Five Myths About Mindfulness Meditation
April 3, 2020
Some of us in law enforcement are skeptical when something new crops up. Our first reaction may be to doubt its usefulness or value. With the unfamiliar and untried, sometimes we need to hear what something is NOT before we can be open to hearing what it actually is. This can be true for the word meditation. It can sort of freak people out. So take a breath and stay with me. My mission is to debunk some common misconceptions surrounding mindfulness meditation.
Myth #1: Meditation will make me too relaxed to be vigilant on the job.
As officers, sometimes we are tense and stressed at work, believing that being hyped up and hypervigilant is the only way to stay sharp enough to do their jobs. In reality, this way of operating is not physically or mentally sustainable. The effects of stress can eventually lessen your ability to concentrate, make good decisions, and regulate your emotions. With meditation, you will not become lax and lose your edge. Instead, you will be able to access more energy, be more focused, and, finally, be able to see (and respond to) what’s important now (WIN).
Myth #2: Meditation requires me to stop thinking, and I’m a Type A personality.
It is the nature of the mind to think, just as the nature of the eyes is to see or the ears is to hear. Even though meditation is known for “clearing the mind,” this does not happen by forcing it. During meditation, it is natural for your mind to wander to thoughts about the past or future. It is not a big deal. You simply notice when this happens and return to the focus of your meditation, often the sensation of your breath. And for you Type As, it just takes a bit more practice.
Myth #3: Meditation requires too much time, and besides, I can relax watching TV.
Most of us can find five minutes each day to meditate. Five minutes is better than no minutes. And meditation is much more than just a way to relax. Think of meditation as the perfect way to reset your nervous system, release stress, and rejuvenate your mind and body. It’s like a mini-nap. If you meditate for a short time every day (okay, almost every day), you will get way more benefits than sitting in front of the TV. Do both if you want! But make meditation the priority. You deserve to live your best life!
Myth #4: Meditation requires me to change my religion.
Though mindfulness meditation techniques have their roots in Eastern religions and philosophies, they are not necessarily part of a religious practice. Regardless of your background or beliefs, you can meditate. Meditation is simply a personal practice. It is about closing your eyes (in a safe place, of course), sitting still, giving your body an opportunity to release stress, doing a bit of brain training, and reconnecting with who you are.
Myth #5: Meditation is just a way to escape your problems.
It would be nice if this myth were true. Escaping all of your problems sounds pretty good, right? But then we would be resisting reality, pushing away what we do not want to face and failing to see what is really going on in this moment. To be safe in your job, you need to be here. Now. That is what mindfulness is. It is all about being present with what is happening while it is happening. Sounds easy, but there is more to it. You are supposed to do this without judging the experience or needing it to be other than it is. In other words, having the capacity to be in it while you are in it. So, yes, this one takes some work. But it is so worth it. Regardless of what is unfolding, it is already there in front of you, so you might as well see it for what it is (no sugarcoating) and get on with getting on.
Now that you know what mindfulness meditation is not, it is fair to ask, “Then what is it?” Mindfulness meditation is basically a collection of techniques which, when practiced over time, can help settle the nervous system and train the brain to be more focused and engaged and less emotionally reactive. It is a great way to develop resilience too! And fortunately for skeptics, there is a boatload of research to back up some pretty incredible benefits for increased physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The benefits run the gamut from reducing stress on the cardiovascular system to reducing depression to decreasing anxiety. All pretty great stuff for officers, particularly when you consider that heart attacks and suicide are the leading killers of your brothers and sisters in blue.
A regular mindfulness meditation practice also works to create a new normal, one in which you more easily adapt to stressful situations without getting so upset; in which you meet challenges with courage, clarity, strength, and grace; in which what you say and do are aligned with your core values; in which your relationships are nourished and nourishing; and in which who you are is not overshadowed by what you do for a living.
So if you meditate, will you still get stressed? Yes, you will still get stressed. But you will recover more quickly and will not sweat the small stuff so much.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors. They do not reflect the views or opinions of the U.S. Department of Justice.