’t meditate because they can’t keep their mind quiet. However, with mindfulness we don’t try to block out thoughts. Rather we acknowledge our thoughts, then return our focus back to our breathe (or whatever you’re focusing on). Mindfulness is about becoming aware of our thoughts, so we can create a gap between the mind and the observer. This is described as “liberation” by Eckhart Tolle:
“What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”
4) The goal of mindfulness is to achieve peace.
This isn’t entirely accurate. There is no objective to meditation or mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation involves a willingness to simply be with whatever is happening within us and around us — with a gentle and open mind. This may cause us to discover things about who we are and what we want in life. Mindfulness requires courage to see things as they are rather than how we wish they were.
Alan Watts says it best:
“We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”
5) Mindfulness is passive.
It’s definitely not. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment so we can take the appropriate action for that situation. It involves learning how to respond in stressful situations, rather than react. It also involves consistent practice. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. It’s just getting in a habit to actually do it.
According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”