It’s really hard to tell who the people are who have read my blog. Yes, I know of a few friends who read and I see that I’ve had readers from Israel and India and Ireland and Iceland. But I can’t be sure what they’re thinking. And most of the time that doesn’t worry me too much. I mean, I’m writing for me, not necessarily for them. But as I’ve moved into coaching mindfulness as a career and profession, this has shifted. While I am in business, and my primary goal is to be able to earn a living, there are a number of other goals I have in mind. Obviously, I want to help people to be able to lead their best lives. But also I see my role as being one of informing and educating about mindfulness, and certainly dispelling some of the misconceptions surrounding mindful practices. Don’t worry, I’m going to keep writing about a whole range of stuff, but I will be giving my two cents worth on mindfulness too…
As I’ve said before, I haven’t always tried to live mindfully – let’s face it, there have been many demonstrations of this in my life and I can see a great many differences between the me of a few years ago and the person I am today. I would have once been someone who thought that meditation was all about learning to relax – seriously, who needs to be taught this? – and that mindfulness was just another craze that would go the way of fidget spinners and flash mobs. There’s so much more to it. The history of mindfulness spans thousands of years – Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a great example of recognising that people tend to spend most of their lives on autopilot, and just accept that this is their lot in life. I won’t go into the Allegory here, but it just illustrates the point that we’re not talking hula hoops here. Buddhists would likely also agree with this brief illustration of the historical context. Mindfulness is not about simply learning to relax or being positive. No matter how zen you are or think you are, life is going to have its ups and downs. The marker of success is in how you respond to the ups and downs. How well you bounce back from adversity and how well you accept the impermanence of all emotions.
When I coach, I work through a whole range of activities to help clients to develop mindful practices that will give them opportunities to learn more about themselves. Understanding yourself better, and knowing how you naturally respond to emotions, is an integral part of mindfulness. Knowing your typical responses, particularly in challenging circumstances can help in the process of learning to take a breath before responding, whether verbally or in actions. And I’m not sure I need to underline the value of that moment of breath before a response!
The other misconception I mentioned earlier, that mindfulness is all about thinking positively, is a bit of a tricky one. The thing is, if you develop your skills in mindfulness and implement these in your life, you will naturally think more positively about things. But it’s not a simple matter of suddenly deciding to think positively. It’s a much more lengthy process than this. The harder you try – without the necessary tools – to just think positively, the less time you’re spending in the present moment, and the less mindful you actually are.
Another thing that people seem to struggle with is the idea of finding the time to include these practices in their lives. I hear things like, “I can’t fit in a fifteen minute meditation. I don’t have enough hours in the day as it is!” But the thing is, including a fifteen minute meditation in your day can win back so much more time than you actually spend doing it. Because meditation, and mindful practices in general bring you back to the present moment, we become fully immersed in what we are doing and therefore have greater powers of concentration and thus experience much improved efficiency.
Ok, so these were some simple ideas for rethinking mindfulness and meditation. Maybe they’re not enough to convince everyone. If you’re like me, it might be just about opening your mind enough to give things a try for yourself. So, yes. I’m relaxed. I’m positive. But I didn’t just start relaxing or being more positive. I took gradual steps towards experiencing those states more regularly and consistently. I’m not relaxed all the time. I’m not happy or positive all the time. But I have the tools to break out of the funk and bounce back more quickly than I ever have in my life. Mindfulness definitely makes it better. Whatever that might be! It makes the highs better. And the lows shorter. And it helps to see that every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow and be better. Who wouldn’t want that?!
P.S. For anyone who wants to get all high and mighty and tell me the deeper and properly philosophical meaning of Plato’s cave story… my apologies for making my own interpretation here to suit the purposes of my post!