'I can't meditate, I can't do mindfulness?'
First of all, none of us can ‘do’ mindfulness. We may, however, benefit from mindfulness by practising non-doing.
Mindfulness' is a currently a hot topic in Western psychology. Mindfulness can be defined in a variety of different ways, but they all basically come down to: paying attention to the present moment with an intention to cultivate curiosity and compassion.
Whilst it has only recently been embraced by Western psychology, it is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Evidence has mounted up to support it as an effective way to reduce stress, increase joy and self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and undo various unhelpful cognitive and behavioural patterns.
It is a powerful tool because it offers a space that is outside of our usual autopilot way of thinking, feeling and behaving. We may define mindfulness as ‘a process of awareness’; it is a unique experience as it is about paying attention to the experience that comes up, rather than being caught up in them - just like watching clouds pass in the sky. The discovery of this new headspace often opens up possibilities - for more joy, more peace, more positive habits.
‘I can’t meditate.’
We hear this a lot when introducing the concept of mindfulness to others.
In contrary to the urban myth, mindfulness is not about sitting on an uncomfortable cushion for hours or chanting “omm”. It is about being ‘more awake’ in your daily life, tasting fully the wide palate of human emotions - without getting stuck in them.
There seems to be a misconception that people you see sitting on a mat has all reached a state of serenity, and that idea may be so far from your own experience that it has made you decided ‘I cannot meditate’, or that you are ‘bad at meditating’.
If you ask anyone who practises mindfulness regularly, you will know that complete serenity is a far cry from what actually happens.
Mindfulness teachers sometimes describe our mind as ‘monkey minds’ - It is constantly busy thinking, planning, reminiscing, and judging… this is completely natural. Our goal in practising mindfulness is not to get rid of all thoughts and feelings, but to create a space for them to come and go, so that we no longer feel trapped in them.
Despite the usual misconception, mindfulness can be practised inside or outside of formal meditation. It can take a variety of forms, from ‘formal’ practices such as sitting breathing exercises, to other practices that aims at cultivating a continuity of awareness in your daily living. In the mindfulness group I go to, for instance, we regularly practice walking slowly together, eating in silence as a group, we even joke about using the toilet mindfully.
In other words, mindfulness is cultivated as ‘a way of being’.
Mindfulness skills can be learned and practised by anyone, whatever their background. Although the philosophy finds its origin in Buddhism, mindfulness informed therapeutic approaches are secular in nature. The ultimate goal of these practices is to strengthen and deepen the human capacity to live more meaningful, balanced and peaceful lives.
This article was written by Imi Lo.