When I first started talking about mindfulness with others, I remember trying to convince everyone of the benefits. I thought people would actually try everything I shared.
It makes me laugh now, but that’s what I thought people would do, thinking they would listen to my preaching and then actually utilize it. I expected people to just get it, hoping that everyone’s lives would be totally transformed. So I was wearing rose colored lenses when I first started teaching, but I was really just focused on the outcomes.
I was caught up in teaching mindfulness for the sake of people feeling calm, achieving flow, feeling compassion, increasing peak performance, or decreasing pain. And I was really focused on what I thought might be the quickest way to get to the goal, to that end point, to what they want. And I realized that because I was so focused on the outcomes and on my ability to accomplish it, I was bypassing the heart of the actual practice.
My focus on the outcomes lacked the actual substance of the practice itself. I was bypassing the heart of the process. This is very important to remember. When you focus on the outcomes, there’s actually a paradox – that you actually don’t get to the outcomes as much as you do if you focus on the process itself.
This leads us back to the basics. What is mindfulness? It’s paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally. As you can see, there’s nothing about outcomes here. There’s nothing about feeling calm or achieving peak performance. There’s nothing here about decreasing stress.
Mindfulness is not about feeling calm.
I know that might sound a little weird, but mindfulness is not about any outcome. It’s about the process.
It’s about paying attention to what’s actually happening without judging it. That’s it. Now, calm is often a result, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, your experience intensifies when you bring non-judgmental awareness to it. Sometimes, things get more intense. Sometimes, emotions change from anger to sadness. Sometimes, pain increases when we’re more mindful of it.
So, again, it’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process. But by focusing on the process itself, this non-judgmental awareness of what’s actually happening, this is the most efficient way to transform your experience – with this light of awareness. Calm usually does happen, but you need to stay with your experience moment to moment to moment to moment without striving for calm, without craving a sense of peace or ease, without latching on to the outcome of peak performance or a sense of serenity.
The more you focus on this kind of goal, the more elusive it becomes.
So, again it’s not about the outcome. It’s about the process.
If you want to learn how to talk about how the process impacts the brain, you can sign up for this 90-minute webinar:
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Since mindfulness is about the process instead of the outcomes, I began wondering “How could I simplify the process in a way that more and more people can understand it?”
So I boiled it down to 2 words: “Nonjudgmental Awareness”
This is how I started defining mindfulness in the most boiled down way I could. Of course, it’s this non-judgmental awareness from moment to moment to moment of your experience. But when you really unpack that, it’s just this non-judgmental awareness.
Some people call it “open awareness”. Some people call it “caring awareness”. Other people like Ram Das or Jack Kornfield will even refer to it as “loving awareness”. I tend to use the word non-judgmental, but you can use ‘open’ if you wish, or ‘curious’ if you wish, but I usually use the word non-judgmental to really hammer home that it’s this awareness without criticism or condemnation.
The non-judgmental piece can be strengthened with heart-cultivation practices – the heart practices of loving kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity, forgiveness, gratitude, and generosity. These heart practices cultivate this non-judgmental quality of being open, staying curious about what’s happening moment to moment without criticizing it. These heart cultivation practices are a separate type of meditation than mindfulness, but they can really help to cultivate the sense of non-judgmental awareness.
To sustain your awareness throughout many moments requires concentration. This style of meditation, concentration practice, feeds the sustainability of your awareness to last from moment to moment to moment to moment. You can practice concentration practices in a whole wide variety of ways – including repeating mantras, counting your breath, counting each exhale: one, two, three, counting up to ten and then back down to one. You can have a visual or auditory concentration object where you really narrow your focus onto that one sound or sensation or visual – and really lock in on that one concentration object for a long period of time to the exclusion of other phenomenon.
So, there are three main categories of meditation. There’s mindfulness, which is this non-judgmental awareness. Then there’s also these heart cultivation practices and concentration practices. But all three of these practices are interrelated.
Mindfulness is really at the heart of emotional intelligence. It’s the very first foundation of emotional intelligence, the basis of the foundation for self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
Without mindfulness or without self-awareness, you’re really lacking in your ability to regulate your emotions, to stay motivated with a sense of resiliency and envisioning. It’s difficult to empathize with others if you can’t empathize with yourself. Then obviously it’s hard to enhance your social skills or leadership skills without it, too. So, in my opinion, it’s important to dream big but to start small. Not focus on the outcome so much, not focus on how you want to feel, but rather how you are feeling right now.
One of the more healthy goals of mindfulness is to understand what’s happening in your body, in your experience, in your mind. To understand what’s happening, rather than trying to force something else to happen, because when you do that, there’s usually this underlying sense of aversion for what’s happening or against what’s happening or a sense of greed for something else to happen. So, rather than focusing on the outcomes, it’s important to focus on the process by paying attention to what’s actually happening.
When I teach mindfulness, when I go in to a teaching opportunity thinking, “I just want to offer some useful tools for people’s toolboxes. Everyone won’t like everything that I say or how I say it. Some people won’t like me. That’s just how it goes. But most people will find at least one or two things that are useful for them. And at least I’m planting seeds or watering seeds for them to sprout later on in their life. Maybe something will click a week from now or a year from now, who knows?”
But I go into it lightly, just wanting to do the best I can, feeling a sense of compassion for them, and just offering some mindfulness tools that hopefully will be of use.
Over the years, through my training and my practice, I’ve learned how to introduce mindfulness to just about anyone in a way that’s not too conceptual or theoretical.
I like introducing mindfulness by just inviting people to notice what’s happening on the bottoms of their feet as they touch the ground, noticing the weight of their body on the chair or the ground, noticing what sensations of their belly feel like as they breathe, the sensations of their shoulders, their jaw, the muscles of their face and around their eyes. That sort of thing. Just noticing their experience without judgment – AND THEN I will introduce the concepts around mindfulness, linking it back to what they already did, so that they have this experiential sense of what I’m talking about – rather than have it be completely theoretical or hypothetical.
I learned a lot about how to address skepticism and doubt usually through this non-judgmental awareness of the skeptic or the doubter, not judging them but actually welcoming them and letting them know that, whatever they’re feeling, or thinking, is understandable. I learned a lot about how to create courses and workshops and retreats, how to lead guided mindfulness meditations for a variety of people, and how to apply mindfulness to just about every area of life.
So, if you’d like to learn a lot of this nuance, I’d be more than happy to work with you in my Mindfulness Teacher Training Certification Program. I’ll show you more about how you can learn how to do this there.
Thank you for wanting to help others with mindfulness!
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Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at Sean@MindfulnessExercises.com
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