Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, as a particular way of paying attention: On purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmental. With such a simple definition (to pay attention to the present moment intentionally and without judgment), one would think that this practice is open and easy for all to participate.
It is open to all, but it’s called a “practice” for a reason. Like other skills we develop, mindfulness asks us to practice many times a day in both formal and informal settings.
You may be asking, “Jennie, why do you suddenly care about this shit?”
My interest in meditation / mindfulness was born out of an 11th step Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Santa Monica, California. I started attending the meeting, say once a week, and found that my life changed. Not that life immediately got better, but I began to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. I liked the idea of trying to be a “meditator,” and could manage five-to-seven minute silent stretches in the mornings. Eventually I participated in a Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention program at University of Washington (ah-mazing!), and developed a formal meditation practice. In both the AA meeting and the MBRP group, I’d sneak looks at other meditators. They were super peaceful. Zenned out. Often, I felt like I was “doing it wrong” because my thoughts were so noisy. But before meditation, I didn’t realize that thoughts were thoughts, no matter how noisy they may be.
Experts estimate that we think between 50,ooo-70,ooo thoughts per day. This article on Huffington breaks it down to 35-48 thoughts per minute. When I first started to sit in formal meditation, all I could hear was the steady stream of thoughts yelling in my brain. I struggled to return to the sound of my breath. I started to hate meditation.
Here are some common misperceptions about Mindfulness and meditation. For ease of reading, I’ll address each one as we go.
“Once I start meditating, I try (or it’s possible) to push all thoughts from my head.”
Like that Huffpo article’s estimate illustrated, we have a shit-ton of thoughts. And as Kabat-Zinn mentions in his super simple definition of mindfulness, the only intention of mindfulness is to pay attention to what’s happening right now, without judgment. Super challenging, I know. However, if what’s happening right now is one of those thousands of thoughts, and you have the ability to say, “oh look, I’m having a thought,” then you’re doin’ it Peter!
“I meditate so that I feel different (better, relaxed, focused, etc.).”
Once again, intention is everything. The intention in practicing mindfulness is to pay attention to right now (without judgment). Yes, it’s true that you might feel different/better/relaxed/focused/etc. once you’ve finished your practice, but that’s an awesome byproduct of the practice. Think of it like eating. The truth is that you eat because you’re required to do it to continue being alive. It’s only a nice byproduct that we’ve figured out how to make food taste great.
“When I see other people meditate, they’re so peaceful!”
Please believe me when I say this. We are not always on the inside what we are on the outside. Like in my yoga class – there are times where I’m holding a Warrior 2 pose, and I know I look fab because those obnoxious mirrors are there for me to double check my fab-ness, but my legs are on fire and my brain is saying, “forget this, straighten your legs, legs are burning, legs will fall off, what are we doing after this? why is that girl’s warrior so much better than mine? how much longer do we have to hold this? I think I forgot to unplug the curling iron. I’m thirsty. I’m uncomfortable. I’m I’m I’m.” And I look at that mirror and see my calm and smiling face, and am reminded of how we’re all carrying so much shit on the inside that we don’t share with anyone.
Every. Fucking. One of us.
“I don’t have time for meditation (or mindfulness).”
If you think of it as “making time” to practice, you’ll inevitably face failures. Time is a made up thing. A social construct. Yes, we have to live by it, but you can create the time/life you want to live. If you build it into your schedule, like you do brushing your teeth and taking a shower, you’ll be successful in developing a regular practice.
“I’m not into mindfulness.”
You are into it, you just don’t know it yet. In the comments portion of this post, I invite you to share about the last moment where you experienced happiness. Pure, unadulterated, joy. Answer these questions:
- What were you doing in the moment?
- What did you notice about that moment?
- Who did you share the moment with?
On a piece of paper, or in an app or whatever technologically savvy thing you want to do, write the answers to these questions now so you can keep reading. I’ll wait. In fact, I’ll put a picture here so you can think through the questions without being influenced by what I’m about to say (I don’t know if that’s possible to keep from scrolling down but lets try it out, right?). Seriously. DO IT NOW!
Research shows that we are happiest when we are living in the moment. Here are just a few of my happiest moments from 2015.
- Kayaking on the Puget Sound in the middle of a jellyfish party. The water was like tapioca. With people from a MBRP training.
- Riding our Ruckus for the first time. Wind on my face. Sunset. Alone.
- Watching the sunrise at a Vipassana Retreat in Onalaska, WA., after a two hour morning meditation. Noticing the sky changing. Noticing the thought, “the only reason the sunrise, or anything, is beautiful is because it changes.” Alone.
- Snowboarding with Hubs. Witnessing him fall and get right back up without missing a beat. Experiencing the emotion of pride and gratitude filling my chest. With Hubs.
- Snowboarding Whistler Mountain. Feeling the powder beneath my board as I bomb down the hill. Listening to Charles Bradley. Alone.
- Laughing. Seriously, any moment where I’m laughing. When I’m laughing, I’m usually with someone, or connected in some way.
We can all work on a mindfulness practice together, and dig deeper into the science and practical experience of meditation. For now, because this post must end, I encourage you to adopt a mindfulness practice for the next two weeks (until my next post!). Here’s all you have to do.
Notice 5 Things
Once or twice a day, notice five things about what’s going on in the present moment. The things you notice can be witnessed through:
- Sensation (Bodily)
Notice one thing with every few breaths until you get to five, noticing all the qualities of that one thing. Do your best. When your mind wanders, thank it for working so diligently for you, and welcome it back to this present moment.
Let me/us know how it goes.
*Also, sorry for the late update. I’m experimenting with auto-update and it was an epic failure. I will be more mindful of it next time 🙂