Episode 20 – Series: Is Mindfulness Bad? Part 1: Awkward Pauses.

Hello Friends,

In this episode of the Becoming Mindful Podcast, Jackie and Maria are starting a new series answering the question: Is mindfulness bad?

In this first part of the series, we discuss awkwardness and impact of mindfulness on social interactions.

After Listening, please let us know if this spoke to you. Let us know if you have experienced the impact of mindfulness in your interactions. How did that play out? Reach out to us with any follow-up questions this talk has brought up.

We hope you will join us again next episode. Until then,

Be well friends!


E20 – Awkward Pauses: Is Mindfulness Bad Pt 1

Maria: hello and welcome to the Becoming Mindful podcast. Today we want to start a new series and the series is going to be Cases Against Mindfulness.

Maria: I am Maria

Jackie: and I am Jackie and we are Becoming Mindful.

Maria: All right, let’s kick off this new series. In the first part of the series, we want to talk about a case against mindfulness around social interactions and awkwardness, and we’ll talk later about what future parts of the series will entail.

Jackie: Yeah, we really want to dive into, why aren’t we all living mindfully all the time if that’s the ideal state to be in. There’s just so many forces working against us or obstacles we’ve had to overcome and we just thought it’d be interesting to dive into what those are and talk about them and how they came to be and maybe how to mitigate them.

Maria: Yeah, so this idea really sprang up when we saw this question posted on the internet is mindfulness or being mindful in interactions awkward? And, is this a case against mindfulness and being mindful? And then we came up with some other ideas too, where there could be maybe some concerns or some counter arguments against mindfulness in our current society.

Maria: So we wanted to start with the social interaction. Let’s first talk about how it can be argued that is a case against mindfulness in social interaction. What does that even entail?

Jackie: I think, first and foremost, it’s just not the norm. It’s it’s not the typical expected social interaction.

Jackie: Especially when we look at our typical interactions of the day, where we’re speaking to people or interacting with people almost in passing or and with limited time. I just think it can be difficult to be present in those moments because just at the nature of how our lives go, to stop and try to be mindful not only is difficult, but I think would probably be pretty unexpected to most of the world, and as we’re saying here it might be awkward.

Maria: Yeah. I think the awkwardness and people might argue that it would be slow and boring to listen to someone. Thinking about a lot of mindfulness speakers, the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh, or thinking especially about Eckhart Tolle, it seems very slow because, the words are more thought about. It’s not much of a flow, you have a lot of awkward pauses, and people might even seem a little bit just weird, or maybe even disinterested.

Maria: They’re too calm. You’re not really reacting to the story or some strong emotions. Someone might seem a little bit aloof.

Jackie: Why do you think that is? Why do you think we expect language especially to have a certain cadence? I think naturally when we talk to people, we meet them where they’re at and we find a rhythm together.

Jackie: And maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s just jarring when you’re at a certain pace, and then someone just pulls it back and slows it down and grounds you in the actual conversation.

Maria: Yeah, maybe it feels like a mismatch of energy. So if someone is, talking to you about something exciting, or something frustrating, and they’re talking in the normal pace or emotionality, and then someone comes and is quiet and grounded and listens more. It might feel that they’re not participating or really interacting actively. They’re not matching your energy, right? Because when they’re trying to be mindful they’re not trying to be reactive or judgmental.

Maria: So you don’t have that quick response, right? Yeah. It might feel like some sort of toxic positivity or maybe seem like you’re not engaged.

Jackie: I think that’s frustrating. Just because someone isn’t quick to respond. I think I like a little time to think and absorb things as I’m talking and it’s almost hard to get a word in because there aren’t those pauses ever. I think we naturally, especially in group dynamics, try to fill those in and like you said maybe having those pauses and creating that space can be perceived in social situations as not being engaged or not participating. But I think, you can be more engaged when you take the time to really absorb what’s going on and consider the whole conversation versus the quick responses and just moving it along. You can get deeper into ideas and into conversation when it slows down.

Maria: Yeah. No, I absolutely agree. I think there is at least in the Western world a certain social norm around how to react to things. And I think you can also see that often in how people respond to people that are neurodivergent where they are not reacting in the way that is socially scripted.

