Mindfulness sucks. When you actually practice it, it does NOT feel good. Mindfulness isn’t fun. It’s painful. It feels gross. When I searched #mindfulness on Instagram this morning, 6,725,792 posts used that hashtag. I saw images of smoothie bowls, yoga poses, face cream, crystals, quotes, dogs and A LOT of people smiling.
When we wrap mindfulness in a pretty package, we do ourselves a disservice. This morning I VERY uncomfortably practiced mindfulness when I saw, on Instagram, a strength coach I respect teaching a movement totally opposite of the way I teach it. My hackles rose. My face turned flush. I think, “Why the hell would anyone teach that?”
Deep breath. What’s really happening here?
Mindfulness isn’t the default, it’s the intervention. Our reptilian brain, the part of our brain that concerns itself with survival and status, almost always calls the first shot. “I must be right because if not, I’m wrong. And if I’m wrong we’re all going to die!” Or “I should get the bigger half of the cookie!” Or “He is an idiot!”
Mindfulness is the practice of noticing those default thoughts and responses, and creating space for other thoughts and responses to exist as well. It’s a simple observation of reality. It is non-judgement. It is non-attachment.
And this the tough part to swallow. Sometimes, the reality of how we’re thinking and responding isn’t always pleasing and doesn’t always paint us in a good light. Reality can be painful, uncomfortable and really hard. This morning, my reality was that my animal brain was throwing a close-minded tantrum. “Well, I’m right, you’re wrong and I’m going to take my toys and go home.” That observation doesn’t feel good when I stack it against my values of curiosity and connection.
So what do we do when our responses aren’t pretty? When we’re not living in line with our values? This is where mindfulness is an incredibly useful tool. It’s the thing that creates the tiniest pause so that you can “chickity check yo self before you wreck yo self.”* It’s the thing that stops us before we spiral out of control.
This morning, it was the brief moment when I could recognize the tantrum and compassionately self-correct. The conversation in my brain became, “I really admire this coach. She’s intelligent, intentional and really gives a shit about her people. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s something I can learn from this.” And because of that shift in thinking, I was actually able to learn a really cool new version of a movement and have another tool in my coaching toolbox. Both of our approaches can exist. There is space for both.
While it doesn’t often feel as good as a smoothie bowl tastes, practicing mindfulness is invaluable. It offers us an opportunity for growth, curiosity, and a richer way to assess how we fit in the world. But only when we sit in the discomfort first.
*Thanks, Ice Cube.