Surprise! Mindful awareness isn’t for everyone.
First, being mindful quietly asks something of you. And it doesn’t appear to offer very much in return, at least not right away.
It asks that you slow down, and step off the carousel of external life — all those glittering things that seem so important on that ever-spinning ride going nowhere. And instead, begin exploring the vast universe of your interior life.
Then, as you feel into your desires and longings and pettiness, it very gently invites you to take a risk.
It’s the risk of getting real. With yourself, about yourself and your life.
Even worse, a mindful awareness practice also raises the bar on personal honesty and integrity.
See how it starts to add up to something not-so-easy?
You Gotta Do It to Grok It
Adding to the fun, you cannot think about being mindful. You have to be mindful. It’s an experiential process, not a cognitive one.
You have to do it to grok it.
I also know how many of you still think mindfulness is weird, woo-woo, New Agey (as if those are bad things, right?). Dancing in your head are images of …
- scraggly long-haired bliss ninnies swaying to a melody only they can hear,
- women who haven’t gotten near an eyelash curler in decades,
- folks who look stoned, and way into poverty as a righteous lifestyle choice.
The images get in the way of reality. As usual.
What sorts of things might be roiling around in there, inside your heart and mind? Who are you, anyhow?
Part of the good news is that my clients quickly get over these old, self-sabotaging ideas as soon as they begin developing some mindfulness chops.
What seems to be very scary stuff, indeed, almost immediately dissolves. As usual.
Neuroscience and Mindfulness
In addition to the challenges of stepping off that carousel of the outer world and its must-do-this-right-now mentality, the practice of mindfulness also challenges your brain.
In a perceptive article, Dr. Gary Wenk described the neuroscience of why mindfulness feels a little bit like, Are you kidding me?!
Basically, we have a brain that demands constant entertainment, and powerfully rewards us for providing it by releasing dopamine whenever it’s pleased.
When we don’t provide adequate amusement, our brain goes into default mode. It daydreams (a good thing), it worries (not so great), it writes disaster movie scripts with you as the victim — it generates its own entertainment.
Your brain isn’t sufficiently entertained when you ask it to rest in the breath. But this resting in the breath thing? It’s the most effective method I’ve ever experienced for releasing my ego’s death grip on what passes for reality. And for learning how to feel into that other, rich universe waiting right inside the doorway of the breath.
Are You Addicted to Yourself?
Another intriguing idea comes from my Huffington Post colleague Ira Israel. It’s that “we get our sense of personal identity through our thoughts and most of us are rather attached if not addicted to our senses of individual self.”
Whether we’re totally in love with ourselves, or not … we are totally attached to who/whatever it is we think we are.
That can be a pretty tough one to begin cracking open. Hmmm, who am I if not [fill in the blank]? What if I’m really [fill in the blank[? OMG, Really?!! I want to do [fill in the blank]?!!
How Hard Can It Be?!
Finally, Henri Juntilla shared some of his thoughts about the challenges of mindfulness on Tiny Buddha.
I mean really, among other things, who wants to be fully present all the time? Not to mention, who has time to add in even one more little thing to your daily schedule?
The truth is, the word discipline has long been associated with cultivating a meditation practice, for good reason. It’s called practicing for good reason.
There is no there there. There is only this moment.
And this one.
And, this one.
Our wonderful brains, like sweet little dogs, need to be trained to seek out the positive. Re-direct and reward it for positive behaviors. Don’t allow it to dwell on the negative. Don’t reward the negative.
The good news? It’s absolutely possible to start living a life that has depth and meaning and purpose.
Of course, that’s true only if you’re courageous enough to step off that carousel once in a while.