It seems the term “mindfulness” or “mindful” is everywhere these days. We hear it tagged along with promotions for a healthy lifestyle, how to have the best relationships, managing emotions, it is even tied to our favorite workouts. It’s no wonder there is often confusion about what mindfulness really is and what it definitely isn’t! Here are three of the biggest myths of mindfulness debunked!
1. Mindfulness= Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably and when we speak of one, we tend to assume the other exists as well; however, mindfulness is not meditation. Rather, mindfulness is an awareness of the present moment- paying attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Whereas meditation is a practice of sustained attention using full awareness that is also true to mindfulness. Meditation often has you identify an “anchor” or an “object” be it your breath, eating, walking, or music. For example, if I am sitting at a stream, mindfulness is experiencing the stream as it is. Observing the ripples in the water as the water moving in the stream comes and goes, without judgment or attachment to what is being experienced. Meditation is sustaining your attention on the stream, spending intentional time on the experience, and when your mind wanders, using the stream as an anchor to return to. In short, meditation is a more intentional practice using the core components of mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation complement each other but are not one in the same.
2. Mindfulness means you have no thoughts
This myth is so interesting to me because the complete elimination of thoughts is not realistic as thoughts are needed for us to be able to evaluate safety versus danger and facilitate connection. Just like you can’t stop your heart from beating, you cannot stop your mind from thinking. While we cannot completely eliminate thought processes, we can slow down our thoughts and observe which thoughts are helpful and let go of the ones that aren’t- typically the ones full of judgment! The Teflon Pan metaphor suggests just that: to allow thoughts to come and go and the practice of not getting stuck on a particular thought. What makes it hard is the use of language, which has allowed us the ability to evaluate but we tend to add judgment where judgment is not needed. For example, if I were to notice an alligator nearby, I would mindfully observe this animal and evaluate it as a potential threat and to not approach- helpful! A non-helpful judgment would be to say alligators are ugly and stupid- gives me no useful information for survival or connection and is therefore not helpful- let it go. Ergo, judgment should only be used if needed for survival or connection!
3. Mindfulness means you are always calm and relaxed with no distractions
Mindfulness does not guarantee calm or relaxation. I know, I know everyone says it does and you’ve likely felt some sense of relief or calm after engaging in mindfulness or meditation. However, mindfulness is simply making us aware of our experiences at any given moment regardless of what you’re doing or how busy you are. We know as a secondary consequence to paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally in the present moment we often feel a sense of calm. That’s simply because we turned away from the noise and into the here and now where we actually have control. We’ve started using parts of our brain associated with more pleasurable emotions (compassion, gratitude) and slowed down processes that often lead to impulsivity or emotion dysregulation. It is common that you become even more aware of your emotions by engaging in mindfulness meaning you may notice anger or sadness that have been waiting to be nurtured by you. You may even notice you’re often distracted when engaging in mindfulness and that is alright too- just note it and bring your attention back to the present moment. Again, mindfulness just allows us to feel, think, sense our experience in the here and now, which may be anything but calm. Thank your mind for letting you know what you are experiencing and accept all that comes in that moment!