Maria: And I think when you’re mindful, you often lose a lot of those things purposely. You strip them away as they are not really meaningful or they’re just a filler. And people might feel off put by that. They’re expecting a certain response. If you’re thinking about small talk and how just some interactions are more of a script then an actual deep into action. And I feel once we were mindful, we were trying to really be with that person and really interact with that person and see that person. And that just feels uncomfortable. Maybe it’s viewed as you’re a little bit slow. You’re not witty and can immediately counter back or pick up on it.

Maria: Yes, as you said, feeling like you’re not interacting actively in the conversation, whereas in reality, you’re listening and taking it in and not getting swept away by your own emotions or your own thoughts of what you want to answer or what you want to say next versus listening. And I think that is something that is just not expected.

Maria: People when they’re not practicing mindfulness, because I think that’s also a big part of mindfulness, they’re not used to being uncomfortable and not used to situations that are unexpected or certain changes in ways of how we interact with each other. And that is very uncomfortable.

Maria: And if you’re not used to being uncomfortable or not willing to being uncomfortable, then you might just think, okay, this person is not someone I want to interact with, or they’re just weird. Or the other way. So you can say someone is slow. Someone is disengaged. Or you could have another opinion of ” okay. So they’re sitting back and they’re not reacting so they must in some way feel that they’re superior to me, right? Because it might bring up some insecurities that you have about yourself. Let’s say you say something and the other person’s not immediately ” oh yeah, great” and whatever, you might feel like, “okay, did I say something wrong? Why are they taking so long to answer? Why are they not excited as I am or upset as I am? They don’t understand me. They’re not validating what I’m feeling with their reaction.”

Maria: And is that really a case against mindfulness is the question. You could also argue, okay, if someone is really mindful, they should also be mindful of those expectations.

Jackie: Yeah. I think what you’re saying though is like when someone’s mindfully listening they’re creating space for you to reflect and have contemplation. And if you’re not ready for that and you didn’t want that, it’s a tough place to be in. You can tell, when you are making someone you’re talking to uncomfortable, and it can be difficult. There’s that social pressure to fill in those spaces and to say something as soon as you start to see them get uncomfortable. Or you’re getting uncomfortable, trying to chime in and fill in those spaces.

Jackie: But you can be mindfully listening and still showing that you’re listening, nodding and nonverbal communication, but you have to be okay with that discomfort that can come with making that space and allowing things to sit and settle and percolate and other ideas to bubble up.

Jackie: I think it’s a little scary in a conversation because you don’t know where it’s going to go. And it’s vulnerable.

Maria: Yeah, exactly. And when you have that space to feel yourself and your thoughts and give that space to the other person. As you said, if they are not familiar or ready for that, it is on one hand, something that is uncomfortable and people will try to Distract themselves from that. And there is also the expectation, that the partner talking to will also distract from that. Comfort someone immediately when you see that they’re uncomfortable with your answer.

Maria: Feeling that vulnerability that comes up when you are not treated or the reaction is not what you expected is very upsetting.

Jackie: Yeah. Just think about how thrown off you are if the typical greeting, Hey, how are you doing? Everyone’s response is always, I’m good. How are you? And regardless of how you’re doing but there’s a really great opportunity to invoke some of that to both share yourself and see, what this moment is actually bringing up as well as creating a space for someone else.

Jackie: We have that greeting all the time. And it’s just so automatic. You just respond.

Maria: Yeah. And it’s interesting as I said before, when you look at neurodivergent, people often actually have issues with exactly that scripted nature of the normal interactions. And I remember that too, when I first came here from Germany, because that’s not a very common thing to do in Germany. Asking, how are you? And then not wanting to really know, how are you? You just usually just say hello and then you say hello back. So that question would normally provoke a genuine response.

Maria: But in other cultures like here in the US, it is more of a scripted response is required and anything else throws off the asker, right?

