There Are No Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 5 Requirements for Successful Practice

April 2, 2014 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

 

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
~Beverly Sills

Slow and Steady Given the pace of the 21st Century world in which we live, too often, when people experience challenges in life, they seek a quick fix. Yet, rarely, if ever, do quick fixes actually resolve our problems. At best, they keep us stuck; sometimes they create more problems for us. In the end, Aesop’s fable usually holds true in this regard: “Slow but steady wins the race.”

Mindfulness practice is similar to exercise and nutrition in the sense that each necessitate that we make ongoing lifestyle changes to truly benefit from them; none of them work if done only temporarily; none of them are quick fixes. For example, to date, there haven’t been any “fad” diets that have been successful over the long term. Moreover, science has not arrived at any medication that provides as much preventive or restorative benefits as exercise, nutrition for the most common diseases humans endure, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes—not to mention that disease care interventions, as opposed to health care approaches, often come along with unwanted side effects. Likewise, mindfulness practice offers a way for people to take an active role in reducing their physical and emotional suffering, improving their well-being. For those benefits to manifest, however, mindfulness requires patience and persistence, and, ultimately, cultivating a new way of being.

If you would like to have a positive impact on your well-being by developing mindfulness practice, here are five suggestions to help you be successful:

1. Actively Practice
Reading about mindfulness is not sufficient, if you want to experience the benefits; practice is necessary. The intellectual context and instructions that books offer may enrich your understanding of mindfulness, yet it is the actual engagement in the practice that ultimately is essential to derive the greatest value. Mindfulness is an active, not passive process. And, developing a mindfulness practice on your own can be difficult. Instead of learning the practice in isolation, you may want to begin by taking a class, or finding a mindfulness sitting group in your area so that you receive support of others who share similar intentions.

2. Practice on a Regular Basis
Consistency of your practice is essential, and, perhaps, more important than how long you practice during each session. For example, you may find it more impactful to practice 20 minutes each day than to practice 45 minutes once each week. Establishing a regular habit of practicing mindfulness is what works best over the long term, while sporadic practice is hard to maintain and rarely gives rise to the potentials that the practice offers.

3. Beware of Ambition
If you become preoccupied about “seeing” results from your practice, you are likely to become discouraged in your efforts. The benefits of mindfulness develop slowly, and often subtly; you may not even notice the changes taking place along the way. Consequently, focusing on potential outcome(s) can sabotage the integrity of your practice. Therefore, it helps to suspend expectations of the practice you might be holding onto.

4. Keep Practicing Mindfulness in a Formal Manner
The ability to extend mindful awareness into the midst of your daily life, while you are working, driving, eating, communicating, recreating, engaged in routine activities, etc., is a valuable skill which is often referred to as “informal mindfulness.” And, this is one of the potential outcomes of practicing mindfulness on a regular basis. However, if you stop practicing mindfulness in a formal manner—in an environment where you minimize distractions for a certain period of time so that you can be with your experience—your informal mindfulness will likely wane.

5. Maintain Your Commitment
Keep on practicing. If your practice falters, find a way to renew it. Sometimes this is difficult to do on your own; seek support if necessary. Finding a mindfulness sitting group where you can practice with others on a regular basis, or attending a retreat for more in-depth practice can be ways to sustain your personal practice.

Mindfulness is a life-time journey, not a sprint. Nevertheless, the ongoing effort that it requires is well worth your commitment! As Beverly Sills pointed out, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

“Life is too precious, too important, too short for quick fixes that in the end fix nothing and from which we learn nothing except that we have wasted our time trying to find happiness in short cuts. The only way to real fulfilment is to look inside see what is there, then look outside and see what difference we can make with what we have to offer – whether we knew we had it in us, or whether it was something we grew within us over the coldest, most seemingly dormant, or darkest times, in order to reap the richest harvest of all.”
~ Jacquelene Close Moore

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Julie Forbes, Ph.D. photo
Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

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