There’s lots of talk about mindfulness these days. It’s definitely become one of those buzz words. And for good reason. So why aren’t we all just doing it instead of being be told we should? It’s an awesome part of any morning ritual, right?
What Is Mindfulness?
First off, there are a lot of misconceptions about mindfulness. TV and movies have made it look like you can only really do it if you’re on a mountaintop and you’re an old man (see above picture). You have to not want to have any other pleasure in your life and you have no responsibilities. No family, no job, no loans, and no creditors. Just you, silence, and a mountain.
If you can swing that, I say, Why not? Go on—let me know what you discover about yourself.
For the rest of us mortals, science and many years of practice have told us that sitting/standing/walking/lying quietly for a few minutes every day can be very healthy.
It’s not going to solve all your problems. It’s not going to instantly make your boss less of a micro-manager and it’s not going to get your partner to stop leaving half-empty water glasses all over the apartment. It’s going to slowly, incrementally, connect you to what you are really feeling during those times so you don’t have to take on their suffering along with your own.
And, believe me, that’s a good thing.
Avoiding the Second Arrow
There’s a Buddhist story I share sometimes with clients.
A man gets struck by an arrow. It hurts, as arrow injuries do, but no sooner than he realizes he’s been hit he is struck again by another arrow in the exact same spot.
Ok, it’s a short story and you can read the sutta more in depth, but the point is that pain is inevitable. Mindfulness or whatever is not going to take away the painful parts of life. Mindfulness, though, helps to redirect that second arrow. That arrow is the judgment, the annoyance, the anger—all the other stuff that we heap on something that’s already a sucky situation.
I stub my toe: “Ouch!”
But I don’t stop there. I go on about how dumb I was to walk around without shoes on, why didn’t I turn the lights on, who left this thing in my way where I could stub a toe on it…and now the pain of the stubbed toe is compounded by all the other noise.
We do this to ourselves all the time and it’s so unnecessary. It just gets in the way of our dealing with the actual issue. Soothing our actual pain.
Mindfulness 1 2 3
So how do you start reaping these benefits? Well, sitting is a great place to begin. Find a quiet space for 5 or 10 minutes (there’s a joke that says if you’re busy, you should meditate for 30 minutes; if you’re too busy to meditate you should do it for 2 hours. But 5 minutes is a good start!)
And then breathe. Forget the whole stuff about “clearing your mind” “stop thinking”—you just want to sit still and notice what your body is doing. Do a physical scan from top to bottom. Notice what feels tense, what hurts, what feels good, what you barely notice. That can take you 5 minutes or you can do a body scan in depth for those 2 hours. It’s up to you. Don’t think that longer means better. Form the habit of sitting and noting your body. Then add your breathing—noticing it, not controlling it.
Interested in doing and learning more? I’d certainly recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s books (Miracle of Mindfulness or Breathe, You are Alive! Are good starting points. I’m also a big fan of Meditation for Dummies.)
There is so much that gets in the way of knowing. Knowing what you want. Knowing who you are. Knowing what’s important to you. Mindfulness can reconnect you to these things. It’s the simple–but not easy–way to silence the noise.
Now finding the time (hint: add it to your morning ritual) and sorting through all the excuses why you don’t do it…
I’d love to hear whether you tried out some mindfulness and how it’s been. Please leave a comment below and let me know!
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.