Many of us turn to mindfulness because of some type of challenging or painful experience. Perhaps we struggle with anxiety, or maybe we want to develop healthier habits. In any case, mindfulness is often touted as being an effective contributing factor to overcoming a variety of common challenges, from anxiety and depression to addiction and relationship struggles. Mindfulness and wellbeing indeed go hand in hand.
However, there are times during our journey when mindfulness doesn’t work – times when it seems that no matter how hard we try to be fully present to our experience, we are not seeing the results we’d hoped for. When this occurs, one of the first things we can do is to notice if there is an unconscious belief that mindfulness will free us of our pain and suffering. However well-intentioned this belief might be, it might be causing us to resist the present moment rather than becoming more attuned to it.
In some cases, being fully open to the present moment is not the best approach. Where there is heavy past trauma, caution must be taken to ensure that we do not overwhelm ourselves. In these instances, we will want to approach mindfulness – or any other technique for that matter – with care and compassion. Consider your mindfulness practice to be like learning to swim; you don’t dive into the deep end before learning and mastering the basic strokes.
What to Do When Mindfulness Doesn’t Work
If you’re feeling stuck in your practice or sensing that it isn’t working, there are a variety of other techniques that can help you to increase wellbeing. Some of these techniques are related to mindfulness and many are even used within mindfulness meditations. The trick is to finding what works for us in any moment – and that is allowed (and will) change from moment to moment.
When mindfulness and wellbeing seem to be incongruent with one another, consider:
1. Relaxing Visualizations
Sometimes we need a little bit of guidance to find the peace and ease we long for. Guided visualizations can help to direct the mind in soothing ways when paying attention to our experience does not seem to be working for us.
2. Compassion-Based Practices
When mindfully observing the breath, body, or mind is not what we feel we need, we might consider compassion-based practices instead. Exercises such as Tara Brach’s RAIN meditation or metta meditation practices can help to direct our attention in nourishing ways.
3. Physical Activity
Another option for when mindfulness doesn’t work for us is to bring ourselves more consciously into the physical body. Yoga, running, dancing, hiking, and qi gong are just a few of the many ways we can mindfully engage our physical being. This can increase feel-good hormones and interrupt any stubborn, racing thoughts we might be experiencing.
4. Creative Expression
Sometimes what we most need to help us process whatever we are experiencing is to let our creativity flow. You might consider journaling, painting, drawing, cooking, building, or collaging to help find expression in helpful and nourishing ways.
5. Mantra Repetition
A foundational part of many ancient traditions, mantra repetition is a simple though powerful way to quiet the mind. Without overthinking or analyzing the practice, it is possible to achieve deeply settling results. You might explore the OM mantra or use any other one that speaks to you. Alternatively, you can repeat positive affirmations such as, “I am whole,” or “I am at peace.”
6. Controlled-Breathing Practices
Related to mindfulness though not quite the same, controlled-breathing practices can be an effective alternative to classic mindfulness meditation when we can’t seem to focus. Exercises such as nadi shodhana or the simple 4-1-4-1 breathing rhythm can have a soothing effect on the nervous system and bring about a sense of relaxation and inner silence.
7. Seeking Support
Finally, it is important to remember that you do not need to take this journey solely on our own. Sometimes, what is most required is some support. Whether that support be in the form of a professional therapist, teacher, or a long chat with a loved one, reach out to anyone who can hold space for you as you navigate whatever you are experiencing.
Mindfulness and wellbeing are indeed connected, though sometimes we require something a bit different than a traditional mindfulness of breath or body scan practice. As we feel called to, we can bring mindfulness to any of the above suggestions, deepening our awareness naturally overtime.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to find your innate sense of wholeness; the best practice is the one that works for you. Allow this to shift from moment to moment and from day to day as your journey into deepening layers of peace unfolds.