Three Reasons Why So Many Resist Mindfulness

Why is it so hard for us to be mindful on a daily basis?

After taking a pretty hard look at my own life, and then at the lives of so many others who have lived and died so desperately in the past few decades, I’ve come to some conclusions.

I’m curious to know: Do you agree or disagree with these three reasons explaining why so many of us resist mindfulness?

Before we can even look at those three reasons, though, it is probably a good idea to discuss what mindfulness is.

In a recent article I published on Mindfulness in Schools, I defined mindfulness as being aware of our thoughts and feelings, of the way we express them, and the way they affect our bodies and our behavior. That doesn’t seem too threatening or hard to do, does it?

Yet, we live in an age where the practice of being mindful simply takes too long. We are discouraged to slow down, to practice patience, to consider the value of a thought, an action, or a reaction. Instead, we rush to publish our immediate and often emotion-laced thoughts on social networks with little concern about consequences (which, horrifying in its own right, there seldom are consequences, because most others participating in the social stream of consciousness are not thinking too deeply about what is being posted anyway; a death of a friend can get a “prayers to you” comment where, in the next 15 seconds, a YouTube video about a crazy cat can get an “LMFAO TOO FUNNY!!!” reaction, both by the same person).

Here are my three reasons why Mindfulness is just so darned hard for so many in a social network-driven society.

Accountability

Girl with mirrorsBeing mindful of our thoughts and actions, and the way we might express them, means that we also have to slow down and take responsibility for them. It is an awareness that requires the courage to say, “This is who I am; this is how I am living my life.” It requires us to acknowledge that we are participating in the often fast and mad rush of social networking, among other aspects of life, and that we are glossing over most everything we read and see, simply because we don’t want to slow down and really feel what each of these status updates and posts might mean to us.

How else can we justify they way we read our feeds? Because so many of us now rely on social media as a primary source for news and information, we are allowing ourselves to detach from the deeper stories, the deeper meanings behind the words and the pictures.

Being mindful requires many of us to be accountable of these emotions, actions, and reactions. Our plugged-in lives do not allow for such slower speeds. As a result, we sacrifice the deeper experience for the superficial skim along life’s long surface.

Stepping Out Of The (Main)Stream

The second reason why so many resist mindfulness is that it might mean we are different from everybody else, and that by stepping out of the mainstream, we place at risk our friendships and social connections.

This begs the question: If this is a real danger, are you really living authentically in the first place?

Never before has it been so important to so many to “go with the flow” and be accepted or popular. Social media networks are designed for popularity (“How many likes can I get for this post?” “Do you like what I did/noticed/felt today?”).

To be mindful of our own thoughts and actions, it means that we have to also have the courage to step out of the mainstream and live a life that is not motivated, based on, or valued by a quantity of likes or comments.

Being mindful means asking ourselves a different question: Why am I sharing this? or What is my motivation in posting this information? Providing the answers to to questions such as these requires a commitment to living authentically that, in many ways, goes completely against the design of social networks.

Scorn, Judgment, Alienation

rusvw pic2The third reason so many of us resist mindfulness is that we are afraid of the results or consequences of being mindful, most notably scorn, judgment, or even alienation from others.

If we are mindful, and thus accountable and not worried about stepping out of the social mainstream, we face the possibility of being labeled as different.

Soon, the chatter begins: “Did you see that…?” and “Why do you think…?” and even “I heard that….”

All because we were mindful and aware, and we thought a little before acting or reacting to a given event, circumstance, or situation.

So That’s It? Goodbye Social Networking?

Being mindful does not mean that we have to give up the social networks that we might follow, though it might lead us to change our behaviors in how we post and interact with others. In fact, being mindful should naturally enrich our online experiences because we are acting and reacting more genuinely to the information we and others are posting.

Our fears associated with mindfulness are based on nothing more than what-ifs and senseless acts of peer pressure, often self-imposed.

It is easy to believe that being true to ourselves will endanger the habits and friendships that have defined our lives for so long; this is simply not the case. The new friendships and experiences that come about from being authentic will undoubtedly add to the more rewarding and genuine relationships we establish with the people we have known most of our lives.

And for those that do offer scorn, are judgmental, or do alienate, so be it. They are merely showing their own insecurities, and we can only hope that, by being mindful and authentic, our lifestyle becomes their life lesson.

