Mindfulness for Skeptics




You don’t need to locate your third eye or learn Sanskrit to practice mindfulness; you just need to pay very close attention. Sounds crazy, right? I used to think so, too.

By Elizabeth Yuko in collaboration with Drs. Scott Guerin, Chloe Carmichale, Britt Andreatta, and Nina Smiley.

What in the world is mindfulness?

A large part of my initial problem with meditation and mindfulness was that I didn’t understand anything about them: where they came from and how they can benefit both mind and body. The terms “mindfulness” and “meditation” are often used interchangeably, but that’s not quite accurate. As Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a clinical psychologist with expertise in mindfulness, tells me, mindfulness is one of several ways to practice meditation. “It’s like how waltz is a form of dance, but not all dance is about the waltz,” she explains.

Carmichael defines mindfulness as “the process of observing your thoughts in a neutral, nonreactive way.” This aspect of mindfulness took me the longest to grasp. The idea of noticing my thoughts in a nonjudgmental, neutral way seemed counterintuitive. She compares it to pointillism: Up close, a painting looks like a series of unrelated dots, but from a distance, those dots form a clear image.

Another way to look at it? “If mindfulness focuses on something, meditation generally focuses on nothing—trying to quiet the mind down to no thoughts,” says Scott Guerin, PhD, a psychologist and professor at Kean University.

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