Do you know that even as you sit down to meditate, your mindfuness practice is already under attack? Not from the noises outside, or the engagements you have planned for the rest of the day. But by your own views and biases lying deep within your mind ?

When we sit down to meditate, we bring with us all our views about what mindfulness practice is. These views are often unconscious, hiding away in the darkest corners of our mind – reluctant to come into the light and be transformed. And from this hidden location, they quietly but consistently influence the way we see what is happening in meditation. And what we see in our life.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Carl Jung

I see this very clearly when I teach introductory mindfulness groups. People come with all sorts of ideas about what mindfulness is, and what mindfulness practice is. These views are not only often unhelpful, but the people are often aware that they even hold them.

Much of the first week of my course is spent just trying to get these views out into the open, and gently countering them if they have the potential to work against the process of being mindful. The interesting thing is that when we revisit this on the second week of the course, most people have reverted to their original thinking – even though they might have quite clearly recognised that it was unhelpful the week before.

And this seems to be the nature of many of us as humans. We find it difficult to change what we believe to be true, even in the face of direct evidence sometimes.

“While we like to imagine that our beliefs are rational, logical, and objective, the fact is that our ideas are often based on paying attention to the information that upholds our ideas. At the same time, we tend to ignore the information that challenges our existing beliefs.”

– Kendra Cherry (Author of the Everything Psychology Book)

That is not to say that trying to change our views can’t and shouldn’t be done. Another thing about being human is that we do have the potential to change such limiting beliefs. We just need to know how to do it. There are so many views that we hold that it could be a lifetimes work to uncover and change them all.

This article is going to look at just three of those views. These are the three views that I most often encounter in beginners of mindfulness practice. And that I see as particularly influential in those early stages.

You may or may not hold these views yourself.

The emphasis here is really on you looking to your own experience to see if you do (or do not). And to encourage you to look deeper within yourself to see what other beliefs you might hold that inform your mindfulness practice.

Because we often have blindspots in our self awareness. We can believe that we have already mastered or overcome what is being said to us. But is that really true?

As a teacher of mine once said, “Self-delusion is the biggest hindrance on the spiritual path”. So let’s get started….

1: The belief that our thoughts should slow down or stop

One of the most common views of mindfulness practice is that the mind should be clear, and completely without any intrusive thoughts. This romantic belief assumes that we sit, we will suddenly become unbothered by any troubles that may be present in our life – and enter some kind of thought-free blissful existence fo as long as we remain there!

(Don’t believe me? You just need to Google “Clear your mind mindfulness” to see how prevalent this view is – though I am not suggesting that’s a productive thing to do!)

The idea of a clear mind is often reinforced by the various pictures or memes of monks serenely meditating on some idyllic mountain spot, seemingly untainted by the troubles of the world.

And whilst it is true that such states can be attained through meditative practice, they are not the aim. And if our tendency is to think in this way, a certain re-evaluation is possibly needed.

As most meditators know, thoughts simply appear. We have no idea what thought is going to turn up, or where its story is going to lead us. The best we can do is to be aware of the arising of those thoughts, and not get taken in by their stories – instead staying with the present moment sensations that are arising within us.

Put it simply as ” clearing thoughts is not possible – it would be like stopping your heart or lungs.”

Artie Wu – Meditation Teacher and Founder at PresideLife.com

Believing that the mind should be clear and without thought is only going to lead us into a sense that we are failing as they continue to appear. We may reprimand ourself for not succeeding in taming its unruliness.

And like a naughty schoolchild, we will most likely feel like we really should try harder next time, and pay more attention! In Buddhism the mind is seen as a sense, just like the other 5 senses.

So just as seeing hearing, feeling/touching, smelling and tasting are all constantly happening and available – so too is the. mind.

Because of this, it might be more helpful to think of the mind as being like a radio playing – constantly on – in the corner of the room. The radio will continue to play as we practice mindfulness. But rather than our trying to get rid of that ‘noise’, we simply accept it.

And instead turn our attentions to whatever it is we are trying to cultivate awareness of – be that a sound, an image, a sensation, or other sense object So instead of wanting to switch our thoughts off, we have simply changed our relationship to them.

They are no longer an enemy to be an annihilated, but a friend sitting across the room, occasionally wanting our attention.

“One of the more humbling aspects of meditation is the recognition that we can’t really control our thoughts. They tend to come and go rather randomly. If we try to get rid of our thoughts, essentially trying to do the impossible, we place ourselves in a contentious and aversive relationship to our minds. We are being unkind to ourselves.”

Bill Scheinman – Meditation Teacher at StressReductionAtWork.com

2: The belief that we shouldn’t ‘drift off’ in meditation

Closely connected to the idea that the mind should be clear is the idea that we shouldn’t drift off. In other words, we believe that if we decide to stay focused, for example, on the breath, we shoud be able to stay one-pointedly focused on the breath with relative ease. And the inability to then do this is the cause of untold stress and frustration for meditators everywhere throughout the world!

