In understanding what mindfulness is, I have been learning a lot about what mindfulness is not. I realize that at the beginning of my practice I had made some wrong assumptions of what it means to be mindful. The more I explored my relationship with mindfulness, the more I recognized that my preconceived assumptions were limiting me from understanding the essence of mindfulness. As I deepen my practice, I feel like I am slowly beginning to unfold the true meaning of what it means to be mindful and fully present. But for now, here are some things that mindfulness is not.
Myth #1 - You can only be mindful when you are meditating.
Mindfulness is not always a result of sitting in a quiet place and having your eyes closed while staying focused on your breath. Some refer to this as a formal practice. There are other ways in which you can be mindful: informal practice. The next time you sit at a traffic light, take it as an opportunity to notice your breath, loosen your shoulders, and notice any tension you might be holding in your body. You can be mindful of how your hands are resting on the wheel and become aware of what is around you. I have been practicing informal mindfulness recently by paying attention to the smell and taste of my toothpaste while brushing my teeth and really feeling the brush on my teeth and gums with each stroke. It almost feels like a massage, and now I really look forward to brushing my teeth and enjoy it. I try my best not to let my mind wander into planning my day or worrying about my to-do list, and instead focus on the present moment. When my mind wanders, I notice it and then bring my attention back to my breath. Making my tea every morning is now probably the best part of my day. I lean into the five senses: watching and listening to the pour as I fill my cup, feeling the warmth cradled in my hands, smelling the aroma by following the lingering steam, and finally sipping with gratitude. I no longer impatiently wait for my tea to cool down, and eventually end up drinking cold tea. Take a second to think about moments of your day in which you can bring in mindfulness, and try it out.
Myth #2 - Mindfulness is easy.
People assume that mindfulness is easy because breathing is easy, and being aware or focused is not that difficult. “I am focusing on being present and am grateful for my being – now what?” I have learned that when I spend the time to be mindful, whether it be for ten minutes or an hour of my day, it sets the tone for the rest of my day. The less I practice, the more stress and tension I feel and the less aware I am of my surroundings, moods, thoughts, and body.
Mindfulness is a moment by moment awareness, and it is pretty much impossible for us to be aware every second of every day. We always have so much going on in our lives and so many thoughts and emotions we go through in any single day. We have to remind ourselves to breathe, to feel, to bee. You have to create a habit of mindfulness and just like any new habit, it takes work and time (about 21 days to be exact). So why not start today?
Myth #3 - I will always feel happy practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness does not equate to joy. When we are aware of our being, we notice our thoughts, feeling, emotions – some of which may not always be positive. And that is okay. Being mindful means to just be aware of those thoughts and feelings. It is simply about becoming aware of your being and your breath. No judgment, no criticism. Mindfulness is about making peace with yourself as you are. In difficult moments when you may not always feel your best, just remember to be mindful of it and be kind to yourself.