What Mindfulness Isn’t
Or, What I’m Sick Of Hearing Other Professionals Say
It concerns me that people think mindfulness is meditation, or mindfulness is colouring in complex images on a page, or mindfulness is breathing, or mindfulness is yoga or Pilates or martial arts or stretching or running outside or prayer.
Each of these things can use mindfulness yet each of them can be extremely mindless in how they’re done.
Mindfulness is simply attending to the sensations in this current moment, without passing judgment on yourself for having a multitude of thoughts, and then returning to paying attention to the sensations. It’s a really simple, natural process. I am concerned by what I hear psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, coaches, yoga teachers, personal trainers, and others saying about this simple (and difficult) skill.
Take listening to music as an example. I can choose one instrumental track and choose to listen only to that instrument for the duration of the song, listening without effort. While my mind may wonder and I may think other thoughts, when I become aware of my thinking, I simply return to attending to that one instrument – first acknowledging my thinking then return to listening to the music without judging myself for having had the thoughts. Returning to listening to the music is part of the process of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not thinking about something. It is simply paying attention to something, acknowledging when my mind distracts itself and then returning to paying attention without judging myself. It is to be expected that my mind distracts itself – mindfulness is allowing the distraction to occur and returning to the focus of my mindful session unjudged by myself.
So, if I do a mindful session on breath, I simply breathe and attend to the feeling of my breath in and out of my nostrils. Not think about it. Just feel it. And when I get distracted I acknowledge the distraction and return to feeling the breath.
When I walk mindfully I simply feel the movement of my body in space or the placement of each foot on the ground. I acknowledge the thoughts that I have and then return my awareness to the feelings of walking.
Distracted Thoughts Are A Part Of Practising Mindfulness
The distracted thoughts are a necessary part of mindfulness. Without them I am not human. Without them I cannot increase in the skill of mindfulness. Without them I can’t learn self-compassion. And if I don’t have self-compassion I am not being mindful. End of discussion.
Mindfulness Has No Goal Apart From Being Mindful
Mindfulness does not have the goal of changing yourself, reducing your anxiety or being changed at the end of a session – or at the end of a number of sessions. Mindfulness does not have a purpose except to help you to exist fully aware of your existence in that moment. To anticipate or expect a change of mood is not mindfulness. This is not a transaction nor a goal to obtain. It is truly a process and a journey, an experience you feel, and it shouldn’t feel any particular way. It simply feels how it feels. And that is the goal – to pay attention to the feeling. Or to the feeling of having no feeling.
It shouldn’t feel any particular way. It simply feels how it feels.
There *may* be side effects of regular mindfulness practise which may include stress reduction or improved anxiety management or changed mood or easier decision making. But they are not the goal nor should we expect them to happen. We should expect to happen whatever it is that happens and that is to be okay.
Mindfulness Is Healthy
Mindfulness is simply living healthily in this moment and allowing your parasympathetic nervous system (the one associated with rest, recovery, digestion and getting ready for whatever’s next) to up regulate itself and to down regulate the sympathetic nervous system (the part associated with mobilising you for action, using up energy, reacting to stressful situations, and getting ready to fight), thus creating a healthy life state. That’s all. It’s simply living healthily.
As we live healthily, we often discover other positive side effects and the goal in mindfulness is not to change yourself or your thinking or how you feel or act at the end of that session. It is rather to learn to live fully aware of the experience of this moment, with self-compassion.
If you liked this story, you may be interested in these slightly more creative pieces:
- Something About Fear. It’s okay to have fear. I wonder what else the future could hold?
- Stuck? Sometimes we think we’re stuck … but maybe we’re not.
- The Procrastinations. Maybe procrastinating isn’t as bad as we thought.
Thanks for reading this far! I really appreciate it!