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What meditation is not

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Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.”

-Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn (2007)

In understanding a new concept or practice like mindfulness meditation, it can be helpful to be told what it is not. It can help to manage expectations, and prevents you from feeling disappointed about not experiencing a particular state or thing that was never possible or the goal in the first place.

We find that many participants in our Learn to Meditate courses in Melbourne and in Preston, as well as in our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses in Preston benefit from being told what mindfulness is not in the first week of a course.

The following is adapted from the Openground Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) coursebook.

Mindfulness is not trying to relax

Many people have the perception that mindfulness meditation is about relaxation. This is not the case. While it is true that meditation can result in you feeling relaxed, this won’t always be the case.

When you pay attention in certain ways, it can stimulate the relaxation response, and as a result, you often begin to feel more relaxed. So relaxation can arise when you practice mindfulness, but it is a side effect, not the goal.

Mindfulness helps you become more aware of what you are experiencing – your thoughts, emotions and body sensations – and this can be anything but relaxing especially if your circumstances are quite difficult in the moment.

Mindfulness is not about transcending ordinary life

Mindfulness is not about achieving or experiencing a particular state. It is about observing and being with all that is arising in the moment. This includes body sensations, thoughts and emotions; joyful and exciting moments, as well as difficult situations.

Mindfulness is not removing thoughts

Many of us are drawn to meditation in the hope of learning how to escape the incessant chatter of our own minds and remove our thoughts. Who can blame anyone for hoping for this especially when thoughts can be the cause of so much pain and suffering?

However, the mind always produces thoughts. The practice of mindfulness invites you to become more aware of thoughts, and to become more aware of how various types of thinking arise. Mindfulness teaches a new way of relating to thoughts that involves observing rather than reacting to them.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “When you look at thoughts as just thoughts, purposefully not reacting to their content or their emotional charge, you become a little bit freer from their attraction or repulsion.”

Mindfulness is not difficult

There is simplicity in paying attention to the present moment. And yet, when we try to do it, many experiences of feeling like “I am not doing this right can arise.” This concern is an ordinary part of practice. It is not possible to do this practice perfectly, nor is it possible to fail. Make it your aim to be a mediocre meditator – don’t make perfection in meditation your goal.

Mindfulness is not escape from pain

Pain is part of any human life. Mindfulness gives you the space and time to explore your relationship to painful experience (physical, mental and emotional), and to see if acceptance, curiosity and preparedness to experience it more fully can be transforming. Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Learn more about mindfulness meditation at an upcoming course. Melbourne Mindfulness Foundation offers 5-6 week Learn to Meditate courses in Melbourne and in Preston and the internationally recognised Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in Preston.

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