It's pretty hard to find something to dislike about meditation, or, as it's often sold these days, "mindfulness." Studies show that deep focus can reduce stress, improve health, even raise profits. But just because everyone agrees meditation is great doesn't mean everyone is thrilled with meditation boosters.
"I am being stalked by meditation evangelists," complained Wharton professor Adam Grant in The New York Times a few months ago. "I admit that I don't meditate, and they are incredulous. It's as if I've just announced that the earth is flat. 'How could you not meditate?!'"
While the idea of mindfulness is ancient and beneficial, the meditation industry is a relatively new--and often annoying--invention. But if, like Grant, the trendiness of meditation and the persistence of its advocates have put you off, there's something you should know: mindfulness is actually way simpler than many of those selling books, classes, and even apps would have you believe. In fact, chances are good that you're already engaging in some form of it already.
You're probably practicing mindfulness without even realizing it.
"Many people...confuse mindfulness with meditation," explained Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer on Harvard Business Review recently. "Meditation is a tool to achieve mindfulness, but it requires a practice that some people find difficult. Mindfulness, as my colleagues and I study it, does not depend on meditation: It is the very simple process of noticing new things, which puts us in the present and makes us more sensitive to context and perspective. It is the essence of engagement."
"This process of noticing comes naturally when we're exposed to something we think is new," she adds. In fact, when you're faced with exciting and fresh experiences--say a trip to Paris--you'll naturally slip into a state of mindfulness. We're less likely to approach boring or day-to-day tasks this way, but it's not particularly hard to choose to do so. And if you do, you'll experience a range of benefits, including increased creativity and productivity, as well as boosting your mental and physical health.
No app, class, or coloring book required.
Writing in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper recently, Oliver Burkeman argues much the same thing. The meditation industry makes reaping the benefits of mindfulness seem more difficult than it really is, he claims.
"I have a personal theory that almost everyone secretly meditates, whether they realize it or not," Burkeman says. "Scratch the surface and you'll find that almost everyone pursues some activity demanding absolute presence of mind: if not mountain climbing or sailing or bike racing (where a lapse of attention might mean death), then photography or singing or recreational cookery (where a lapse of attention means you'll screw things up). Train spotting and caring for a newborn arguably occupy different ends of the scale of worthwhile pursuits--but they're both incompatible with getting totally lost in thoughts of the past or future. Deep down, we know that we need this kind of present-moment focus, so we find ways to make it happen."
The "approximately three gazillion" meditation books (not to mention courses, apps, and coloring books) that will be published this year are surplus to needs, he feels. The bottom line: Mindfulness is "so much a crucial foundation of a fulfilling life--that you shouldn't relegate it to the status of a minor hobby, something to be done with your downtime. And...you might already be doing it."
Both pieces are a healthy reminder to those who feel badgered by mindfulness fanatics. Don't let the hoopla surrounding a basic component of human flourishing put you off figuring out what gets you into a deep state of focus. Nor should you feel the need to buy accessories for something you can simply choose to do in any way that makes sense to you in your day-to-day life.
Do you find the boosters of mindfulness as irritating as Burkeman and Grant do?