Mindfulness meditation has gone mainstream. As more research is published about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, the general public, healthcare organisations, and corporations are seeking ways to incorporate this ancient practice into everyday life. I have seen a growing interest in Mindfulness within the work that I do as a cognitive psychotherapist and also on the Mindfulness Meditation classes that I run. I have also found that there is a growing interest by organisations and companies in exploring the viability and benefits of ‘Mindfulness in the workplace’.
The Mindful Revolution was featured on the cover of the February 3, 2014 issue of TIME Magazine and in other magazines, newspapers and media over 2014 . Corporations including Google, General Mills, Apple, and Aetna have introduced mindfulness programmes for their employees. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training programmes for healthcare professionals and holistic therapists are becoming increasingly popular and in greater demand, as are courses on Mindfulness practice by the general public. OPAL run a range of these courses at The OPAL Positive Psychology Centre in Ireland and at regional venues throughout Ireland and the UK. Some events are also available on-line through the OPAL e-Centre. During 2013 and again in 2014, I had the honour of being invited to run a number of Mindfulness workshops for The Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was great to get such positive feedback from participants as to how Mindfulness practice has helped them.
Mindfulness meditation has shown multiple benefits to health and well-being. A sample range of benefits includes a decrease in stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. Additional benefits include an increase in immunity, concentration, weight loss, compassion, axonal density, and an overall felt sense of well-being. (Reference 1)
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judging it. This seems simple enough, but the actual practice of learning to be fully present in mind and body with open acceptance can be a challenge. For most mindfulness meditation students, it is an unlearning process. After decades of social conditioning, distraction, stimulation seeking, and striving to achieve, learning to be still through the practice of observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations without acting upon them takes a lot of patience and self-acceptance.
In fact, patience and acceptance are two of the seven pillars of mindfulness as outlined by MBSR founder, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. The other mindfulness pillars are non-judging, trust, non-striving, beginner’s mind, and letting go. (Reference 2) Embodying these seven pillars lead meditators to less reactive states and an increased sense of compassion and connection to themselves, others, and nature.
Mindfulness meditation takes practice and willingness. As healthcare practitioners increase the frequency of recommending mindfulness meditation to their clients, patients, and peers, it is important to address common myths that may arise about mindfulness meditation.
Myth #1: Mindfulness Meditation is a Form of Relaxation
Mindfulness meditation is not a form of relaxation. Instead, mindfulness is the practice of waking up – learning to be fully alive and embracing the joy, sorrow, boredom, grief, and triumphs that life brings to every human being.
Relaxation is a sought after sense of relief. Mindfulness teaches to release the tight mental grasp that hopes for a specific outcome.
By constantly seeking relief and distraction from troubles, humans perpetuate suffering by not learning to be in compassionate relationship with what exists within and around us. If one learns to openly witness and accept negative symptoms and feelings, one has greater access to choice. Turning away from discomfort may offer short-term relief but often leads to long-term dysfunction.
The stress reduction benefits of mindfulness meditation are not from relaxation. The benefits are from the freedom of the incessant identification of thought, feeling and sensation patterns that limit the openness of the heart.
Myth #2: Mindfulness Meditation Conflicts with Religious Beliefs
One does not have to accept or deny any religion or creed to practice mindfulness meditation.
It is true that the practice of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, but it is commonplace for mindfulness meditation teachers and programmes in the west to teach a secular approach.
Mindfulness meditation is safely available to people of any religion or no religion. My clients with religious faith often report mindfulness enhances their spiritual path by being able to slow down, pay attention, and live in harmony with their values.
The teachings of mindfulness welcome diversity and love. There is no request or need to adopt or change religious beliefs to practice mindfulness meditation.
Myth #3: Mindfulness Meditation Requires Thoughts to Stop
Mindfulness meditation does not require one to stop thinking. One is not doing it right or wrong if one has less or more thoughts. Instead of ceasing thought, mindfulness meditation asks the student to observe thoughts without judging them or labelling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It is this tendency to constantly label, attach to pleasure, and avert from pain that prevents humans from the experience of moment-to-moment presence.
Constantly seeking pleasure or avoiding pain limits one’s ability to connect with the present moment, and the present moment is where each of us experiences life. The present moment is the only time there is to embrace the opportunity to connect, choose, transform, or accept.
By learning to observe and be the neutral witness of one’s thought patterns, it increases the capacity for self-awareness and self-regulation. With heightened awareness, there is a significant shift in the ability to choose – to respond thoughtfully in accordance with our values instead of on autopilot, and to connect with what is really happening in the present moment in lieu of stressing over what may happen or ruminating over the past.
Myth #4: Mindfulness Meditation Takes Too Much Time
Most people report being pressed for time. The last thing someone wants is another item to add to the to-do list, and approaching mindfulness as another task to check off this list is ill advised.
Mindfulness meditation does not have to take a lot of time. One can have a formal sitting or walking mindfulness meditation practice in as little as five minutes a day. The goal is to not achieve a certain length of time in meditation. The practice is to be comfortable without an end result, to be accepting in the space of not knowing, and to experience the presence of being.
Mindfulness teaches we are meant to be human beings, not human doings.
The experience of being trapped for time is an experience of constant doing. By taking both time and awareness to practice being present, my clients report a healthier relationship to time. The constant busyness fills a false sense of self-importance and is a distraction to their core values.
One can take as much or as little time as desired to start a mindfulness practice; the peace is in the quality of the attention itself.
1 Scientific Papers from The Stress Reduction Clinic and The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. 2012-1982. (Editors Saki F. Santorelli, Ed.D., M.A. & Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.)
2 Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Pain, Stress, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell.