There is often a misconception about this practice—that we are somehow supposed to stop all of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
We’re supposed to be levitating—or something. Or, at the very least, stay in a peaceful, blissed-out space where we behave like the saints and deities.
In other words, we’re supposed to be nonhuman—impenetrable to outside influence.
Actually, that is a really inaccurate expectation and understanding of mindfulness (insert Homer Simpson sound here).
So, what is mindfulness? Let’s review a couple descriptions:
Objectively noticing and lovingly allowing the rising and falling of sensation, feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
Imagine that you are watching cars drive by on a freeway. There are some red cars, some blue cars, some silver, green, white, and black. There are Hondas, Toyotas, BMWs, and Mustangs. There you are—just watching the cars drive by on the freeway, noticing each car—the color, the shape, the sound.
We wouldn’t hop out in front of a car to get it to stop. We wouldn’t call the police station to have the road blocked off. We wouldn’t shame ourselves or blame someone else if an unpleasant car drove by. We would just objectively notice and allow the cars to drive past us.
This is the same with mindfulness.
Awareness of our awareness.
Neuroscience states that there are approximately 70,000 thoughts in a day. That’s roughly 50 thoughts per minute. I would say that is an understatement—especially if there is stress on board.
But how many times a day are we aware of our thoughts? Not 50 times per minute.
There is a lot going on up there! Our minds are hardwired to think. Evolutionarily speaking, it has gotten us this far (deep bow to mother nature). But, as the saying goes, “The mind is a wonderful servant and a terrible master.”
Not to freak anyone out, but the mind is oftentimes running the show—and we don’t even know it! Sneaky little bugger.
Next thing we know, we are cussing someone out for cutting us off in traffic. We can’t sit still long enough to feel the moment, so instead we are off to the next stimulating sensory experience. We find ourselves in Target buying everything we do not need. We lose energy and cannot get motivated. We get caught up in comparing ourselves to the world and feel less than—and a plethora of other mental activities that can wreak havoc.
So, that was a lot. Let’s summarize:
>> Mental activity is not inherently bad or wrong. There is no shame in all of this. Evolutionarily speaking, our minds and conditioned behaviors have kept us alive this long (shout-out to the universe for making our minds incredibly intricate and powerful!).
>> Unconscious mental activity can lead to harm with destructive behaviors and states of mind.
>> Mindfulness is what is aware of all the clatter of mental activity.
>> Mindfulness is on our side. It helps us become aware of all the chatter and impulsive drives for actions that are out of line with our integrity and authenticity. It allows us to pause, notice, and allow what is occurring without judgment.
So, lady, are you telling us that we are just supposed to be reduced to a blob of passivity with mindfulness?
Mindfulness only allows us the ability to pause and, rather than impulsively acting from conditioned responses and behaviors, we can actually take wise and compassionate action.
So, instead of having increased anxiety, irritability, and tension, we can notice what is happening with us and choose to relax and get mentally clear.
With mindfulness, we pause and notice all of that anxiety in our bodies. We notice how unpleasant it is. We notice the thoughts, beliefs, and fears of losing something. Then we take effective action.
The result? A more relaxed state of mind, an open heart, and clearer decision-making.
Mindfulness is kind of a superpower. It allows us to bring out the best in ourselves—that badass, kind, wise aspect of awareness that we always have access to, no matter the situation.
And with time and practice, this crazy, shameless mind of ours can actually be befriended.