There’s been a lot about mindfulness in the media over the last month or so. The most recent piece receiving attention being the TIME magazine article by Kate Pickert. Both PsychCentral‘s Mindful Parenting writer Carla Naumberg and the Huffington Post‘s Religion writer Joanna Piacenza have responded, not really to the article, but rather to the cover art chosen to represent the article and mindfulness in general.
I’ve also been sorting out my thoughts on this “Mindfulness Revolution” and how it is portrayed in the media. In my most recent Mindful Connections newsletter I shared some of those thoughts (which I consider to be Mindfulness, Schmindfulness – Part One). This one issue of my newsletter has received such a response from my readers that it has become crystal clear I should share these thoughts with a larger audience.
It feels like the whole world has declared 2014 the year of Mindful Living (The Huffington Post; Get Up and Do Something; NewCo; and various bloggers, including this one, just to name a few). At first this excited me. Ah, finally! I thought. The world is being turned on to mindfulness, a practice that has literally changed my life and how I view it. I envisioned the masses slowing down, putting down their devices, connecting in real time with the real people right in front of them, be those people children, romantic partners, work colleagues or friends. I saw a baby utopia starting to incubate and felt how the masses would step into this other way of living, of connecting and all would be beautiful.
Yeah, I’m a dreamer.
However, with every new article and blog post I became more and more disenchanted, frustrated and frankly bored with how mindfulness is being portrayed to and understood by the general public.
I appreciate the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his wife Myla in taking that initial step to separate mindfulness from Buddhist practice. No longer did one need to be a devout Buddhist to practice mindfulness: anyone could do it and receive the benefits of the meditations and exercises. The Kabat-Zinns opened the door for every person, regardless of religious affiliation, race, economic status or gender, to experience mindfulness and to bring more joy and peace and connection into his or her life.
And yet, when one does a Google search of mindfulness, we see image after image of serene scenes; yoga and meditation poses; young, physically fit and white women (rarely men are pictured); or images of Buddhist nuns and/or monks. Everything (and everyone) pictured is calm, at-peace and has this inner-I-am-totally-at-ease-and-peace-with-everything glow. There is no laughter, no chaos, no joy, no reality depicted.
And frankly that pisses me off.
A message is being sent as to what Mindfulness should look like; what your life, if you are doing your mindfulness practice right, will look like. I’m not good with shoulds. Or have-tos. Or thou-shalts. I react strongly to unrealistic expectations or homogeneous pictures of “if you did it right, everything would look like this.”
Mindfulness started to take on a sheen that is actually the opposite of what a mindfulness practice actually is about. Suddenly we could judge each other and ourselves on a scale of how mindful we are (or aren’t) and there are failure marks.
One of the tenets of mindfulness is non-judgement of the moment, of ourselves, of others. Oops. Guess the mass media missed that part.
Suddenly there’s a standard (serene, physically fit, never yelling, always calm, never reacting to anything) that is being put out there. A very unrealistic and not-based-in-reality standard.
Life is busy and messy and because of this, people who practice mindfulness can also appear busy and messy. We yell. We get excited. We laugh loudly. We dance and bring up high energies. We rest and produce more subdued energies. We yell at drivers who cut us off on the freeway. We get mad at our loved ones, friends, bosses, the world. Sometimes we hit things or throw things out of frustration.
We feel. We feel our anger, we don’t stuff it down. We experience it. We feel our joy, we don’t cling to it, we savor it in the moment. More often than not we can catch ourselves from yelling at our kids or partner or friends and take in deep slow breaths, find center for a minute and then analyze what is really going on, what is really being triggered here. It’s a practice. There is no perfect. It is a continuum that we as practitioners slide up and down.
As I said in my newsletter:
My goal for my mindfulness practice is not to have that “inner-I’m-totally-at-peace-with-everything glow.” No. The goal of my mindfulness practice is to enjoy life. My life. To connect to the people I love. To experience laughter and spontaneity and connection. To be true to Me, whoever I am in whatever moment. To be fully me, now. And that may mean swearing like a sailor at the person who cut me off on the freeway. It may mean turning off my laptop and having a tickle fight with my girl. It may mean taking lots of breaths and checking in with my body or maybe it means going and punching the crap out of a pillow or punching bag. It may mean creating art, or having a spontaneous dance party in our living room, or going for a walk, or kissing my husband just because, or going on a date with one of my best friends because we need some grown up time away from the kids.
My mindfulness practice may sometimes look calm and peaceful. And sometimes it won’t at all. And that’s the way I want it.
Because I want to experience all of life. I want to be present for it. I want ME to be present for it. Not some “model of mindfulness” rather the true me right now.
This is what mindfulness has brought into my life. Yes, I do actually have a sense of inner-peace I didn’t have several years ago. Yes, sometimes people even tell me I glow. But my life does not look like an undisturbed lake nor does it look like a woman calmly and serenely meditating on the shore of said lake. And I believe the same is true for most of those who practice mindfulness, living in the real world. There are days of rushing out the door to appointments or classes or work. There are quiet moments of watching and smiling and feeling at peace. There chaotic moments of interacting and smiling and feeling totally connected to the people we are with and to the world. And there are moments when we have to search for our ground, our center, our breath. And frankly there are moments when even if we need to search for these things, we don’t.
Because we are all human.
Mindfulness, for me, is about connection. Connection to my self and understanding how my body, mind and emotions react to the world. Connection to the people in my life and being present and interacting with them in real-time, without electronic distractions. Connection to my greater community and the world, developing a deeper understanding of the experiences of others.
Mindfulness is a lot less about sitting on a meditation pillow and being all “ooooohhhhhmmmmmmm” and a lot more about having a dance party with my with girl or a long talk at the end of the day with my husband about nothing in particular.
And yes, actually I do meditate and practice yoga. And yes, those practices are a fundamental piece of guiding me to be more centered and grounded; to being able to be more present. And yet those practices take up less than an hour of my entire day (on the days I actually do them); they are not what my whole life looks (or even actually feels) like.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what mindfulness means to you. Email me or comment below.