One of the biggest obstacles to a consistent mindfulness practice is that we can be our own worst enemies. We create unrealistic expectations for ourselves about what the outcome of our mindfulness practice is supposed to be.
Let me share a little story.
Recently I was at a conference during which I had the pleasure of listening to lots of well-known speakers in the mindfulness world. Of course at the end of their presentations most of the speakers had books for sale.
After one interesting talk, I lined up to have the author sign my book. We chatted for a few moments and then I took my book back to my seat. When I opened it to see what had been written, I was a little confused.
Here’s what the author wrote:
Best wishes on your mindfulness journal.
At first I thought I must have missed the part of the talk about keeping a mindfulness journal. I must have drifted off at some point when that was being explained.
And then I chuckled.
You see I realized that there had been no mention of a mindfulness journal.
What the author had meant to write was:
Best wishes on your mindfulness journey.
I found that both amusing and comforting.
Apparently in that moment the author wasn’t particularly mindful.
And it highlights something that you need to know about mindfulness gurus:
They are just people who also get distracted and stop paying attention to what they are doing. No matter how long someone has been a mindfulness practitioner, they still get distracted.
Here’s why that’s important:
We can be awfully hard on ourselves when we realize that sometimes we aren’t paying attention in spite of having an intention to be more present. That’s especially true when we have an expectation that mindfulness practice means we will somehow always be living blissfully present in the moment.
But that actually misses the point of the practice.
In living the mindful way, what we are trying to do is to build the skill of awareness – to notice when we aren’t paying attention and to gently bring ourselves back to the present moment.
Beginners and gurus alike all get distracted.
So what’s the point then of practising at all you might ask.
The more we practice noticing where are in any given moment, the easier it becomes to recognize where our focus and attention is, or isn’t.
We become aware of what it feels like to be distracted.
When I work with beginners who are just starting to explore mindfulness, they often think of their practice as “a thing to do” – something you check off your long list of stuff that needs to get done each day.
Mindfulness is not an item on your to-do list. It’s a way of being.Mindfulness is not an item on your to-do list. It's a way of being. Click To Tweet
Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as a way of engaging with the world and walking life’s path.
Sometimes on that path we are distracted.
As I go about my day I often catch myself in moments of distraction. I take that as a sign that my practice is actually paying off, not that it’s not working.
It’s when we slip into auto-pilot, functioning through habitual reactions without pausing to bring ourselves back to a conscious awareness of what is happening around us that is the real problem.
Pause for a moment right now.
When was the last time you went on auto-pilot?
Maybe it was driving to work.
Or while preparing dinner.
Or while in the midst of a conversation.
Maybe you aren’t even aware of when it is happening.
What mindfulness gurus know is that it’s called a practice for a reason. It’s about continually expanding our skills of present moment awareness on days when we are focused and days when our heads are full of distractions.
And now you know that too.
And keep practising.
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