Even amongst those that are familiar with mindfulness practice, there are some common misconceptions about what this practice really is. Sometimes, it is confused with meditation. At other times, it is associated with ‘feeling good’. These are just a couple of the misconceptions that many people hold about this type of practice.
The truth is, however, that mindfulness is neither of these things. It goes hand in hand with meditation and can often help us to feel better, but these common misunderstandings don’t fully illuminate what mindfulness really is. Understanding what mindfulness is not can help us to clarify what this term really means.
We might begin with a definition that expresses what mindfulness means in order to develop our understanding of this practice:
Mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness of our present experience. It is non-judgmental, curious, and compassionate and encourages awareness of any thoughts, feelings, or sensations we are presently experiencing.
To clarify what this really means, let’s take a look at what mindfulness is not.
5 Things That Mindfulness is Not
Mindfulness is not the same as meditation.
Mindfulness and meditation are well paired, but they are not the same thing. Mindfulness could be considered a form of meditation, though there are many types of meditation practice that use techniques other than mindful awareness.
Furthermore, mindfulness can be practiced outside of formal meditation, such as during a conversation with a loved one. We wouldn’t call a conversation meditation, but we can indeed bring mindful awareness to the act of speaking and listening.
Mindfulness is not about ‘feeling good’.
If we go back to the definition that highlights what mindfulness is, we can see that nowhere is it suggested that mindfulness is associated with a particular state. We can be mindful of the experience of joy just as we can be mindful of the presence of grief.
Mindfulness can indeed lead us towards our innate source of inner peace, but first and foremost it is a practice of witnessing – without judgment, without changing anything, and without grasping at any particular state of being.
Mindfulness is not the absence of thought.
Another misconception about mindfulness is that in order to be mindful, we need to have a quiet mind. If this were true, mindfulness wouldn’t be suitable for humans. The truth is that mindfulness can be practiced whether the mind is presently still or chaotic.
When chaotic, we are invited to simply note this inner experience with curiosity, patience, and non-judgment. We might even note how mindfulness facilitates the dissolving of thoughts, but we do not need to be at that state when we begin any practice.
Mindfulness is not religious.
Though mindfulness is an ancient practice of religions such as Buddhism, it is also a secular practice. We do not need to believe in anything in particular in order to practice mindfulness. It is simply an exercise of noting what is present in our experience – and that is something that humans of all belief systems can explore. What mindfulness means is present-moment awareness, and therefore there need not be anything religious about our practice.
Mindfulness is not a quick fix.
Lastly, the journey into more mindful ways of being is not a quick one. In fact, it is one that doesn’t really have an ending. Throughout our lives, we will continue to experience challenging feelings, emotions, and events. Mindfulness can (if we ask it to) hold our hand as we navigate these.
Sometimes, people begin their mindfulness practice with the hope that it will solve all of their problems. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. To dive into the deepest potential of mindfulness requires patience, commitment, and continued practice. As time goes on, we slowly and naturally begin to embody mindfulness in ever-illuminating ways.