Maria: And that is really also a cultural thing. I think that mindfulness can also be something that goes against certain cultural norms. How we are supposed to interact with other people. Thinking of directness. We have lots of cultures where you don’t directly talk about what you’re thinking there’s some sort of way around it, some kind of passive, I wouldn’t say passive aggressiveness, but some sort of other way to talk around it, right? There’s so many things in different cultures where you don’t just say exactly what you mean and even if you say it in a kind way, it might be very off putting. A faux pas.

Jackie: I think that’s common in a lot of places. Everyone has their way of saying while not saying what they really mean . Because I think there’s cultural norms and there’s things that people are comfortable talking about, but then that other stuff, the real stuff, it has to be said, it has to come out, it’s got to be part of the culture. And you see it leak through in these more underhanded language kind of ways, or like in the arts. You’ll see it expressed in music or comedy. Think about like standup comedy and the way that they get to say the things that no one wants to say because they’re putting it in a joke.

Jackie: And so it’s cool because I see our culture doesn’t really support mindful conversation, but it still squeaks out in all these little places in our culture and still is finding ways to get through.

Maria: Yeah, there’s this little sneaky ways of still getting it in. Still following the rules, but I’m still able to do that. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, absolutely.

Maria: And, there’s one coin of how it’s uncomfortable for the person listening or interacting with someone who is more mindful in their conversation. But I think there’s also the other way of when you’re starting to want to be more mindful that there is also this resistance against yourself being more mindful in conversation. There’s a lot of fear of judgment.

Maria: And I think another good point is when you start mindfulness everything is about awareness, right? You put so much work into being more aware of your surroundings, of what other people say, of your own feelings, how your body feels, your own thoughts, being more aware of everything. And that can also increase your social anxiety because you are more aware and now you’re suddenly seeing these things. And then you may be more anxious about how that is perceived. Versus when you don’t pay attention, you can just brush it off like it didn’t happen.

Jackie: I think that’s hard when you start working in mindfulness practices. In the beginning, there’s this super uncomfortable point where you suddenly start to become aware of more and more, like you said your own thoughts or what’s really going on when you start to create that space. You’re starting to see things in a new light.

Jackie: Right in the beginning, I think it’s super uncomfortable because we realize that maybe things are different than we were hoping they were or they’re just surprising and uncomfortable. I think the more we do mindfulness practices, the more we make peace with those things. That’s why we’re constantly in mindfulness practices, looking at our thoughts without judgment and then kindly letting them go and then gently coming back to the breath. And we’re practicing that over and over of having compassion for ourselves. And so that when we start to become aware of these things, we can see them like we do in our meditation practice, we can see them and accept them without judgment and then let them go and come back to the present moment. The more and more that you practice mindfulness, the better you’re going to get at that process. And I noticed that when I fall off of my practices and I haven’t done them in a while, I start to lose that skill almost.

Jackie: It’s not something that you can just attain. It’s not just a goal you can grab on to and “okay, hey, I’m done now. I’m done meditating.” We have to keep doing it, but that’s exactly why for when we go out into the world and we can look at the world honestly, but with compassion, right?

Jackie: And stay here in the present moment instead of trying to flee it when that discomfort comes up.

Maria: Yeah, it’s definitely a process. It’s a never ending process and that’s okay. And that’s exactly the reason why it is really hard. And, I’m looking at it also from a self- awareness, judgment, perspective of when you start being more mindful a lot of stuff like that will come up where you feel self conscious. Especially if you’re just starting and you’re not going to be mindful in all interactions. That’s just not something that can happen.

Maria: It takes a long time. And then, staying in that place When you’re not mindful or getting this feeling of, “oh, I’ve slipped up and I’m not good enough at mindfulness and I’m just like this half mindful person and it’s just not working .”

Maria: And you get into those cycles that again is a practice, being nonjudgmental about yourself and seeing that all of that is just part of the process.

Jackie: I like the analogy of it’s like a muscle, you have to keep working it out, or you can atrophy.

Maria: Yeah. And sometimes it just feels hard. I just want to do my normal routine that I’ve learned all my life, not work on it, not even have to think of it. It’s like the whole distraction that we’ve talked about before, the same with interactions.

Maria: Sometimes it’s just hard. If you feel like you just don’t want to.

Maria: But I think that’s also a misconception sometimes. Doesn’t really have to be hard.

