I’ve had many people say to me, “I can’t do mindfulness because I can’t shut off my brain!” If you have a similar reaction to mindfulness or meditation, guess what? You’re not alone.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “mindfulness”? Do you imagine a monk meditating on a mountaintop all day? Many people assume that mindfulness is a form of meditation where you “clear” your thoughts to come to some space of inner peace and enlightenment that seems totally unattainable. The human mind is conditioned to have thoughts and it is totally unrealistic to stop thinking or getting distracted. “Turning off the mind” is not what mindfulness is at all! While mindfulness is concept that stems from Buddhism, it does not require that you become a monk, rid yourself of your possessions, or turn off your thoughts.
Mindfulness is present-moment awareness and acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and physical surroundings. To practice mindfulness all you have to do is tune into the present moment and become more aware of what you are thinking and feeling, without judgment. In mindfulness practice, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. Distracting thoughts are a part of the mindfulness practice and not something that mindfulness aims to get rid of. Through practicing mindfulness, you will become more aware of what is happening in the present and less fixated on the past or worried about the future. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve mood, help you get distance from your thoughts, and alleviate anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness can be practiced in many forms. While meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, you can also practice mindfulness by listening to a song, eating, walking, doing the dishes, connecting with a friend, and even focusing on unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations. This method allows you to have a less reactive relationship with your thoughts and feelings, and can lead to a greater overall sense of well-being and relaxation. Many people also say that by practicing mindfulness they feel more attuned to their bodies and minds and more actively engaged in their lives and relationships. They feel less judgmental in general and more aligned with the process and flow of life.
I teach clients how to practice mindfulness in our sessions. When needed, I may assign homework that helps you cultivate your own mindfulness practice that you can take with you wherever you go.