4 traps to avoid for effective mindfulness practice
I just did my first webinar on Mindfulness practice for Parkinson’s Disease hosted by Parkinson Society BC. 200 people signed up and many on the waitlist. The popularity of the topic exceeded my expectation!
Indeed, the word “mindfulness” is such a buzz word these days. It seems that mindfulness practice has become another important component of healthy living after exercise and healthy eating. From a practice that was exclusively practiced by monks or nuns for thousand years to today’s wide applications in the field of medicine, psychotherapy, work place, athlete training, schools and even parenting, mindfulness practice has become popular because of its proven benefits in improving our physical, mental, emotional and social well beings.
The definition of mindfulness is paying attention to whatever is happening in the moment with acceptance. Sounds simple. However, our mind is tricky. As you head toward the medication cushion, I would like to clarify four common misunderstandings about mindfulness practice so that you will not let your mind lead you astray and defeat the purpose of practice.
1. I have to get rid of my thoughts to have a blank mind so that I can feel calm.
It is not the goal of mindfulness practice to get rid of thoughts or to fight against them. It is normal to have thoughts, even during mindfulness practice. The key is to have a different relationship with these thoughts. Instead of believing them, we observe them without judging them or identifying with them. When you try to get rid of your thoughts, you are back into the game of struggle that mindfulness practice intends to take you out of.
2. Mindfulness is about disengaging and withdrawing from life.
Looking from outside, when you practice mindfulness, you are sitting there doing nothing. However, if you are really paying attention to whatever is rising in the moment, there is a lot happening. Mindfulness practice is actually about experiencing life more and engaging with it more fully. When people hear the word “accepting”, their mind starts to judge: I don’t like it because it sounds like giving up. Yet, accepting what is in the moment is not “giving up” or “giving in”, it is an active and courageous choice of embracing what is.
3. Mindfulness practice is about seeking relaxation and pleasure.
Even though practicing mindfulness often leads to the experience of peace and ease, and a sense of wellbeing, it is not the goal of the practice to seek relaxation and pleasure. But rather it is about being with whatever is in the moment. Because our mind is tricky, it will turn everything into a “goal oriented task” with that, it comes with the striving, struggling, anxiety and frustration. If we start with that intension, we easily fall back into the trap of our mind.
4. Mindfulness practice is for getting rid of pain, suffering and unwanted feelings.
Many people start the practice because they experience either physical or emotional pain and suffering and they want to find a way to deal with them. However, mindfulness practice is not about getting rid of all those unwanted feelings and sensations. As we know, our mind has the tendency to avoid discomfort and to push away pain. This resistance often creates more suffering. As you allow yourself to feel during the practice, you may actually feel more vividly the unwanted emotions and probably more discomfort. The practice of mindfulness is to increase our capacity of feeling the uncomfortable sensations and difficult emotions as a way to reduce suffering.
After correcting these misunderstanding, I would like to borrow Tara Brach’s RAIN practice as a very good sum up of what mindfulness can be practiced. Here is what my modified RAIN stands for: Recognising (your sensations, thoughts, feelings etc. in the moment), Allowing (those experiences), Investigating (observing these experiences with curiosity) and Not Judging and not Identifying with (these experiences.) Happy practicing!