There are many misconceptions people have when it comes to mindfulness. Is it just for monks and can it only be practiced sitting cross-legged?
With a basic understanding of how our mind works, we can move on to defining what mindfulness is, and just as importantly, what it is not. It is all too common that when we come across advertisements for mindfulness and meditation, we see an attractive person wearing a yoga outfit, sitting cross-legged on a mat with their eyes closed, peacefully facing an ocean, mountain or other serene landscape. This depiction leads to the conclusion that to engage in meditation, we must look and dress a certain way, while also being in nature.
Of course, situating oneself in a non-urban environment with minimal distractions can be extremely helpful. However, the reality is that most of our waking moments are spent in a busy office surrounded by colleagues, with a schedule packed with daily meetings, phone calls and tasks. Afterward, we are stuck in an hour-plus commute via car or public transportation, and the moment we get home the family responsibilities await. If we spend more than half of our waking life in work-related responsibilities and personal obligations, who has time to sit in front of a mountain to meditate? Fortunately, mindfulness is much more accessible than how it is depicted in advertisements.
Mindfulness isn’t just about sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat with your eyes closed, clearing your mind of all thoughts. No one needs to sit in a cross-legged position at all. Many people I come across at corporate workshops don’t have the flexibility to sit in such a position, or they simply can’t because of their required business attire. For most of my sessions, I have people sit in chairs, and make cushions and yoga mats available for those who prefer the floor. I tell people that I’d rather have them sit comfortably instead of being distracted by painful knees and ankles due to maintaining a difficult posture. The mind is already poised to wander and there is no need to add additional distractions like challenging sitting positions.
Meditative and mindful practices are for all of us. They are not only for folks who possess a calm and balanced demeanor, looking to achieve enlightenment and hoping for a spiritual or religious experience. The idea that mindfulness and meditation are only spiritual or religious rituals is a common misconception that can prevent people from experiencing the benefits of these practices. Though historically these tools have been used to achieve enlightenment and greater proximity to the divine, there is plenty of current research showing that a secular approach to mindfulness gives one a better understanding of their nature and behavior. These routines result in alertness and increased awareness to the triggers of our stress, anxiety and fear, allowing a better understanding of the motivations behind our actions.
Through mindfulness, we can begin to question why we behave in certain ways. We may claim we only work to earn money, which pays the bills. However, other underlying factors may be more authentic motivators. Perhaps we are looking to prove something to ourselves or hoping to outdo siblings, friends or people that we are competing with. We may be propelled by the desire to outperform others simply so we can feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments during the next family gathering.
These subconscious needs are a reality for many of us and it’s normal to crave appreciation for the good work we’re doing. However, it’s important to recognize if competition and insecurities are the primary driving forces behind our efforts to get ahead in life. Can we work because we enjoy a job that gives us fulfillment? The more we can get in touch with the inner self, the more real and honest we can be with ourselves and others.