As mindfulness has entered the mainstream there has been a mixture of excitement, confusion and scepticism. It claims to reduce stress, but is not necessarily relaxing. Our mental space becomes clearer but it is not making the mind blank, or zoning out. We observe and engage with thoughts, yet don’t try to control, manage or modify them. Some of these training tools are variants of ancient mind training techniques, but practicing mindfulness doesn’t make you a Buddhist.
Recall from previous blogs the invitation to listen mindfully, how you can use the transitional pause practice as you move from task to task, or home to work, and the benefits of mindful eating. All these activities will help you to train your brain to be more often in a “mindful mode”.
To help you get the most out of these experiments, this blog will bust some of the common circulating myths and confusions mentioned above. This will allow you to proceed with confidence with mindfulness in your day to day life.
Where would it be helpful for you to be a bit more attentive, a bit less reactive and a bit kinder? It is often in relationships that this really pays off but there may be other areas where you see that distraction, judging and getting in a reactive flap are getting in the way of what you really need to be getting on with – at work, or in your life more generally.
Look out for these common “de-railers” of mindful mode:
While mindfulness can induce a sense of relief, it is not the same as relaxation. With mindfulness, we are lightly but actively monitoring the present moment and our mind’s tendency to wander. Getting familiar with the wandering mind means we can learn its patterns and signatures. We can practice being present and less judgemental and reactive. When we can do this with our own body and mind, somehow it is easier to be kinder and more open to others.
Is it Buddhism?
It is true that many of the practices taught in today’s secular mindfulness courses are variants of contemplative practices. Many teachers of secular mindfulness have themselves trained in these traditions but are keen to share the benefits as widely as possible. This is why we now have “secular” mindfulness. These are mindfulness techniques that have been adapted and extracted from contemplative traditions so they can be delivered in health, work, and educational settings.
One aspect that seems key in gaining the benefits of mindfulness is the development of self and other compassion. The idea of being kind to ourselves and taking care of others is one that is seen across many spiritual and religious traditions. It seems to have been forgotten in much of today’s world. When we slow down, pause, reduce reactivity and really look with kindly interest at what our bodies and our minds are up to, we can discover many areas of thinking and doing where we are being quite harsh on ourselves. Mindfulness can help us to cultivate and generate a gentler inner voice, a less critical inner dialogue and a greater acceptance of ALL the emotions that make up our psychological life. When we have familiarity with this, we have more possibilities to act skilfully and wisely and in a way, that is in line with our own personal values and ideals. We also learn more quickly and efficiently. This seems very relevant to the challenges we face in today’s world.