Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a licensed clinical social worker, and CEO and Co-Founder of Presence Care Project, a new, innovative approach to dementia care. She has found that mindfulness is often misunderstood, and misconceptions have led people to give up on practicing it, or have prevented them from getting the full benefits of it. Here are some common false views about mindfulness that she has seen, and ways to change them…
1. I CAN’T STOP MY THOUGHTS
Mindfulness is not about stopping one from thinking. Rather it is noticing when thoughts arise and then bringing the mind back to the intended object of our awareness, often times the breath. To expect the mind to not think is ludicrous. The brain is programmed to think, and we spend most of our waking life thinking. It is unreasonable to expect the brain to shut off its thinking mode, just because we want to. When we meditate, we realize we are not in control.
2. A FEW MINUTES IS GOOD ENOUGH
Even mindfulness is not immune to our fast-everything culture. There are teachers, and books that spread the idea that just a few minutes of mindfulness from time to time is enough. That is unfortunately not so. While it is true that a little bit of mindfulness is better than none, the reality is that mindfulness is just like any other skill. Practice a little, and you will make little progress. Practice a lot, and you will gain a lot. A good rule of thumb is 30 minutes of formal practice every day. I recommend first thing in the morning, as one is more likely to practice that way, and also one can reap the benefit of their early practice during the whole day.
3. I IMAGINE I AM IN A MEADOW
Guided imagery has its own set of healing properties. And it is not mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is about cultivating awareness of the present moment, not being taken away somewhere else. Next time you decide to meditate, remember to stay where you are!
4. I FEEL WORSE WHEN I MEDITATE
With that statement, comes the immediate implication that meditation is not a good thing and should be abandoned. This idea comes from the false assumption that mindfulness is about feel good. While it is true that mindfulness often leads to feeling more peaceful and content within oneself, there are many moments along the way when practice is all but pleasant. It is not unusual for new meditators to feel physical and emotional pains they were not aware of before. Meditation is about being mindful of what is, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant.
5. MINDFULESS IS ABOUT JUST BEING AWARE
Another misconception is the notion that mindfulness is strictly a passive activity. Mindfulness in daily life – not when sitting for formal practice – encompasses both moment-to-moment awareness and skillful interventions based on what is observed. If I find my thoughts going in a direction which I know is harmful to myself or others, I stop those thoughts and substitute them with more adaptive thoughts. This comes with practice, and is an important aspect of mindfulness. Commonly used cognitive therapy techniques for depression and anxiety are a version of such mindfulness practice.