By John Austin, founder of Life Warrior- Today I want to cover some basic mis-perceptions about a mindfulness or meditation practice, and also deliver why I think it is one of the most important practices we can take on in today’s society.
So let’s go ahead and first break through all the myths of a mindfulness practice that keeps most from even attempting meditation:
First of all, mindfulness is not just an Eastern practice filled with chanting and mantras. While meditation was largely cultivated in the East, it has also been practiced by Western teachers, mystics and other spiritual leaders throughout the ages. Mindfulness goes by many names: meditation, centering prayer, focus, calming breath, awareness, or simply “being” and it even has a complete Western, science based practice built around it called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy or MBCT. Therefore, mindfulness does not have to be connected to any religion or even spirituality and can be purely a way to reduce stress and increase happiness in our lives.
Mindfulness does not necessarily involve crossing your legs on the floor for hours at a time. Mindfulness practice can come in many forms, whether seated on the floor, in a chair, walking in the park, even washing the dishes or some other form of every day exercise which can be transformed into a mindfulness practice. Initially, I thought meditation practice could only be done seated; therefore, it was not a practice I often did because it seemed more like a chore than anything else. However, when I learned that mindfulness could be brought to any aspect of living, I expanded my practice to everyday life and at that point, I actually began doing seated meditation more often because it helped me remember to practice it at those other times. Some of my favorite forms of practices are running in the park and washing dishes.
Mindfulness is not “blissing out” or some form of no thought. I often hear many people say that they cannot meditate because they think way too much. It’s kinda like someone who says they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible or they won’t learn Spanish because they don’t know it already…doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Realizing that we think way too much is actually the first success of a mindfulness practice. Not thinking is impossible for pretty much all of us, especially in America, and will probably not be ceased through meditation. Meditation is simply the observance of our thoughts and in some cases the realization that we are all crazy in some way, shape or form. Meditation then allows you to be mindful of your thoughts and eventually be able to choose what thoughts you’d like to have vs. thoughts that are part of negative patterns and which are defeating your attempts to live a more healthy and fully alive existence.
Mindfulness does not involve getting rid of our goals in life. By taking on a mindfulness practice, you will actually greater enhance your ability to achieve your goals rather than decrease your success in life. Mindfulness allows us to reduce stressors by being aware of our thoughts and choosing not to identify with them. By not identifying with our thoughts, especially our negative ones, we allow ourselves to enhance our effectiveness in the world because we are not brought down by every remark or roadblock. We can simply observe it and move on our way. However, mindfulness does make external goals secondary to the aliveness and awareness of this present moment, therefore, if we do not achieve one of our external goals, it also does not destroy us.
Ok, now that I’ve covered the myths, I want to express why I think that mindfulness is one of the most important things we can do in the West:
Throughout my training career, I can pinpoint one primary reason that causes 99% of failures. This reason, as you can guess, is stress and negative thought patterning. When we are stressed out, it is very difficult to add new things into our lives, no matter how beneficial. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We cannot actuallize a new part of ourselves when we are struggling with our emotions and our day to day existence.
This is why, we must begin the practice of mindfulness and make it part of our lives. No matter how stressed you are, I encourage you to find just 1 minute a day to focus on your breath and observe your thoughts. Your only job in that minute is to be completely present with whatever arises in those moments, without judgement. If you think the whole time and don’t find a second of peace or calm, GREAT! SUCCESS! If you’re able to find a second of peace, that is wonderful also. The intention and practice is more important then the level of proficiency reached.
However that minute can eventually turn into 2 or 3, and then you may decide to add mindfulness to some other area of your life. Eventually, you will find that you are less reactive and you are happier in your everyday existence.
Therefore, mindfulness can be inserted into our lives no matter how little room we have for new things. In turn it will create spaciousness into areas where we didn’t know there was any and slowly, it will transform our lives. Then we will transform the world around us by being happier more peaceful individuals. A lot can come from a little.
Thank you for reading and please come join us sometime at Life Warrior Fitness Studio in Littleton, Colorado! We often add mindfulness onto the beginning or end of the workouts. Sincerely, John