Mindfulness Is Not Just An Instagram Hashtag

Wait what, it’s not?

written by Colin Pal

In the last decade, mindfulness has gone mainstream — like instagram-hashtag-worthy mainstream. I’m talking about the 1.9 million public posts on instagram with the #mindfulness. The sitting up in the mountains, bathed in sunlight with palms facing the universe. The obligatory yoga pose on the beach or by the lake. Or the one by your window side with a cup of coffee (glass of wine if it’s the weekend) in one hand and the latest self-help book in the other. Namaste.

I have this love hate relationship with mindfulness going mainstream. I teach mindfulness meditation so the marketer inside me is like “awesome” — more exposure, more awareness, hotter market, wins all around.

Then a part of me also cringes every time I see a mindfulness or meditation hashtag on some hippie, nature-lover, or spiritual-wannabe instagram post, or an article on how mindfulness is the secret key to (fill in the blank with some positive benefit) in life, love, and making shit tons of money.

The hard truth is that mindfulness is not what you think it is. It’s not about being more happy, more in the present moment, more at peace and one with the universe or more aligned with your higher truth (whatever that even means).

What exactly is mindfulness if not just another instagram hashtag then?

Mindfulness, by definition of every meditation teacher out there — and there’s a lot, everyone is meditation teacher these days — is some variation of paying attention on purpose in the present moment and in a non-judgemental way. You hear it so often that you’ve tricked yourself into believing you know exactly what that means. But if you just read that line again really slow and think about it, you’re probably like what the fuck does that even mean?

Nonjudgmental.. what? Everyone judges whether they want to believe it or not. Implying someone is judgemental is the most hypocritical thing you can possibly do — you just judged someone for judging.

Let me attempt to translate this 2000+ year old concept into everyday language:

Mindfulness is getting off your smartphone and paying attention to the shit that’s happening right now, it’s giving zero fucks to things that don’t matter, it’s letting go of what you have no control over, it’s being brave enough to do the hard work, and for the love of tacos it’s talking to the person sitting in front of you before they get replaced by some damn AI robot or some VR character one day. So in short:

Mindfulness is having the self-awareness to know what’s really happening and the resilience to deal with it, even when it’s hard as fuck. — Tweet this.

Sure somewhere along the way, maybe just maybe, you’ll stumble upon the happiness, the productivity, the peace, and the zen. But let’s not confuse those benefits with mindfulness itself. Mindfulness is doing the important work, which 90% of the time means doing the hard work. The work most people opt out of because it makes them feel vulnerable and it’s so much easier to just sit back and binge on Game of Thrones.

The Dark (but Beautiful) Side Of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is like peeling off layers of an onion to reveal your honest (and naked) self. You will cry in the process, peeling onions or practicing mindfulness. It’s tearing down these walls you’ve spent your lifetime building up to protect your image and self-worth. It’s listening to the stories you tell yourself and the stories you tell others. And then asking why you tell these stories in the first place.

Mindfulness is taking that first step towards doing what you fear most. It’s daring greatly only to come up short again and again but not equating that failure to being unworthy. And then showing up to the arena to try again.

Mindfulness is growing a pair and saying “I love you” first and not knowing if you’re going to be loved back. (Ballsy move bro…)

Mindfulness is admitting you’re scared shitless and asking for help when you’ve already told everyone that you’ve got this under control. (You don’t have this fully under control. No one ever does.)

Mindfulness is fucking up hard, accepting when there’s nothing you can do about it, and taking action on what you can control — the part where you own up to it and the potential guilt and humiliation that comes with it. Most importantly, it’s knowing the difference between “I did something wrong” and “I’m a terrible person”.

Mindfulness is not taking things so personally and assuming everything that happens to you is actually about you. Sure it feels good to think that the good things that happen to you is because you’re a good person. But then that makes all the bad things that happen all about you too. The roller coaster ride of self-worth is the worst ride to be on in this carnival of life.

Tragic shit happens. It hurts. Mindfulness is being aware that pain has no prejudice. But choosing to be deserving or not deserving, that’s suffering—and that’s a choice.

Mindfulness is hitting publish on your work and getting no response. Then laughing about it instead of over-identifying with it. And then committing to showing up again and again until people can’t get enough of your craft. That said, please heart this post, I’m shitting bricks right now.

Mindfulness is to stop spending time that you don’t have, with people you don’t even like. To stop giving so many fucks trying to impress people by being someone you’re not and doing things you don’t love.

Mindfulness is pretty fucking uncomfortable. It’s terrifying. But it’s also exciting because it reminds us what it means to be human—to live, to love, to lead.

So the next time you decide to slap on a mindfulness hashtag on your “I love nature” or “I’m so in touch with the universe” selfie, take a moment to ask yourself what story am I telling here and more importantly what story am I not telling here. It’ll be hard but it’ll be a good hard. When you learn to love the hard work of being mindful, you’ll appreciate all the good shit that comes with it—the happiness, the understanding yourself better, the deeper connection with others, and of course let’s not forget, the zen.

#Mindfulness (it’s obligatory, no?)

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