Mindfulness Without Meditation
How daily practice supports mindfulness, whether or not you meditate.
Posted Sep 26, 2020
This post is part 26 of a series of posts on the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice. In this series, I’ll explore the elements of daily practice, varieties of daily practice, challenges to daily practice, and strategies for meeting those challenges. Please join me in learning more about this important subject! Complete information can be found in The Power of Daily Practice.
To many, “mindfulness” means meditation. But any practice that has as its focus your desire to pay attention or bring awareness to the moment is a mindfulness practice. A given person might want to meditate. But another person might want to indwell differently and create a new inner landscape. Someone else might want to pay new attention to her thoughts by listening to them, disputing those that aren’t serving her, and substituting more useful ones. Leslie was in this third category.
Leslie had held different jobs in the beauty industry and was now running her own online business. She sold a line of lotions that she fabricated using essential oils, flowers, herbs, and other natural ingredients. She loved taking photos of the ingredients, the fabrication process, the finished products, customer photos, and anything and everything else associated with her brand. Her genuine love of images had generated her a large Instagram following, which was the primary way she marketed her brand.
She worked on her business every day because she loved it. That was her primary daily practice, one that she had no trouble maintaining. But she also put into place a second daily practice, one dedicated to exorcising certain beliefs that she felt were holding her back from taking her business to the next level. These thoughts had to do with her not feeling equal to reaching out to marketplace players, influencers, and industry types whom she saw as “above her” and whom she felt would be “annoyed” if she approached them.
She put a 40-minute daily mindfulness practice into place. The plan of the practice was to hear these thoughts that weren’t serving her, to say “No!” to them as powerfully as she could, and to create new thoughts that she would consciously and mindfully think instead. This all sounded easy enough in theory. But something about it wasn’t working. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the problem, but she knew that those unhelpful thoughts hadn’t been exorcised yet.
“So, you’re actively disputing the thoughts that aren’t serving you?”
“I think I am,” she replied.
“Let me hear you dispute one.”
She laughed. “You mean—?”
“Let’s hear a thought that isn’t serving you and how you dispute it.”
She thought about that. “Okay.” She named a well-known daytime talk show host. “'Andrea wouldn’t be interested in me.’ That’s the thought.” She hesitated. “No,” she said, about as mildly as “no” can be said.
We both had to laugh.
“I think you’re doing what you mean to be doing,” I said. “You’re following the steps. But you’re not disputing your thoughts with much intensity. Why is that, do you think?”
She nodded thoughtfully. “I don’t think that I have much permission to be intense. I associate intensity with my father’s anger. With the bulging veins in his skull. With him screaming at us with such … intensity. Thinking about that makes me just want to shrivel up and slink away.”
“But you do want that intensity?”
“I don’t know if I even want it. I’m not sure I could tolerate it.”
“Okay.” We grew quiet. “What do you think you might want to try?”
“I wonder, do I have to dispute the thoughts? Is there something else I can do with them?”
I laughed. “Of course, you can do whatever you want with them! What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t thinking anything in particular.” She smiled a small smile. “But maybe I do have an idea.”
She explained her budding idea. Instead of disputing the thoughts that weren’t serving her, she would give them a beauty treatment and transform them into something … beautiful.
“Is that a goofy idea?” she wondered.
“It’s a lovely idea! But … how would that work exactly?”
“I have no idea!” she laughed. “I’ll just have to give it a try!”
She did just that. A month later she reported. “It was completely fun,” she announced. “I let go entirely of the idea of disputing thoughts. It stopped being about thoughts. Instead, I’d picture someone I wanted to contact, someone I’ve been too afraid to contact for whatever reasons. I’d simply picture the person surrounded by my products and smiling. That’s it. That was my whole ‘practice.’ I’d just picture the person smiling and, with that image in mind, I’d send that person an email or get in touch some other way. I’ve been reaching out to people I’ve always considered ‘out of my league’ all week. And a few have gotten back to me!”
Your daily mindfulness practice might look like anything under the sun. It might look like a formal cross-legged meditation practice. It might look like a “walking meditation” as you stroll through nature. It might look like you paying daily attention to “redecorating the room that is your mind” (say, by visualizing installing new windows that allow a fresh breeze in). It might look like you keeping an “awareness journal” where you bring your attention and your awareness to a pressing problem. It might look like you spending the briefest of minutes with your self-created incantations, breathing-and-thinking thoughts that you’ve decided you want to think.
Your mindfulness practice might take a minute or an hour. It might be more like you emptying your mind or more like you thinking about things. It might have an active, physical component or be done in complete stillness. It is also the sort of practice that might be a second daily practice, in addition to a primary one like working on your novel or building your online business. Take a moment and give the idea of a daily mindfulness practice some thought. Would such a practice serve you? If so, what might it look like?
In this series, I intend to explain the elements of daily practice, the varieties of daily practice available to you, and what to can deal with the challenges to daily practice that inevitably arise. If you’d like to learn more about the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice and better understand the great power of daily practice, I invite you to get acquainted with The Power of Daily Practice. It is available now.