At BB&R, we strongly believe in mindfulness and the benefits it adds to our daily lives. Many of you have attended our conferences and sessions where we have discussed the importance of staying present. Therefore, when we saw the opinion piece in the New York Times entitled, “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment,” it is safe to say we were both confused and intrigued. In our experience, it is often beneficial to hear from individuals who disagree with our practices in order to understand others’ interpretations of it. While we can appreciate the author’s opinions towards mindfulness, we cannot help but respond from our point of view.
The author begins her article by describing herself attempting to mindfully wash dishes. She conveys the difficulty of staying present by listing the multitude of other thoughts she has racing through her mind as she scrapes food from plates. She then goes on to describe mindfulness as “succumbing to domestic autopilot.” Unfortunately, this paints mindfulness in a negative light. Using the term, “succumbing,” when describing the practice of mindfulness is misleading. In fact, staying present is the exact opposite of “succumbing.” It is making the conscience decision to appreciate where you are at that very moment. This is not an easy decision to make on a consistent basis, which is why we PRACTICE mindfulness. In other words, having the ability to stay present does not happen overnight. Just as you go to the gym to build your arm or leg muscles, you must take the time build your mindfulness muscle. Therefore, BB&R does not expect people to be able to appreciate each and every moment right away. There is no “moment shaming for the distractible,” as the New York Times author states. Instead, we encourage everyone to take a bit of time out of their day to be present, even it is only for the first minute that you step out of the shower or for the few moments you have waiting for your evening exercise class to begin. From our perspective, you can start your mindfulness practice anytime, anywhere, and for any period of time.. without judgment.
The next point we want to clarify from the article is that the mindfulness movement believes the “preferred solution to life’s complex and entrenched problems is to instruct the distressed to be more mindful.” It is important to note that BB&R does not push mindfulness as the solution to all of life’s problems. In addition, being mindful is not just for those who are distressed. Will having the ability to stay present when you encounter difficulties in life be helpful? Absolutely. This is why BB&R encourages everyone to take small steps to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives, whether it is a stressful time or not. This way, you will have the ability to deal with life’s difficulties in a more present and effective manner when you do encounter them.
BB&R does not believe that mindfulness is THE solution to happiness. However, the article argues, “it is, of course, easier and cheaper to blame individuals for thinking the wrong thoughts than it is to tackle the thorny causes of (their) happiness. So we give inner-city schoolchildren mindfulness classes rather than engage with education inequality.” BB&R certainly believes in bettering the education of all children. However, including mindfulness in that betterment does not mean taking away from a fight towards improved schooling. It should not be either or. Instead, inner city children should be equipped with mindfulness as a way to deal with obstacles in a healthy manner. Inner city classrooms are full of constant distractions, whether it be hardships at home or poor classroom conditions. Giving students a tool to focus on themselves and step away from those distractions is a step towards allowing them to improve focus and advance their education. Therefore, mindfulness is not a replacement for addressing education inequality, but rather a way for students to better themselves, both in and out of the classroom.
While we could continue to describe our thoughts on the New York Times opinion piece, what we simply want to clarify is how BB&R views mindfulness. It is easy to become confused by society’s interpretation of the subject and this article is a perfect example of that. The article describes mindfulness as “a defense against the pressures of modern life.” At BB&R, we hope that mindfulness can be used to alleviate against that type of pressure, but even more, we hope that mindfulness becomes a way of life through consistent practice. To us, mindfulness means compassion for yourself, for your experiences, and for those around you. What we are trying to say is… “Actually, let’s stay in the moment.”