Like anything that is subsumed by popular culture, mindfulness has at times been misrepresented and misunderstood. In this series I attempt to debunk some of the most common myths I encounter in my work as a psychologist and mindfulness coach.
Myth #2: Mindfulness is Selfish Navel-Gazing
I had a client once tell me, “Mindfulness just feels indulgent.” Many new practitioners, including myself in the beginning, experience a nagging sense of guilt about time spent in practice. On the surface it may seem more valuable or caring to spend half an hour checking off items from the never-ending to-list, earning money for the family, or socializing with loved ones than sitting on a cushion watching our breathing or placing our bodies into odd postures and noticing internal sensations.
Waking up is not a selfish pursuit of happiness, it is a revolutionary stance, from the inside out, for the benefit of all beings in existence ― Noah Levine
It is true that practice is for you first – through practice you naturally become a benefactor. However, the ripple effects of devoted practice make it an act of great compassion for others as well. Practice enables us to be our best selves, which, in turn, makes space for others to be at their best, if they so choose.
When we are operating on autopilot as most ordinarily do, we are more likely to react emotionally through a thick veil of bias and attachment. Through our practice we begin to awaken – we see things more clearly and we are better able to respond wisely.
…You are the first victim of your own anger… you first harm yourself and then you harm others – You can’t harm anybody without harming yourself… Unless there is peace in the mind of the individual, how can there be peace in the society? – S. N. Goenka
Navel-gazing implies getting lost in the minutia at the expense of the seeing the bigger picture. However, it is through attending to moment by moment experience on a granular level that we begin to see the big picture – the interdependence and impermanence of all things. Without this understanding, we are living a story of how things should be rather than resting in the wisdom of how things are.
Building and maintaining a mindfulness practice actually takes courage, strength, discipline and devotion. The benefits accrue incrementally and over time, so consistency and dedication are important. Conviction, which is a sort of faith or freedom from doubt that is cultivated through experience, helps us persevere through all of life’s changes. Finally, courage brings with it a willingness to: 1) sit with difficulty rather than avoiding or fighting against it, and 2) let go of expectations, desires and preferences in order to attend to what is.
It is not those who lack energy or refrain from action, but those who work without expectation of reward who attain the goal of meditation… Those who cannot renounce attachment to the results of their work are far from the path – Bhagavad Gita