Mindfulness has become ubiquitous as a practice towards mental well-being. More people are attending courses. But there are just as many who found it over-hyped. It may not fully measure up in scientific research for achieving well-being. Although science has helped humanity progress in the way we live, mindfulness is however an experience rather than a scientific measurement. How do you measure a personal experience?
Different mindfulness practitioners have different experiences based on their understanding, effort, and practice. This explains why there is a huge gap between the experiences of people who practice. Despite the growing number of practitioners, there are many who still do not understand what it’s about. Why is mindfulness hard to understand?
1. Does not fit into our habitual mind
Mindfulness which also means awareness or consciousness is where the mind is cognizant of what is happening to itself in the present. This is not easy to understand. Most of the time, our minds are absorbed in our thoughts. Some of us are absorbed in how to get out of our present state of life because we are unhappy – so this type of mind is always thinking about the future. While some are always looking back to better times. The rest are just daydreaming in the present by feeding the mind endless content because our minds are helpless in the present.
The practice of becoming aware of the present moment goes against the grain of our habitual mind. Our habitual perception is that it is normal to not be here but to live in our world of thoughts. Our habits do not allow us to experience life in the present and this way of living causes us to feel that we have never fully lived despite giving ourselves a lot of activities.
2. Requires us to look within
Another habit of our minds is to look outwards. We are constantly looking for things for the mind to do because our minds cannot handle being in the present. Most of us think we are working so that we can live. That is true. But if we look deeper, if we have no work, we may go crazy. We may go crazy too without outer activities. It seems we are really unable to be at home with ourselves.
The Covid 19 pandemic has indeed taught us a deep lesson – to learn to be at ease with the constant changes life serves us. To do this, we have to become friends with our feelings and thoughts. We need to learn about our emotions and become friends with them by acknowledging them. However, we are more used to distract ourselves from feelings we dislike and getting lost in feelings we like – this takes us away from being present and knowing ourselves.
3. We are used to seeing problems outside of us
Another puzzling activity of mindfulness practice is to learn to see the agitation within us and learn to be at ease with it. Agitation can range from boredom, annoyance, restlessness, anxiety to worry. Most of the time, we are focused on dealing with the person or the situation that has caused this agitation.
Even when there is nothing to do, we blame the world at large for our boredom. But if you look at it from another angle – can you be agitated by anyone if you have totally removed this feeling from your heart? Do not misunderstand, the practice is not about being emotionless. Without feelings, we can become dysfunctional. Mindfulness is not about totally removing agitation. It helps you to understand if agitation is really useful for you or if you can let it be there and not be perturbed by it because it does not serve the situation. But it requires effort on your part to practice to experience this for yourself.
4. You need to be curious
This is another barrier to understanding mindfulness. Besides having the habit of not wanting to be in the present, our minds often think it knows everything.
For example, we may feel inadequate, thinking that someone else is better than us at work and our boss probably favors the other person more by giving him or her more responsibility. I am not saying this perception is always wrong. But we have to step back and ask ourselves if it is really true?
Also, we need to become curious about our body sensations and our feelings. Whatever emotions we experience, we feel them in our bodies first or vice-versa. When we ignore our body sensations and emotions, we miss out on understanding our emotions and how they come about. We miss out on the harm we can cause ourselves by repeating certain emotions. Therefore, we need to be curious about the processes between our mind and the body in this practice.
5. Well-Being comes from within
We see many advertisements in our surroundings, including TV dramas on Netflix. What we learnt about well-being seems to come from these wellness gurus, product advertisements, and shows. Most of us seek a pill or a listening ear to feel well. A pill may not work for the long term. While a good friend may tire of your complaints. This may cause you to feel isolated and depressed.
As mentioned in earlier points, well-being is a potential waiting to grew within us. But to attain well-being, we have to understand what well-being is in order to get there. In the practice of mindfulness, learning to see how our emotions work and becoming familiar with them reduces many unwanted emotional turmoils. You can learn to be with a plethora of emotions without being roused by them. It is not to suppress them, but to understand and use your emotions intelligently.
The first step to well-being is to understand that it is not outside of you – for no one has ever been so loved and adored constantly by everyone out there. Well-being is also not in the products you purchase or consume because they can go out of fad. Medicines too can cause unwanted long-term effects. Lastly, true well-being is not to be achieved. Rather it is an effortless feeling of ease and joy amidst occasional annoyances and stress. Well-being requires training.