Is mindfulness selfish??
Hi friend, I’m headed off to a 10-day silent meditation retreat this week—sounds crazy, right? 10 days of mindfulness, meditating, and no talking whatsoever!?
I’ve wanted to do this for years, and I finally bit the bullet.
As I’ve been preparing for the last few weeks (and months), I’ve had mindfulness on the brain, and I wanted to talk a bit today about how it’s affected my life.
There are those out there who believe that mindfulness is a “selfish” practice, and I believe this simply stems from a lack of understanding.
So if you fall into that school of thought, or if you’re just curious about mindfulness in general, read on…
Most people in the wellness world would agree that “mindfulness” is a good thing—it’s simply a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness has many benefits, but can be especially helpful with grounding ourselves when we get caught up in the depression of past events, or the anxiety over future ones.
After all, in this present moment, right this second—things are okay. (If things weren’t okay in this very moment, you likely wouldn’t be reading this email.)
We are conditioned to tell ourselves stories about the past or future, and it’s too easy to become identified by them.
These stories not only cause us pain and suffering, but also keep us stuck in vicious cycles, where our greatest fears end up becoming our reality—we make it so, because our negative thoughts then dictate our feelings and actions.
Mindfulness practices (meditation or otherwise) help us tune into the present moment more often, so we can ultimately respond to sensations and stimuli, rather than react to them.
So we can notice that “pause” between stimuli and reaction, and decide how we want to move forward—with intention.
Some people, however, are quick to pooh-pooh mindfulness, and characterize it as a “self-centered” practice.
I want to address this because I do think it’s often misinterpreted, and this is extremely unfortunate because I think, when incorporated productively, mindfulness can really enhance our relationships with others as much as it improves our self-connection.
Part of what makes mindfulness so beautiful is also what makes it such a challenge—there is no end goal.
Take a mindfulness meditation practice, for instance. The goal is not to meditate so one becomes free of thoughts.
The challenge is to meditate and focus on your anchor (often the breath), and when the mind inevitably wanders (you are human, after all), to just bring it back to the breath—gently, and with compassion.
This is very different than sitting down to meditate, tuning into the breath, noticing your mind wandering, and then beating yourself up for being a “bad meditator.”
Mindfulness is like a catch-22, because it can’t be hacked, checklist-ed, or rushed.
If you’re practicing mindfulness meditation and trying to become “good” at it, you’re already stuck. My fellow perfectionists beware! The challenge is to just “be.”
Mindfulness is a gentle and soft practice that promotes self-compassion and kindness.
But this “self” compassion isn’t so selfish—in fact, many would argue it isn’t really possible to foster true empathy and compassion for others if we can’t do it for ourselves.
Some of you may be quick to fight me on that and say “No, no! I’m very compassionate with others, but I’m so hard on myself!”
I would have said the same thing a few years ago—but I encourage you to recall what I shared last week: Judgment is a mirror, not a window.
If we are hard on ourselves, criticizing ourselves, and thereby judging ourselves—we are likely doing it to others, too.
We may not consider ourselves to be judgmental people (who wants to admit they are judgmental?) but the things we see in others that bother us are likely somewhere within us, and worth taking a look at (no one is immune; every human reading this email has experienced judgment of others and of self).
How does this relate to mindfulness not being a selfish practice?
By developing self-compassion and practicing non-judgment with ourselves, we are more able to be compassionate and understanding with others.
There’s no denying that these practices require time—mindfulness meditation is a practice that requires time spent with one’s self, absolutely!
It requires the willingness to explore ourselves honestly, but it’s never at anyone else’s expense. When practiced with positive intentions, our mindfulness practices benefit everyone around us as much as they benefit ourselves.
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
So take a mindful breath.
It doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with your eyes clothes—just right now. One mindful breath. Tomorrow, maybe take 2, and then 3. (We all know what baby steps can do).
If you find yourself feeling skeptical about the way that a mindfulness practice can impact others around you, I encourage you to take a moment to consider how those close to you benefit from your ability to take care of yourself in other aspects of your life.
When we’re truly present, we can approach situations with more clarity and pause, and respond authentically.
If you’re someone who thinks you shouldn’t focus on mindfulness because you feel guilty or selfish focusing on yourself, I encourage you to think about how being more mindful, intentional and responsive (rather than reactive) could benefit your relationships—not just yourself.
I can’t wait to share all about the retreat experience when I return!
Light and love,