 

 

 

Creative and Uncut: The Seams of Love

holding hands 3It is a mid-summer’s afternoon –late, and I am standing on the pitcher’s mound, playing catch with my son on a deserted baseball field, surrounded by other empty diamonds and rectangles. In just a few short weeks, these overgrown areas will be filled with children changing lives — late-game heroics and crushing defeats. In the end, they will all walk off the field and into the arms of sideline parents ready to congratulate

“That was a great score! You dominated!”

or console, where cheers and high-fives intermingle with hugs and the more somber tones of comfort:

“You’ll get ’em next time. Hard work pays off.”

Their dreams pure, the outcomes unknown, the responses timeless.

My son throws the ball from home plate and it makes a loud pop as it smacks the leather in my worn glove. I give him a smile.

“Good speed on the throw, son. A real zinger.”

He smiles and waits for my wind-up and toss, a pretend breaking ball that we both learned the other day while watching YouTube videos of how to throw the tricky pitch.

My pitch never breaks, and the ball sails over his head and rolls against the backstop. He shakes his head and turns to retrieve the ball.

“I don’t remember them teaching that throw on the video,” he says.

holding hands 2Just behind him, on the other side of the tall fence, a couple emerges from the woods on the footpath that winds around the perimeter of these fields. They are old, even by my standards. I look at the woman’s face, and she carries the same set of wrinkles my mother wore when she was nearing 80.

The cancer was already running through her body a good year by then, which didn’t help. And the chemo drugs made her lose too much weight, darkening those lines and creases to the point where I just wanted to put my hands to her face, smooth them back out, and give Mom a few more years, you know? Let her end this thing with some youthful dignity.

She did that with her heart, though, a love so smooth and so young that, in the end, that’s all I saw in her eyes, her smile, as she lay dying.

I haven’t forgotten that.

The tall man she is walking with seems even older, shuffling along as best he can to keep up with his ever-patient partner.

She looks ahead, ageless blue eyes that seem to smile, finding beauty in the solitude, the walk, the companionship.

He looks around, catching a glimpse of a father and son playing ball, the sparrows that dip and peck along the path–all these things, yes–with a certain appreciation. He whispers something to her, and when their eyes meet, they both smile as they continue their walk.

“Dad!”

I turn back to my son and see the ball in mid-air, coming toward my head at that same zinger speed that had just put a good pop in my mitt a minute ago.

I wince in anticipation of the pain, bringing my glove to my face in some kind of auto-jerk defense that deflects the ball and sends it rolling through the grass toward the first-base bag.

I take a deep breath, aware that I want to yell something in anger.

You could have hit me! Smashed my teeth, broken my nose, blackened my eye! What the hell were you thinking?

I say nothing, though. I can see the look in his eyes that he realizes his mistake. He doesn’t need chastising; if anything, he needs to lighten up a little on himself.

He starts to walk toward the ball, and I wave him off.

“I got it. No worries.”

I jog over to the base to get the ball and notice that the couple has passed on from our field, continuing along at the same, slow and steady pace.

holding hands 1As they crest a hill and begin to disappear in their descent, I notice that they are holding hands, and I realize that they have been since I first saw them emerging from the woods.

Fingers interlocked, a certain fluidity of love and understanding shared among the intermingling wrinkles of the long journey. It seems to make no difference if those decades were spent together. Maybe they walked these fields in youth, still left untouched by the plows and pains of change, only to be separated until recently. Or, as was the case with my own mother: united with a companion in an unexpected second life, years after my father’s last breath, paying the ultimate price in the line of duty.

I can feel the pulsing love in the joining of their hands; the intertwined beauty of a harmonious heartbeat ripples along the path, back to me, and into my own hand.

“Sorry about that, Dad.”

My son, now standing beside me, places the ball in my bare hand. Our eyes catch as we both grip that tattered ball for a split second.

We share a quick smile and time stops.

A whirlwind carries me to my own back yard, playing catch with my dad when I was my son’s own age; to the old street in front of my house, where my sister’s hands rested on mine as I gripped my little bike’s handlebars for dear life; and to the old treehouse in Veronica’s woods, where we placed our hands on our hearts, discovering young love. In each, the pulse was almost too much to bear — timeless no doubt, rippling from the memories of loved ones long gone.

Then it is all over.

