Mindfulness is everywhere! We see references to mindfulness in all types of magazines and books, television, and even in the names of businesses. To be sure, mindfulness can be extremely helpful and research regarding the positive role of mindfulness for improving wellbeing is impressive. Nevertheless, mindfulness is not always well understood and a number of myths about mindfulness have come to my attention.
Mindfulness is meditation. Mindfulness is best defined as a process of focusing awareness in the present moment without judgement. In contrast, meditation is a practice of sustained awareness or attention on a specific experience, most commonly the breath. We can be mindful at any point by bringing awareness to the present moment, even for a brief period. This shifts into meditation when we practice sustained attention over a longer period of time, thereby exercising our attentional capacity. This is helpful to keep in mind as we can practice being more mindful without necessarily practicing meditation, although meditation is highly recommended for cultivating mindfulness.
Mindfulness is relaxing. Although mindfulness can reduce stress and lead to states of relaxation, mindfulness is actually an active and intentional process of focusing on the present with non-judgement awareness. Therefore, it should not be substituted for rest or sleep.
Mindfulness is having no thoughts. This is actually not possible. Just as we cannot stop our heart from beating, we cannot stop our brains from thinking. Moreover, having no thoughts has never been a goal of mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of whatever thoughts come to mind, maintain awareness of these thoughts without judgement, and allow the thoughts to pass, rather than dwelling or becoming fixated in our awareness.
Being mindful all the time is the ultimate goal. This is both impossible and undesirable. If we maintained such a high level of awareness at all times, we would become overwhelmed. The goal is simply to become more mindful, more often, and check-in with our thoughts and experiences as a way to connect with the present moment.
Mindfulness is joy or bliss. Although we can approach an experience of joy or bliss with mindfulness, achieving these states is not the goal. Mindfulness also involves being aware of negative or neutral experiences and does not apply exclusively to positive states. Nevertheless, we can work to be more mindful of our positive emotional states and experiences, which can have a positive impact on our well-being and sense of satisfaction.
Overall, it is helpful to keep in mind that mindfulness or being mindful involves the intentional act of bringing our awareness to the present moment without passing judgement. It is like standing behind a rushing waterfall as you become aware of the water rushing down in front of you. You may notice changes in the water or small objects falling, but you simply observe. The same metaphor can be applied to mindfulness. In mindfulness, we allow ourselves to observe our thoughts without judgement as we watch them pass. In this way, mindfulness can be a great help by allowing us to step outside of the waterfall of our thoughts and the stress of daily life and observe our experiences without judgement.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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