Mindfulness Doesn’t Work (or “How to Stop Wasting Your Time”)

Are you treating mindfulness as a kind of tool that you can use to produce things?

Perhaps to conjure peace, serenity, or confidence from thin air?

If you approach mindfulness this way – as an instrument that you can employ to make your life as want – you will find out something rather quickly:

Mindfulness doesn’t work.

Mindfulness needs distinguishing from the “wellness-hacks” that are popular mainstays of blogs like this one.

“Get up at 6:30 to do yoga, practice gratitude at lunch, and drink Ayurveda-approved celery-juice three times a day”

These things are fine, but they’re often propounded in ways that are not.

We’re often encouraged to believe that, if we only find the right combination of ingredients, we’d be able to dispense with our problems and produce the experiences we desire.

This is not what we’re doing with mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not a “hack” to produce the life we want it to.

Mindfulness doesn’t work.

***

But, if only you found the right kind of practice? The right way to practice?

Began your meditations differently? Labelled your thoughts differently?

The right teacher? The right teachings? The right books or meditation gadgets?

Maybe then you could make your mindfulness practice work?

No.

Mindfulness doesn’t work.

This might not sound very empowering. Not very motivating.

Not aligned with the go-getting, “manifest-anything-you-put-your-mind-to” attitude popular today.

Alas.

Bringing the “go-getting” attitude to meditation doesn’t work.

***

What is “work”, colloquially speaking?

Work is strain.

Work is an effortful attempt to produce things that are not here, by force of our own will.

And bringing this to mindfulness practice leads to no more than frustration.

The quicker you realise this, the less time you will waste.

***

Have you ever noticed how trying to “work” with your thoughts and feelings often only produces more?

For instance, you want to get rid of a certain repetitive conversation you have with yourself, so when you notice it you get more concerned.

You feel guilty because you shouldn’t be thinking this – not again!

It doesn’t fit with your notion of the good life.

And when you feel anxious and guilty about it, more thoughts arise to try to solve this situation.

Perhaps you should go running to relieve some tension?

Perhaps you should stop drinking coffee in the afternoons?

Perhaps you should see that therapist someone recommended to help you solve those issues from your past which, now you think of it, are the cause of so many of your life’s problems.

Thoughts produce more thoughts produce more thoughts produce more thoughts.

Our thinking remains like this – circular, infinite and exhausting.

Because we take an attitude of manipulation to our life and our mind, everywhere.

This is the undercurrent that influences what floats to the surface.

Beneath the conscious flow, we have our set of ideals – an image of how our lives and our minds need to be.

We don’t want X. We want Y.

We have in our mind some idealised future where X isn’t there.

So we try to push back against thoughts and circumstances.

Push them away. Solve them.

“If only I can get this… find that… meet this person… solve that crisis…”

Ask yourself – Has this been working?

What has constant searching brought to your body and your mind?

One thing is for certain.

It doesn’t work when we meditate.

So what are we doing, when we sit down to practice?  

When we sit down with the intention to follow the breath?

The above comments don’t mean that meditation makes no difference to our lives.

Regular practitioners know the effects well enough.

Yet any sense of peace, serenity, or freedom, with which the practice is associated, is never produced by our ego-centred efforts.

These things are never the result of “working” to create some stable, secure, idealised “me” through a series of ingenious tricks and amendments.

No. They are a result of letting efforts fall away

***

Okay, perhaps mindfulness can “work”, if we use this word in a slightly looser way.

It can lead us to a place of greater freedom, ease and joy.

Yet only if we stop trying to “produce them” for ourselves.

Instead, they are delivered to us when we get ourselves out of the way.

When we surrender – drop our resistance to the rippling flow of this world.

***

So, sit with your breathing.

Allow the thoughts to arise, in the background.

Let them be there.

Recognise that they don’t matter.

Your stray thoughts don’t mean anything.

They don’t mean you’re doing things wrong.

They don’t mean you can’t meditate.

Just as in life, the key (and where its joy is found) is to be accepting of the things you didn’t plan – the things that don’t fit.

In life, we can retain our ideals, plans and ambitions, but hold them loosely, open to the joy of other situations that life send our way.

In meditation it’s the same.

We don’t want certain thoughts.

But we’re not bothered when they arise.

The aim is not to get rid, to eliminate, to have only certain things come up, as we sit and breath.

No, the aim is to not care what comes up.

To not be drawn in by it.

They are just thoughts and bodily sensations.

Watch how you add so much suffering onto them with your story about why they shouldn’t be there.

If you don’t mind what thoughts arise – if you don’t get hooked in, try to understand them, push them away and ensure they never come back –

you find the catastrophic whirlwind of your own mind magically pacifies itself.

Story waters are calmed, only when left alone.

***

Most often, we can’t leave our thoughts alone.

We are bothered by our them.

Okay.

We can be mindful of that.

See what it’s like to be bothered, to be pulled in.

Experience the body tense up and the mind shrink

Gradually, we come to understand our own ways of tying ourselves in knots.

Gradually, we see how our “ideals” are strangling us.

See the battle and then you’re able to let it go.

“Oh, that doesn’t work”

See what works, see what doesn’t, and the work is already done.

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