There’s a blessing and a curse that comes with something entering the mainstream conversation. That’s certainly true about mindfulness. Since Time magazine put mindfulness on the cover in 2014, people are talking about it. That’s a blessing. Thirty-five plus years of research shows us that mindfulness practice has some pretty powerful benefits and now individuals, businesses and organizations are interested in learning how mindfulness can work for them.
The curse comes in what has been called McMindfulness – the marketing of mindfulness as the latest, greatest fad. Whenever that happens, lots of edited, overstated, generalized and incorrect information gets shared as part of the hype. Because mindfulness is a term that has now made its way into popular culture, people begin to think they know more about it than they actually do.
It’s not something you do.
Mindfulness is not something you can check off your to-do list. That completely misses the point. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leading experts in mindfulness, says this better that I can:
Mindfulness is a way of being.
Now before you think that is just too new-agey a description, what he means is that mindfulness is a way in which we engage with the world and the people around us. It’s a guiding principle that changes how we interact with our thoughts and our experiences. Rather than something you do, it’s something you practice, continually, at every opportunity.
It’s not a quick fix for everything.
Google mindfulness and you will find that it apparently solves every problem from obesity to smoking to world peace. It will help you balance your cheque book, make you a superstar in the bedroom and organize your cluttered up house. When things become popular, all of a sudden they are the cure for everything you want to fix. The problem is there is no solid basis for making most of these claims.
What we do know for sure is that consistent mindfulness practice can make you more focused which is a pretty powerful skill in an increasingly distractible world. It can help you respond to stress more efficiently. It can help you manage the incessant inner chatter in your head, most of which is often overwhelmingly negative. It can help if you suffer from pain or anxiety or depression.
The rest of those claims will have to wait until we have some real evidence that mindfulness can indeed positively impact other situations. In the meantime, there is plenty that mindfulness can do for you.
There is no before and after in mindfulness as in “before I was not mindful and now I am”. It’s not like taking a bus and getting off at a stop called Mindfulness and now you have arrived. It’s a continual practice.
I am often asked the question, “Do you ever get distracted or upset?” I can assure people that of course I get distracted and angry and anxious and any one of a hundred different emotions and states.
If that’s true, then what is the point?
With consistent practice we do get more skilled at being mindful in the moment. And that means we can be more intentional in the choices we make.
The real point is that mindfulness helps us to be aware of, and to accept, what is happening right now without having to constantly judge things as good or bad, or change them into something that they are not. We are not trying to banish so called negative emotions. We are trying to be wide awake in our lives so we can participate fully, function less from our default habits, and be more responsive and purposeful as a result.
Here’s what I know about mindfulness:
It’s an imperfect practice. Or perhaps we are imperfect in our practice and that’s just fine. The other thing I know is that life is better with it than without it. When I’m consistent, I can feel and see the difference. Clients who I am helping create more mindful lives tell me the same thing is true for them.
So now you know a little more about mindfulness.
What other questions do you have about living the mindful way?