Written by: Jude Johnson
Many people are skeptical of mindfulness and meditation because it has been presented as complex and difficult. Some practitioners and meditators have used terms that are hard to grasp or presented the concepts in a manner that is completely un-relatable. The way we present our ideas matter and may put distance between those who practice meditation and those who are new to the concept.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, has brought his approach in teaching mindfulness into the mainstream. Jon has shared that he hopes that mindfulness becomes as popular as jogging-studies indicate it is on its way with approximately 18 million Americans reporting to meditate. While the mainstream medical community has adopted mindfulness-meditation as an effective strategy for working with stress, pain and illness, there is still a large group of people who are cautious and skeptical about giving mindfulness a try.
Some people tell me, “I can’t meditate because I can’t sit for that long” or “I can’t stop thinking.” Others think it is weird or boring to just sit and do nothing. Doing nothing seems especially weird when we are used to going, doing, and distracting ourselves. It is a shift that most of us are not used to and even others think is in opposition to their spiritual beliefs.
As long as you can pay attention and can breathe, then you can meditate. There are some exceptions to this if you are dealing with a major untreated mental illness or a substance abuse problem, but the vast majority who are properly treated are able to meditate and find great benefits from the practice.
Meditation is not about trying to stop your thoughts because your mind was designed to think and trying to stop your thoughts will probably just result in a headache or frustration. Try visualizing your thoughts as waves in the ocean and see yourself as being the ocean. This way you don’t have to be at war with the mind, but simply notice the waves come and go.
If your religious beliefs are causing concern, please take comfort in knowing that the style of meditation I teach is not about changing your belief system. Rather, it is designed to work with you just as you are. Meditation can be found in all spiritual traditions and my approach is about the exercises themselves, not about a particular belief system.
Dan Harris is an ABC news anchor and the author of the New York Times bestseller 10 Percent Happier. After having a panic attack on live television during Good Morning America in 2005, he reports that he became more open to meditation despite previously perceiving meditation to be “ridiculous.”
Dan reluctantly took up the practice of meditation, but now shares that he meditates daily because of the continued benefits he experiences. He has started a podcast called 10 Percent Happier, modeled after his book, where the topic of conversation is about meditation and how to make it more accessible for those who are skeptical.
It is healthy to have skepticism; however, when it is taken to the extreme, we can’t experience something new because we have already decided that it will not work. What you believe has powerful impact on your behavior. As Henry Ford says “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Mindfulness is like a buffet where you get to choose what is nourishing for you and forget the rest. It is about creating a practice of being more in touch with your life and shining a light on what we have been failing to notice in our lives, so we can wake up to the positive changes that we are longing to make.