Mindfulness...What it is and What it Isn't (a HOW to Guide)
So… likely you have heard the word “mindfulness”. It has become popular for good reasons. There are many definitions of mindfulness. My personal favourite definition is by Jon Kabat Zin and it is as follows, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment non-judgmentally.”
So… lets talk about some things that mindfulness is NOT and hopefully it may help you understand what mindfulness IS:
Mindfulness is NOT a religion…I learned so much about this one that I had to create a whole other blog about it…for now let me be clear that, without question, mindfulness is completely 100 percent NOT a religion.
Mindfulness does NOT discriminate based on age. It’s something that all people, of all ages can work towards practicing daily. My 93 year-old grandpa was an incredibly mindful person right before he passed away but still recognized that he had his moments. Some of my six-year old students have been the most mindful human beings I have ever met.
Mindfulness is NOT trying to relax…it is an awareness of the present moment both good and bad. If we are in a difficult situation it can be anything but relaxing. Especially if we are aware of what is happening in our lives but as we gain an awareness we become less surprised by how we are feeling and are better able to let go of the emotions that come our way.
Mindfulness is NOT emptying the mind of all thoughts. The brain produces thoughts and that is just the way it is. Through mindfulness we can develop a better understanding of our thoughts and feelings and a better ability to listen to and understand the perspectives of others.
Mindfulness is NOT an escape from pain. It is learning how to deal more effectively with the pain in our lives that inevitably will come our way. Mindfulness gives us good tools to deal with emotional pain. An important quote to remember when thinking about pain is, “Pain is like an angry bull: when it’s confined in a tight stall, it will be wild and try to escape. When it’s in a wide-open field it will calm down” approaching pain in a mindful way helps to calm the pain down.
Mindfulness is NOT difficult. Don’t feel frustrated when your mind wanders…that is the way our minds are. Through mindfulness you can develop a deeper understanding of your wandering mind. In fact, as you become more mindful you will become more aware of your wandering thoughts and less judgmental of those wandering thoughts. YOu will be more kind and compassionate to yourself when your brain happens to wander.
Mindfulness does NOT let you leave life’s problems behind. It just allows you to enjoy the small moments of life more. When being mindful food tastes better, going for a walk feels better, a song you may have heard many times sounds better and the world around you looks brighter because you are paying MORE attention to these things in the present moment BUT you will still encounter problems, that's just life.
Mindfulness is NOT flaky. In fact, it’s the opposite. It is very grounded in modern scientific psychology, brain research and considered to be a core-healing factor in psychotherapy.
Mindfulness is NOT overly emotional or logical. It is somewhere in between a place coined “Wise Mind” by Marsha Linehan creator of DBT. Marsha Linehan defines wise mind as, “A state of mind characterized by the synthesis of emotion and logic.”
Mindfulness is NOT easy. In fact it’s incredibly difficult. Over the course of writing this article I’ve found myself in a state that isn't particularly mindful approximately 773 times but I’m trying hard not to be too hard on myself or judge myself about it….
And on that note…
Mindfulness is NOT judgemental. This includes both judgement of others and self-judgement. When self judgement arises for me I tend to either ask one of my closest friends to evaluate my self- judgements OR try to ask myself as a wise friend once advised me to consider, “ is how you would speak to me?”
When speaking to others I consider it helpful to remind myself that I can only observe my own thoughts not the thoughts of others and also reminding myself of the wise advice of a close friend who learned in rehab that, “If you think about something for more than a minute it is likely more a lesson that YOU need to learn than a lesson the other person needs to learn.”
As stated in the book The Golden Rule, by Ilene Cooper, “You can’t make every person practice the golden rule, there is only one person you can ask to do that…YOU”.
I would say that the same goes for mindfulness...you can only ask one person to be mindful...