Mindfulness has become a buzzword that is being dropped around every corner. Mindfulness can be described as the practice of intentionally focusing attention on the present moment without judgment. In fact, using mindfulness in spiritual rehabilitation has also been gaining popularity and recognition. However, there are a number of misconceptions about this age-old practice that get in the way of people trying it and experiencing its many benefits in their lives.
I’ll have to suppress my thoughts and feelings.
In practicing self-awareness, it might seem like a logical goal to try to shut out “negative” feelings like sadness, anger, or frustration or to stop thinking altogether. But mindfulness is not about selectively pruning out negative or painful thoughts or clearing the mind entirely (which likely would be a fruitless effort), but rather paying attention to the full range of feelings and bodily sensations with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.
In fact, the pain we feel is often the result of trying to deny or resist feelings we don’t want to face. Our bodies then contract and tighten, resulting in both physical and emotional discomfort. One of the first mindfulness exercises is scanning the physical body for areas of pain or tension and then softening and widening around that pain to make room for it, rather than pushing it away.
I’ll be physically uncomfortable.
Getting twisted up like a pretzel and making unusual sounds is not a requirement for mindfulness meditation. Many people meditate on a chair, lying down, or in any position they find comfortable. It’s helpful to practice mindfulness in all sorts of daily situations, but for regular formal training, creating a peaceful spot where all you do is a practice. This way, your mind is conditioned to get quiet every time you enter this space.
Mindfulness is all about seriousness and suffering.
Mindfulness practice is sometimes seen as weighty and solemn, far too serious about being any fun. However, many people find that the times when it’s easiest to be in the moment are when they’re at play.
Mindfulness only helps me observe my feelings; it doesn’t help me make changes.
We can’t attempt to solve a problem before we understand its scope. Similarly, we can’t make needed changes in our lives without recognizing what’s wrong. A growing body of research shows that changing your thought processes through mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. By building new connections among brain cells, mindfulness practice can actually rewire the brain, improving the brain’s capacity for self-observation, compassion, and creativity and minimizing feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear. The more mindfulness is practiced, the better equipped the brain is for change.
Mindfulness is useful only for stress relief.
Mindfulness is a practice that often begins with identifying and releasing tension in the body. As such, it can be a powerful stress reducer, but it is much more than that. It can provide freedom from suffering on a much deeper scale. It provides tools people can use to self-soothe rather than turn to substance abuse or other harmful behaviors. It helps people realize that their thoughts do not define them; that they do not need to identify with what’s happening in mind. Going into a mindfulness session with the limited goal of reducing stress can, paradoxically, undermine its benefits.