Sit down with your legs crossed… Take some big deep breaths and let them out slowly…
Focus on your breath… Close your eyes…. Clear your mind… Empty your thoughts…
Focus entirely on your breath…
This is a very very common misconception of what mindfulness is.
Not only do you not need to clear your mind… which is practically impossible by the way… unless you are a Zen master… Or dead. But you also do not need to sit down, close your eyes, or focus on your breath.
Where people go wrong.
When people hear this or think this, it is no surprise that they have little or no interest. I wouldn’t either.
When I first sat down to try this, I gave up very quickly, but also became very frustrated and felt even worse because it was so hard and I sucked at it.
I felt uncomfortable and I could not seem to stop thinking !!
So, I thought I was terrible at it and too far gone to get any better.
Thankfully, this view of mindfulness is inaccurate. Here’s why.
What mindfulness ACTUALLY is
Mindfulness at its core can be summarised with 2 A’s: Awareness and Acceptance.
Awareness: Simply being aware.
One example of something you can be aware of is your breath, which is always there… a big reason for why it is so common in meditations. However, you can also be aware of your mind and what it is doing, your feelings and body sensations, and your surroundings. You can also be aware of and pay attention to whatever the task is you are doing.
We can practice awareness by simply noticing these things.
Acceptance: Acceptance is the way we do this noticing, with curiosity, openness, and non-judgement.
Here, with Acceptance, lies the difference between “OMG, I’m SO ANXIOUS. This is BAD. I HATE this feeling” and “I am noticing my mind racing, anxiety, and my heart beating faster than usual. I feel quite uncomfortable”.
Meditation vs Mindfulness
The short example at the top of this blog resembles what we might call a meditation.
There are many kinds of meditations. One type is mindfulness meditations.
These meditations are sort of like formal training. It is a time to focus on, practice and build the mindfulness skills of awareness and acceptance so that they can be applied effectively in the rest of your life.
Mindfulness meditations are kind of like soccer training where you focus on drills to build skills (e.g., passing, kicking, tackling, running). And yes, they are effective (we know this from the research). However, you can also train more practically by playing practice games. In practice games, you are using those same skills.
Mindfulness meditations (even short 2-5 min ones), just like soccer drills, are often a good place to start, however, mindfulness can be practiced more practically in our lives, while we are doing stuff… any time, anywhere.
This is what I like to call Practical Mindfulness. It is taking the same core skills of mindfulness (awareness and acceptance), and applying it every day life.
- When walking in to work, noticing how you are feeling, noticing your thoughts, noticing the feeling of the sun on your face and the sounds of birds or cars around you.
- When you are with your friends you can be mindful by paying attention, listening to them, and having fun.
- While doing boring mundane tasks like washing the dishes, noticing the temperature of the water, any smells, the feeling of the plates, the sound of the water, etc.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness or understand how it can be implemented in your life, please give us a call and one of our highly skilled and talented psychologists can support you to be more mindful in your own life… without having to close your eyes or clear your mind.