The couple disappears over the ridge. My son returns to home plate, and I walk to the mound, wrapping my fingers around the old leather ball.

“Remember, Dad. It’s all in the fingers. The rest just happens naturally.”

I spin the ball in my fingers, feel the red laces that, like fingers intertwined, are woven together in perfection, and start my wind-up.

It takes just a split-second to leave my hand and fall into his, a masterful pitch centuries in the making.

baseball1

–>The pieces I run in the “Creative and Uncut” series, formally known simply as “Rus Uncut,” are raw drafts that I publish within hours of an experience. These experiential journal entries are written without a plan and are published for their raw appeal. For this piece, the image of an elderly couple holding hands sparked something deep within me about the timelessness of love. However, as I sat down to write this piece, I had no idea that it would tie in the game of baseball like it did (in fact, I wondered earlier how I could get around that I was even on the field playing ball with my son, as I thought the focus of this piece would be on a topic much too mature for such familial imagery). These pieces are hardly polished; therein, I believe, lies their beauty.

Mindfulness in Schools: Empowering Students For Success

Students and teachers who are more mindful in the classroom have reduced anxiety, stress.

Students and teachers who are more mindful in the classroom have reduced anxiety, stress.

As we get ready to head back to school for the new academic year, I am aware of a movement that is sweeping across the country to make students and educators more mindful of their learning and their teaching. It is flying right in the face of high-stakes testing and assessment, but is it really setting the stage for the ultimate battle of Man vs. Machine?

Studies throughout the world are demonstrating that mindful students are taking control of their learning, their emotions, and their general state of wellness, improving their communities and strengthening their independence as a result.

In a paper just published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (20 June 2013), “Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Programme: Non-Randomised Controlled Feasibility Study,” researchers concluded that “the degree to which students … practiced the mindfulness skills was associated with better well-being and less stress.”

Programs like Mindfulness in Schools are changing the culture of our classrooms and are empowering our students to be mindful learners, aware of their own learning styles and practices.

What is School Mindfulness?

Being mindful in school (a strategy for both teachers and students) is simple to practice, yet it is often neglected because of the pressures of assessment, placement, and evaluation. Because of the overwhelming pressure placed on schools to produce positive and high-ranking data, it is easy to lose the focus on the individuals comprising the data.

The principles of being mindful are easy to learn and to put into practice, even before the first day of school arrives. The definition of awareness, as given in “The Awareness Principle” by Peter Wilberg, can be easily applied to any education setting. As you read this summary of Wilberg’s findings, be mindful of the classroom setting you are familiar with and how mindfulness can empower teachers and students.

We have the power to be aware of our thoughts and feelings, of the way we express them, of the way they affect our bodies and our behavior. We have the power to be mindful of the way they lead us to act and react to others, of the way they color our view of the world, and of the way they affect our sense of ourselves. Awareness of our feelings and thoughts is not itself a feeling or thought, nor is it by itself anything bodily or mental; like space, it embraces and transcends each and every thing we are aware of. It creates space for clearer thoughts to arise, along with a new sense of ourselves.

When teachers and students enhance their self-awareness in the classroom, they make a decision to bring greater focus and meaning to their work, thus becoming more accountable for the purpose and intent of their actions.

Can Mindfulness and High-Stakes Testing Co-Exist?

It is easy to place mindfulness and high-stakes testing as polar opposites, making it seem like there is some difficult choice to make: either be mindful and aware of your experience in the classroom, or succumb to the machination of uniformity in a curriculum that continues to limit individuality.

I argue that practicing mindfulness in the classroom is a win-win scenario, both for you and for the school system. As more studies continue to demonstrate a correlation between mindfulness and wellness, students and teachers with reduced anxiety and greater focus can engage in the rigorous curricular activities while maintaining a “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) attitude.

At the very least, this awareness makes classroom content more relevant and applicable to individuals, giving greater reason for them to be engaged more meaningfully.

Over time, practicing mindfulness in the classroom will lead to an application of the WIIFM experiences to long-term goals that align with authentic career choices. Individuals will be devoting their time in their teens and well into adulthood engaged in meaningful work and charitable acts.

It seems like a no-brainer to students, teachers, and administrators: mindfulness is an empowering strategy for success, and integrating opportunities for students to be aware of their learning in the classroom makes perfect sense for now and our future, where our communities are filled with individuals who are actually living an inspired life, aligned with who they really are.