It’s all too easy, if you catch just the last few minutes of a news report or a brief glimpse of a headline, to end up with a whole range of misconceptions. Even when you read the whole article or hear the full interview, though, you can still be left believing that myths are truth.
This post examines some of the misconceptions about mindfulness that appear in the press on a regular, if infrequent, basis. We’ll also suggest ways you can learn the full story about mindfulness and work out whether the practice is right for you.
Misconception 1: Mindfulness is just the latest money-making industry!
With all the publicity surrounding the benefits of mindfulness, and the abundance of mindfulness books, apps and courses now available, you might be starting to wonder whether mindfulness is no more than a trendy, money-making industry. The word ‘mindful’ seems to be everywhere—and is sometimes used in the most unlikely of places!
When a word becomes over-used, though, that doesn’t mean the original meaning or idea behind that word has lost its value. As Barry Boyce, writing on mindful.org, says:
Once a word gets trendy and over-used, it can grate on the ear; but because ‘organic’ has been over-used doesn’t mean that genuine organic food has somehow become a shallow thing of no value. Just so, with mindfulness.”
Mindfulness is not new. The practice dates back 2,500 years. Modern mindfulness is simply a practical life skill you can develop to help you cope with the stresses and strains of everyday life.
It’s right, of course, that we should analyse the true value of mindfulness—what it can do, what it is and what it isn’t. This leads us on to one of the more common misconceptions seen in the press…
Misconception 2: Mindfulness is about ‘zoning out’ and ‘blank mental oblivion’
In fact, mindfulness is closer to the complete opposite. Psychology Today defines mindfulness as:
…a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Practising mindfulness isn’t about shutting out the world or permanently preventing your mind from wandering (which is something it does naturally). It involves exploring reality—whatever your present experience of reality may be—and learning to observe your thoughts without judging them. For some people, there may be times in their lives when this is simply too painful or difficult to do. This sometimes leads people to the following misconception…
Misconception 3: Mindfulness meditation is dangerous, so everyone should avoid it
The mind is a powerful and complex thing. However wonderful it is, though, it can also have dark aspects. Some people feel that it’s too dangerous to practise mindfulness, because of those dark, potentially painful, places.
There are people for whom, at certain times of their lives, mindfulness practice may not be appropriate. Arguing that everyone should therefore avoid it is like saying everyone should avoid driving, crossing busy streets, climbing mountains or skiing. All these activities can be dangerous. With the help of expert teachers, though, you can learn how to do them safely.
So, if you think mindfulness might help you and you want to know the full story, it’s best to do your own research based on your own personal circumstances…
Find out the full story…
You can find out about the science behind mindfulness from The Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice and from neuroscientist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. The website mindfulnet.org contains an extensive list of research paper references. The references are listed under condition-specific headings, so it’s easy to access the specific area you want to explore.
Make sure mindfulness is right for you, where you are now
Look for teachers who are committed to continuing their own learning as well as providing the support you need. Search the register of UK-based mindfulness teachers kept by the UK Network for Mindfulness-Based Teacher Training Organisations. All of these teachers have undertaken training to a specified level and adhere to ongoing good practice recommendations. Talk to the teachers to find out how they can help guide you through your experiences as you learn.