Written byJiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
Mindfulness is the non-judgmental, focused attention to one’s mental, emotional and /or physical experience in the present moment. I have had the pleasure of working with folks at various levels of skillfulness in applying mindfulness to their lives. And with learning anything new, there is bound to be some misunderstandings both conceptually and practically. For some, there seems to be a stage in their learning that I call the “Mindfulness Nazi” stage, and it is characterized by the following misunderstandings.
Don’t “should” on yourself
Mindfulness isn’t something you should do. It’s something you just choose to do. So many people get turned off to mindfulness practice because of the shear weight of obligation. When learning about mindful eating, a retreat participant asked, “But I share my meals with my partner and I think if I were to eat mindfully, that would take away from our quality time together.” I think what she heard was that she should be eating mindfully instead of spending time with her partner. You don’t have to eat every meal mindfully, or do anything mindfully if you don’t choose to. It’s always a choice. And in this woman’s case, I would probably choose to spend quality time with my partner and being mindful of that interaction, rather than how I am eating my food.
You don’t always have to be mindful
There are times when you have to think and evaluate and make plans. Mindfulness is not any of those things. There are also times when you might need to take a break from thinking and just veg out watching mind less television. Why not? If you’re answer is “because it isn’t healthy,” then go do something healthy! You have that choice. And if you want to be mindful while doing that, then you can choose to, or not. Is this choice thing sinking in? My point is, no one expects anyone to be mindful all of the time. It’s impossible. If you know how to get present, then you can apply that skill anytime you realize you are in your head. And the more you practice the more it will occur to you. Try to do one thing mindfully everyday, if you want.
You can avoid stuff
One of the main instructions in mindfulness is to move toward your experience rather than away from it. This is helpful when you are struggling with painful emotions because when you avoid them, you tend to fuel them further making them so much worse. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t avoid anything! My wife avoids making left turns onto busy streets where there is no light. If this somehow interfered with her living her life or being who she wanted to be, I’d say mindfulness could help her let go of her anxiety in order to have a fuller range of driving behavior. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t affect her at all and she feels quite safe making right turns and taking an extra minute to make a U-turn at the next light. Big deal, right? If what you are avoiding is creating more problems in your life or preventing you from living your values, mindfulness can help you move toward it instead. Otherwise, there’s no reason to go around looking for pain.
One of the main tenants of mindfulness is non-judgment. So comparing yourself to another person is a judgment. Evaluating your practice as good or bad is a judgment. Seeing mindless behavior, which is most of our total behavior by the way, as bad, or wrong, is a judgment. And here’s where your natural skew toward judgment really gets turned upside down. The fact that you judge, is not “bad.” So don’t judge yourself for judging! Be mindful of your judgment instead. Be aware of the difference between evaluation and observation. There will be times when you need to make a judgment, and there are times when judgments will limit you. Knowing the difference is the key.