John Shearer has been on an extraordinary journey that has culminated in him becoming an Australian Master of Mindfulness. He is the founder of mindfullyMAD.org and currently conducts online training for those who wish to become Mindfulness Mentors and teach mindfulness.
Mindfulness is becoming a global phenomenon but it is often misunderstood. This article explains what mindfulness is not to help clarify what it actually is!
What Mindfulness Is Not?
The worldwide emergence of mindfulness reminds me of the ‘mousetrap effect’. Let me explain. Back in the sixties, I remember watching a super slow-motion film clip of an experiment by Australian scientist, Dr. Julius Sumner Miller. The floor of a room was covered in mouse traps with a ping-pong ball on each trap. One single ball was thrown in which set off a chain reaction. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, and so on. In no time at all, the room was a blur of ping-pong balls. I believe that mindfulness is in the early stages of a similar chain reaction. I also believe that mindfulness is the best hope for the world to overcome mental suffering and suicide.
Let’s clear up a few misconceptions. One thing is certain… mindfulness is not easy, but it is simple. It doesn’t come naturally, that is why it requires much practice. It’s not about relaxing. Mindfulness just means noticing what’s happening, including the things we find difficult. It doesn’t involve listening to panpipes to escape our worries. It isn’t a meditation practice. Mindfulness is a practice for the whole of life. It’s about finding a different way to respond to experience throughout our day.
It isn’t about emptying our minds. Minds produce thoughts, it’s what they’re built for, and our mind keeps on producing them even if we do happen to be meditating. We can become calm and settled by learning to accept our thoughts, making room for them or letting them go. It is always good to remind ourselves that thoughts are just that… thoughts. No need to dwell on them, fight with them, act on them or try to avoid them with alcohol, drugs or other distractions, like eating or over-working.
It isn’t Buddhist. It is true that mindfulness has it’s rooted in the age of Buddha but no-one owns mindfulness. Mindfulness has evolved and has now become the merging of ancient eastern philosophy and the latest western psychology. The beauty of mindfulness is that it is not a religion at all. However, all religions could greatly benefit from having a mindful practice.
It isn’t a technique. Mindfulness isn’t something you do. It’s a way of being. It isn’t a way to fix our problems. Mindfulness can help eliminate depression, anxiety, stress or chronic pain, but not by fixing them. We learn to relate in a new way to the things that trouble us, rather than trying to make them go away. Having a mindful practice is about re-training our minds so that we can cope with whatever comes our way.
It isn’t about doing things slowly. Some mindfulness courses include things like eating a raisin slowly. That does help us notice details that we may otherwise miss. It also highlights the fact that we often rush or go through the motions while thinking about other things. But that doesn’t mean that you should do everything slowly. A mindful practice is about doing things on purpose, even if they are sometimes at a fast pace.
It isn’t scientific. Research into the effects of mindfulness and its impact on the mind and body are impressive. It is helping to bring mindfulness into the mainstream. Science can measure what mindfulness does, but it can’t measure what it is. Measuring mindfulness is a science; practicing it is an art that requires presence, awareness, connection and living in the moment.
It isn’t a fad. Mindfulness is certainly becoming popular, but is it a fad? Our communities are becoming more distracted than ever before. Mindlessness is rampant and there is a growing epidemic of mental suffering. Modern culture seems to be focused on wanting more, getting more and having more. Mindfulness is about being grateful in the moment and is here to stay!