To get some kind of understanding of this, let’s go back to the analogy of the radio playing in the corner of the room.

Chances are if you’re in the same room with that radio, there will be points during your day when you get interested in what the presenter has to say. Or maybe a favourite song of yours comes on. And you begin to him along!

Many people have the expectation that they should be able to stay present in meditation and not drift off into thought. And they then give themselves a really hard time about it when they find they do drift off.

To get some kind of understanding of this, let’s go back to the analogy of the radio playing in the corner of the room.

Chances are if you’re in the same room with that radio, there will be points during your day when you get interested in what the presenter has to say. Or maybe a favourite song of yours comes on. And you begin to him along!

Many people have the expectation that they should be able to stay present in meditation and not drift off into thought. And they then give themselves a really hard time about it when they find they do drift off.

It is not uncommon to find in a room of beginners – (despite instructions to the contrary) – one person who readily admits to not being able to stay with the practice without drifting off. And who openly expresses the belief that everyone else is doing just that.

My usual approach to this has been to ask people to congratulate themselves when they drift off. To give them a metaphorical pat on the back: “Well done Jeff, you did it, you caught yourself drifting and brought yourself back!” Whilst this does work, it requires persistence.

And your teacher, will hopefully reinforce the need to be kind and empathetic to yourself over and over again. Whilst at the same time encouraging you not to let yourself of the hook. This can unfamiliar territory for most of us at first. But it can also be key to really making headway with mindfulness practice.

This belief that you should not drift off seems to be a particularly ‘sticky’ belief, and one it takes a while to get under the skin of. But just think what happens when you do….

Instead of berating ourself for getting involved in whatever the presenter is saying, we just accept that it is going to happen from time to time? And when we notice we have been taken away into thinking, all we do is to gently and without fuss – bring ourselves back into an awareness of the senses?

As disused by, Dan Harris and Sam Harris – two bestselling authors and long-time meditators – each time you bring the attention back, you are doing meditation. And with practice, your mind will clear. But this will almost be a symptom of the meditation, not the goal.

3: The belief that Mindfulness Practice shouldn’t be painful

Going back to the pictures of monks serenely meditating on some idyllic mountain spot, not only do we imagine mindfulness practice to involve a clear mind – we also imagine it to be free from pain. Again, we imagine that no sooner do we close our eyes that our experience is suddenly transformed and that we somehow bannish all those difficult emotions we don’t like to experience!

Going back to the pictures of monks serenely meditating on some idyllic mountain spot, not only do we imagine mindfulness practice to involve a clear mind – we also imagine it to be free from pain. But if I were to sum up what mindfulness practice actually is, I might say that it is simply being with whatever is happening (and not caught up in the stories weaved by thought).

But what is happening can often be painful. Maybe we’ve’ve argued with our partner. Are feeling pressure from work. Have financial problems. Are feeling under the weather. Or maybe we just woke up in a bad mood. Do you really think that is going to go away when you sit down and close your eyes?

For many people, mindfulness practice is a search for the end of this painful experience. And it is possible to use it like this. Because if you really concentrate, really focus on something – like the breath – you can get those problems to go away…. For a while, anyway.

I know this from my own personal experience. Life was painful and meditation was a route to escape that pain. And to a large degree it worked. But there is a glass ceiling on that approach. Because if you turn away from all darkness within (forgive me if I start to sound a little like Yoda right now) – it will return to face you someday.

Ultimately mindfulness practice is about turning towards and accepting. Yes some sensations are painful and are difficult to stay with. But that IS what is happening. Sure it would be easier to hone down on the breath and ignore them. But in the long run that is not going to do us any good.

We need to offer a gentle welcome to whatever surfaces. This is why I use the phrase “Investigate with kindness.” Without this heart energy, investigation cannot penetrate; there is not enough safety and openness for real contact.

Tara Brach – Ph.D, psychologist, author and teacher

When I was young (and even when I was not so young!) I used to be frightened of bees. If one was to come into the house I’d have a major breakdown, running round opening and shutting doors and windows, and calling for help.

(My children now do the same!)

But now I just let the bees come and leave them be. I am not 100% comfortable. But I’m okay with it. And interestingly I’ve never since been stung.

All the commotion I used to manufacture when a bee entered the house is like the commotion that is added on to the painful sensation we feel. Yet when we really turn towards the sensation, instead of running from it, is it really as painful as we imagine it to be?

If we can learn to accept the pleasant, and accept the painful, what then can stand in our way? We can come to know ourselves in our entirety. Become fully integrated and whole.

How would it be for you if you turned towards your difficult emotions? `The ones that you do not want to admit to or feel? How would it be if you began to see mindfulness practice as a total acceptance rather than partial acceptance? What effect would that have on your life?

Please let me know how you get on with this. Are you aware of other unhelpful views that you have come across in your meditation? Please let me know in the comments section below.