Why Mindfulness Works, but it’s Not For Everybody

Before I even write another word: mindfulness is no different than meditation. Americans seem to prefer to use the term mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn deserves the most credit for popularizing the practice of mindfulness. But when it comes to breath methods and mind engagement, it may come down to semantics, as well as varying traditions or philosophies, but definitionally they are the same practice yielding the same results. 

Second, and most important, you will never master it. You will never get “good enough.” So don’t even try. You don’t need to live in, “I’ll never live up to the high standards of someone who practices mindfulness,” either. The standards aren’t high. You’ll definitely not practice it well at some point in the near future, and that’s after the obvious first attempts, which will not be easy or possibly even yield much in the way of results. What matters is that you show up, just like the idea of showing up in life. You show up to your practice. And it turns out, that is hard.

So, those are the two quick takeaways if that’s all you have time for. The remainder is about my learning this year related to an intentional program in mindfulness training.

I began working with the Enneagram as a serious student and practitioner in 2019, and I began to study and research on somatic practices and understanding the mind-body connection. But much of this learning remained more in my head. 

After two certification programs with the Enneagram, which definitely touched on embodied practices, I then entered a 10-month coaching certification program with Newfield. Their ontological coaching method was appealing to me in that it integrated what I saw as the three centers of intelligence I had become so familiar with using the Enneagram: head, heart, body/gut. But I would say that even by the end of the training and after about 100 hours of coaching experience, I was still aware that day to day practice of the techniques enumerated and practiced through a specific and intentional mindfulness practice was an area in need of further growth. 

I entered the training at the beginning of the year, in February, having just come off a surprisingly powerful book called The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. I engaged with this book–oddly enough–on a ski week with my dad and uncle. So, it was almost like a retreat, lots of alone time and lots of time in a beautiful natural setting that even while waking could seem quite dreamlike. All this is to say, I came to this training with some momentum and a deep desire to follow through with the commitments of awareness of the sacredness of the present moment, and even trying to be mindful and alive to one’s dreams.

The latter has proved far more challenging than I realized. 

The practices of mindfulness are not challenging per se. They are grounded in simplicity. They are democratic. There for the taking if we so choose. The challenge is in ingraining these practices, letting them spill over into all the “informality” of life. Especially for an enneagram Sexual Four such as myself. I can be emotionally intense, lots of highs and lows, lots of ebbs and flows. I’ve known this about myself all my life and I set it as an intention to grow and develop in this very area. 

As disciplined as I often was, as I tracked my weekly efforts, I didn’t execute on a consistent five-day-a-week practice. I know it’s totally normal. Mindfulness doesn’t want or need you to practice it to live up to some standard. But it’s still interesting to me that as intentional as I was about consistency, I definitely had moments where I let in the daily vicissitudes of life. Sometimes I chose to work out more than focus on my breath and body and do my practices. Sometimes I just jumped into the action that I felt needed to get done rather than practicing, and I would assess that most of the time this isn’t a good practice. It’s more of an old habit dying hard.

One final observation about mindfulness is that the results can seem subtle or even go unnoticed by our “perceiving” self for the very reason that we are not as self-aware as we assume ourselves to be. I’ve experienced how easy it is to think you’re “just fine,” until you begin to interact with others. I notice that I’ll think I’m more or less “on the level” and then my wife will ask me something and I am now more aware of my tone of voice, body language, and reactivity even in subtle ways that I wasn’t before. 

What I sometimes still find challenging is during these very times when we probably need the practice the most is the time when we’re often least “in the mood” to do them. So it comes back to that idea of choice. 

I am grateful for the variety of disciplines that fall within the practice of what we call mindfulness. I know I am freer to walk up to this door and choose what I know works for me in body, mind, and soul. 

I look forward to my ongoing learning and keeping my mind in “beginner’s mode.” But I also believe that it’s hard for most people to bring themselves to establish a practice. I don’t know all the reasons why. I wish mindfulness was practiced far more broadly than it even is now. But most of us seem to prefer staying asleep.

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