Some people, when asked if they would consider practicing mindfulness, would almost immediately respond: "But I can't sit still for even one minute!"
A common misconception about mindfulness, is that the practice requires one to sit quietly, cross-legged on the floor, with your eyes closed, and... basically do nothing. You are not allowed to move or talk, and you are supposed to empty your mind.
The truth is that a mindfulness practice is far from doing nothing. In fact, there really is a lot of work involved. It might look like a practitioner is just sitting there, not thinking, not feeling. But there is so much more to the experience.
In a typical mindfulness practice, we are training our mind to focus and pay attention to the present moment; we are observing the nature of our mind systematically and non-judgmentally; we are inviting curiosity into the experience and learning to accept that whatever that comes up we are okay with it. We are developing the capacity to watch the endless stream thoughts and emotions in our mind without engaging with or reacting to them. We are cultivating patience, building compassion, and collecting moments of equanimity.
Mindfulness is also not just practiced sitting. We regularly practice mindful walking, and do gentle stretching or balancing movements mindfully. Mindfulness should also be practiced in daily life - when we are eating, showering, driving, cooking, sweeping, working, or conversing with someone.
What other possible misconceptions of mindfulness do you think we could address?
Learn and practice mindfulness with us at our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.
You might be wondering what the big fuss over paying attention is about. You're paying attention all the time. You paid attention to what clothes you wore today; you paid attention to what breakfast you had this morning; you paid attention to saying goodbye to your loved ones before leaving the house; you paid attention to what your colleague shared with you about the challenges of the project; you paid attention while driving back home from work.
Well, did you really?
In mindfulness, to pay attention when doing something is to know that you are doing it while doing it. It is knowing what is happening while it is happening (1). And it is also more than just that. To practice mindfulness is to practice paying attention in a meaningful way, with awareness of each present moment of the experience.
When you are changing into your clothes, you are fully aware of the movements you are making, instead of thinking about the presentation you are due to give that morning. When you are having your breakfast, instead of checking your emails on your phone, you are aware of the food and colours on your plate, the dance of flavours on your taste buds, the presence of your family at the breakfast table. When you say goodbye to your loved ones, you are fully aware of your child's small, warm body hugging your own, and of your partner's kiss on your cheek.
But why is this important?
We are often living through life without really being there, without being fully present, and more often than not, before we know it, the moment is gone. This happens even more in our technology-driven world, where we feel compelled to check our phones almost every minute of the day and accomplish so many things all at once. We run on auto-pilot in an environment filled with distractions and stressors. We are multi-tasking and striving all the time, not knowing when we should take a pause, and overtime breaking down from pressure. We lose ourselves in obsessing about past events or worrying about things that have not happened. We miss precious moments with ourselves and our loved ones.
When we learn to pay attention in mindfulness, we learn to cultivate this present moment awareness, to experience each moment "as a new beginning, a new opportunity to start over, to tune in, to reconnect" (2). To fully experience each moment is to live life to its fullest. And it works wonders for our sanity and well-being. Mindfully paying attention keeps our state of mind more balanced, grounded and at peace.
Learn how to pay attention by participating in the 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.
(1) Rob Nairn, 1999, Diamond Mind: A Psychology of Meditation
(2) Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2013, Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation
We are conducting the classic 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program this March 2016. Do register early to take advantage of our Early Bird fee, and also to ensure you get a place in the program!
About The Author
MiMo founder Erin Lee is a Mindfulness Coach and MBSR Teacher at Mindful Moments, and advocate of mindfulness as the way of life. She conducts the classic 8-Week MBSR Program, as well as the 8-Week MBSR Workplace Program.
Are you a mindfulness practitioner and have meaningful experiences or thoughts about mindfulness that you'd like to share? You can contribute an article on the MiMo blog! Please contact Erin to find out more.