Throughout my time as a therapist, I have worked with many people who have dabbled in the realm of mindfulness. A common thing I’ve heard is “it doesn’t work. I still felt anxious,” or “I couldn’t clear my mind.” I’ll admit to having some similar thoughts about mindfulness when I first started as well. I think it’s very important to clear up some of these misconceptions about what mindfulness is and what it can and can’t do.
- Mindfulness doesn’t mean clearing your mind of any and all thought. As long as you are living and breathing, it will be impossible for you to have absolutely no thoughts. This isn’t the goal of mindfulness anyway. I think a lot of frustration can arise when we tell ourselves that in order to be mindful, or in order to meditate correctly, we must be without thought. The idea instead is to notice thoughts. Acknowledge thoughts that pop into our minds without judgement, without pretending they don’t exist, and without trying to think them away.
- Mindfulness is about noticing, and increasing our awareness of our own lived experiences. Going back to the first example I gave of a client who stated “it doesn’t work, I still felt anxious,” that’s okay! It’s important to remove the expectation that mindfulness will get rid of negative feelings. Negative feelings are a part of this messy and complex thing called the human experience. To be without anxiety, sadness, or any negative thought, would be to rob ourselves of this vast array of experiences. Instead of asking mindfulness to get rid of anxiety, depression, etc, what if we asked a different question? What if we asked mindfulness to help us better understand and accept our feelings, thoughts, and experiences?
- Mindfulness is about the here and now. Depression, sadness, and trauma often make it difficult to release experiences from the past, where anxiety and stress have us hyper aware of what could be right around the corner in our futures. Being able to reexamine what is happening right now, can grant us a greater sense of peace and control. We only have control over this moment that we are living. Mindfulness asks how can we best use this moment to live our most fulfilling and meaningful lives?