The Mystery of Mindfulness

Are you feeling tired, stressed, anxious or unhappy? Could mindfulness be your solution to improved health and well-being?

There is a curious paradox about mindfulness that I would like to demystify. On the one hand, mindfulness is touted as the solution to improved physical and mental health. Just consider the names of some popular mindfulness therapies such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression and Mindfulness-Based Chronic Pain Management.

On the other hand, mindfulness emphasises the importance of a non-striving attitude that does not aim for any particular outcome. The very attempt to use mindfulness to feel more calm, relaxed or to regulate emotions can result in increased tension and agitation.

So where does this leave the individual who wants to practice mindfulness in order to promote their health and well-being?

The garden of mindfulness

Cultivating mindfulness is like tending a garden. We can nurture our garden by providing quality soil, water, access to sunlight and protection from predators. We can create an environment that is conducive towards growth. But we cannot force that growth. Rather, we must wait patiently for the seeds to sprout and flowers to blossom in their own time.

Similarly, mindfulness provides us with a fertile ground from which health and well-being can grow. We can plant and nurture the seeds of mindfulness through training, guidance and commitment. But we cannot force the outcomes we desire through sheer willpower. Rather, we must allow the fruits of mindfulness to ripen in their own time.

To strive or not to strive?

We can use the knowledge of evidence-based health outcomes to motivate us to take up mindfulness practice. We can even select practices that are conducive toward certain states of mind, such as calmness, relaxation or insight, or specific goals, such as sleep, emotion regulation or pain management. Once we begin the actual practice, however, we let go of monitoring these outcomes and simply focus on the exercise itself. It is the very capacity to let go of goal-striving and be in the present moment that enables calmness of mind and physical relaxation to emerge as desirable by-products.

About The Author

drgerschman

Dr Elliot Gerschman is a clinical psychologist who consults privately at his Melbourne based practice, Satisfied Mind, focusing on adult clinical psychology, mindfulness, and chronic pain management. He completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and his professional interests include emotional intelligence coaching, meaning-centred therapy, and developing smart-phone psychology applications.

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