The majority of my clients resist mindfulness meditation at first, although the time commitment is small and the payoff is enormous. One insisted that it wasn’t necessary and that she didn’t have enough time in her day to devote to a regular practice. Then she went through the loss of a parent, and had such trouble coping that she couldn’t even drag herself out of bed. After missing work ten days straight, she called me for my advice. I told her to mindfully meditate while in bed. Terrified and bewildered, my client did and, in a few days, found that she could face going to work again. After that, whenever she was in an overwhelming state of grief or so distracted that she couldn't focus, she would close her door, tell her assistant to hold all her calls and do a five minute meditation. Slowly, her grief lessened.
Typically, those who resist meditation are buying in to one of the following four common myths that create resistance to regular mindfulness meditation practice.
Myth 1: “Practicing mindfulness meditation will conflict with my religious beliefs.” The practice of mindfulness meditation is free of religious and spiritual dogma. In fact, if you believe in turning to God for guidance, you can use mindfulness meditation to set aside distractions and listen to the divine wisdom that can be found only when you tune out the endless chain of thoughts your own mind creates. This form of meditation turns down the volume of the chatter in your mind and allows you to tune in to deeper wisdom and insight. Mindfulness practice is a pathway to discovery that any of us can use, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs.
Myth 2: “I’m too restless and busy to learn to be quiet and practice any form of meditation.” Just twenty minutes on a meditation cushion twice each day will cause you to need less sleep, be more productive and less distracted, and make the most of your time during the day. When you first begin to meditate, you’re likely to experience many mental distractions. Rather than judge yourself; simply observe any disruptive thoughts, feelings, or sensations and set them aside. You’ll never have complete freedom from distractions, but with practice, it’ll be easier to quickly turn down the volume on them. As your concentration abilities increase, so will your mindstrength. Quickly, you’ll discover that you can simply rest and relax into the moment, enjoying the sense of spaciousness and abundance.
Myth 3: “If I practice mindfulness, it will put out the fire of my ambition and creativity.” Mindfulness practice seems to ground restless people, transforming their energy from a chaotic, even manic, discharge to a more focused and heightened exuberance that then can be channeled into productivity. If you’re uncomfortable with the thought of slowing down your mental output because you think you’ll lose something valuable, keep in mind that this is not the goal of mindfulness practice. Instead this approach will allow you to access some of the vitality and passion you associate with mania.
Myth 4: “If I practice mindfulness, what I’ll discover will be so upsetting that I’ll become paralyzed with fear.” The fear of what will arise from the subconscious isn’t entirely irrational, but the chances of experiencing intense discomfort while mindfully meditating are slim. Emotions that remain buried have no chance of dissipating, and will remain as an underlying toxin that affects the functioning of the mind and body. If you’ve been avoiding painful feelings and thoughts for a long time, you may not be able to handle more than a five-minute-long session of mindfulness meditation initially, and you may need someone with you to support you in your process of uncovering this pain. A skilled psychologist or mindfulness meditation teacher can be enormously helpful in guiding you through these emotions and modulating their intensity.
By cultivating mindfulness, you allow yourself to hear even the subtlest messages from the unconscious. You can be awakened with a gentle nudge instead of a splash of icy water. Embracing your circumstances despite the pain, you can craft a fulfilling life that’s infused with passion and originality, driven by a sense of purpose, and in sync with your values and priorities.
Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the just released book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA, for individuals and corporate clients. He has taught personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (www.openmindtraining.com