If you ask people what mindfulness means, they usually say something like ‘being calm’, ‘living in the moment’ or being ‘stress-free’ but is it really that easy? There are five common myths about mindfulness that are not only misleading but also have the potential to be dangerous.
Mindfulness means perpetual calm
Firstly and the most commonly held myth is that it’s a way to feel calm and stress-free all the time. We all need a certain amount of stress in our lives and what mindfulness does is help us to manage and respond to the stress in our lives in a different way and relate to it differently. It also brings us into greater contact with ourselves and our experiences, which means that stress will probably still be a part of the picture at times.
Mindfulness is for a crisis
Secondly is the idea that we should turn to mindfulness when we’re in the midst of a major crisis. The demands of an acute crisis like illness, bereavement or divorce, are often best met by taking care of the basics such as food, sleep, exercise and social support rather than making any drastic changes to normal coping strategies.
It’s the way to deal with emotional hardship
The third myth about mindfulness is that it is the answer to all emotional difficulties. There has been a tendency to overstate the benefits of mindfulness which may have repercussions for vulnerable people looking for support. Mindfulness is not the answer to all of life’s difficulties and it’s unethical to suggest it is.
Live ‘in the now’
The idea that ‘present moment’ is somewhere we should all be has the potential to cause serious emotional upheaval. At times, there is real benefit in being busy or distracted and not being in the present moment if the present moment is simply too difficult. Many people use busyness as a way of avoiding the present moment and what it contains and others have spent their entire lives knowingly or unknowingly avoiding parts of themselves or their past. This avoidance is an important psychological coping mechanism which mindfulness has the potential to undo so skilled mindfulness teachers and ongoing supervision is essential.
It’s a quick fix
It takes time to change the psychological habits of a lifetime and there is a real danger that mindfulness will be used as a way to ‘fix’ or ‘improve’. Mindfulness is not a self-improvement project, it’s a skill that requires work like any therapy and practice like any skill.