Lisa Carlin, PhD
Are you cut out to be "mindful?" (spoiler: you are!)
When you read the word, “mindfulness,” what do you think of? A peaceful time to relax? Or a frustrating task that you "just can’t get right?” If what went through your mind was more of the latter, you are not alone! A recent column by Tara Parker-Pope in The Washington Post seeks to encourage those who “say they have tried meditation and failed.” She describes common misconceptions that mindfulness meditation is about not thinking about anything, or about needing to feel relaxed and at peace. The notion that one can even “fail” at meditating may reflect our living in a society which tends to measure activities in terms of success and failure, accomplishments, and doing things the “right” way. My own beginnings of practicing mindfulness came with similar concerns, with my mind telling me things like, “I don’t have the right temperament to be someone who meditates,” or “my mind is too unsettled to quiet down.” Once I was introduced to a way of understanding mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment, without judgment” (such as described here by noted mindfulness teacher and author Jon Kabat Zinn), I began to learn a different approach to this practice: a way of being with one’s mind, as opposed to an activity that attempts to force the mind to be a particular way. Spending time noticing what our mind is doing can provide helpful insights and ultimately choices for what we do in response, as well as opportunities to notice what we may need, just as we may notice feeling tired or hungry when we pay attention to our body. Mindfulness practice can also be an opportunity to connect to others in community and promote societal change, as opposed to only serving as an individual “self-care” practice. As discussed by Rhonda Magee, J.D. in this video lecture from the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, she explains that mindfulness can serve to increase our awareness of values and help us to move ourselves and communities towards reducing bias towards marginalized groups, and better understand our connections to not just ourselves but each other. Approaching mindfulness as a way of paying attention to the moment can hopefully help us to become less judgmental, for example, of having a mind that gets distracted, or jumps to conclusions about ourselves or others. Instead, being aware that our mind is moving in certain directions can help give us a choice of how we want to respond to it, which could include providing ourselves and others with compassion.
At TREC DC, we provide an opportunity to practice mindfulness in community at weekly, free, virtual (zoom) sessions every Monday from 12-12:45pm eastern time; click here for more information and to register. We hope you consider joining us there to learn more about how to access this approach to mindfulness, and get some support along the way. Please also contact us for additional resources or questions.