Making Mindfulness Simple Part 1

Perhaps you’ve heard of mindfulness and you are not sure what it is or what it does and why people are making such a fuss about it.  In our Guide to Making Mindfulness Simple series, we thought we would start with busting a few of the common myths about mindfulness to help you understand it and to help you explain it to your friends if you have started practicing it.

Here are 5 of the most common myths about mindfulness – more to come in Part 2 of this series:

Myth Number One: Mindfulness is about being able to empty your mind

Mindfulness is absolutely not about emptying your mind, zoning out, or becoming some kind of passive blob. If it was, we wouldn’t bother doing it.  Mindfulness is a type of mental training which cultivates awareness of our mental processes and patterns (the good, the bad, and the ugly).  After practice and over time, we become so familiar with our thought patterns that we can work with them skilfully so that they don’t control our emotions, feelings, and behaviours.  We can see when our thoughts are helping or hindering us. The act of noticing the distractions of the mind strengthens our ability to focus and to learn about the nature of the mind.

Myth Number Two: Mindfulness is some kind of religion

Mindfulness is an innate capability that we all own.  It is the ability to observe our internal and external world whilst maintaining a mindset that is curious, open, and non-judging.  We like to call mindfulness a type of ‘mental training’ which is secular.  Attitudes of mindfulness can however be found in many contemplative traditions, and most directly in Buddhist teachings.  Mindfulness training programs such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy are secular and require no commitment to a spiritual tradition or practice.

Myth Number Three: Mindfulness is about relaxing and chilling out

Whilst one of the biggest benefits of mindfulness practice is stress reduction, the techniques themselves are not designed as relaxation techniques. As we described above, they are mental training techniques in which we develop a high-resolution awareness into our inner world of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and moods.  A more useful way to think of mindfulness training is a set of self-awareness techniques which result in us being better able to self-manage.  Mindfulness in fact asks us not to run away from our experience, but to turn towards it, even if it is uncomfortable or unpleasant. When we can turn towards our challenging experiences, we are able to build resilience and learn from them.  The great thing about mindfulness is that we get all of these benefits and for many people the act of doing a mindfulness meditation technique does have the added benefit of being relaxing.

Myth Number Four: Mindfulness and meditation are the same thing

Mindfulness is a state of being, and a way of paying attention which is curious, non-judgemental, and curious.  Mindful meditation is a specific set of techniques which help us to cultivate the state of mindfulness by becoming aware of our mental processes.  There are many different types of meditation, some of which are designed to cultivate this type of mindful presence, others for example, are designed to cultivate specific attitudes of kindness and compassion. If we think of mindfulness as mental training, we can think of different meditation techniques as different gym exercises, designed to develop different mental muscles.

Myth Number Five: Mindfulness is a breathing exercise

In mindfulness we use the breath as an anchor so that we can notice when the mind has been distracted and bring our attention back on to that anchor. We don’t force the breath to be deep and long as a way of relaxing or managing the nervous system.  Within mindfulness we also use other anchors for our attention, such as the body, our senses, our thoughts, and emotions. In fact, the great thing about training your mind in this way is that you can use every and any experience to deepen mindful awareness by directing your mind towards that object or experience, whether it be a conversation you are having or the cup of coffee you are drinking.

We hope you enjoyed the first in our Making Mindfulness Simple series. More from us soon.