Jackie: I think if it’s hard, you can pull back a little bit and relax into being present, being content, being aware, being open. There’s a lot of things attached to it, I think that are pretty heavy, and just finding that presence, being grounded can be really light. I don’t know, like it’s hard, but it’s not. It’s so simple, but it’s not easy.

Maria: Yeah. I think sometimes people might also have this feeling of, as I said before, with the pace of the Western society, where we want to talk quick, respond quickly, have this active interaction back and forth, where when you slow it down, People might feel that it’s not very productive.

Maria: It feels like you’re not on the flow, the pace is just off, it’s not productive. You could have gotten so much more discussion in that same time frame and there’s these pauses where we don’t say anything. Not to mention that people are also uncomfortable with just being quiet with someone else.

Maria: Really, the interesting part about it is that it’s not necessarily less productive if you say less, because mindful is also saying things with less words, and sometimes you don’t need to say something.

Maria: And that’s a very poignant thing that I always hear or read about or also experience with my child. When my child is upset or comes to me with something where they’re very emotional. You don’t necessarily have to talk to them. You can be with them without words. And often our first instinct is to comfort them, talk and validate their feelings and discuss why things happen and why not.

Maria: And but sometimes that’s not even necessary. You can just be with them. And sometimes mindfulness means that you can use your nonverbal language versus your words.

Jackie: Absolutely. Yeah. Just need to know that you’re there.

Maria: technology and multitasking is also one of those things that seem to go a different direction than what mindfulness is doing.

Maria: Everything being more fast paced or switching things, switching tasks, doing more.

Jackie: I totally agree. And also it’s got another side to it though, where technology and the connectedness of everything is helping us to become more mindful in some ways. Just in the way that we can connect with the rest of the world and expand our empathy bubble and our ideas of what’s normal and what is possible.

Jackie: Just in the last couple of decades got connected to the entire world at our fingertips and it’s amazing. It’s going in a lot of directions like you said. We have everything in our fingertips, so it’s very demanding. There’s games and things to do and you can do your work all the time and you’re always connected to everything all the time.

Jackie: But you’re also connected to everything all the time and the Internet is so young. So I think we’re in this really cool pivotal time, but I think it’s very difficult because I think these opposing ideas are still working themselves out.

Jackie: In one direction, you can find greater compassion and empathy for the world and meet people and read stories. And on this other hand, we can dive deeper into escaping mindfulness: working all the time being distracted all the time, consuming tons of media that’s not necessarily, representative of reality and diverging from mindfulness.

Jackie: Choose your path, I guess.

Maria: yeah. I have to agree that the ability to be connected and see other people’s lives with social media, for example, helps us being more mindful because it exposes us to other people’s lives and their thoughts. And I think that’s important because one of the biggest combatants of biases, and all the isms, like racism and ableism and sexism, all those things.

Maria: One of the biggest ways to combat that and to be able to have empathy. People that are different with you is exposure, being able to see their lives, see them as human beings with similar problems, similar dreams and hopes. And that is one of the biggest ways how social media really helps empathy and mindfulness. You have the connection, you have that exposure, you have the way to see other people.

Maria: But on the other hand, looking at things like algorithms and how they act as creating – again – a barrier, a bubble that keeps you in kind of a same group, right? It’s a slice of humanity that you only see.

Maria: Now, obviously it is nice and it is also good to interact with people that are like minded. Let’s look at us. We have a similar interests in mindfulness and other areas. And it also helps us to have more deeper conversations about it, dive deeper into certain topics. So there is definitely something to be said there. Especially when you have a group that is like minded, you can also accomplish way more because you can put your energy and your strengths together, right? To really propel something ahead.

Maria: But it also builds up a wall to outside opinions and outside lives. Which is then again, a way how it reduces empathy to people that are different.

Maria: That’s why mindfulness is definitely required when using social media. As many people said, social media, the internet, technology techniques are tools. And tools do not themselves inherently are mindful or not mindful, just as they’re not bad or good. It’s a tool.

Jackie: 100%. I think going back to the original point of some of that awkwardness that we feel, as communication moves more online, there’s a bit of an opportunity there for more mindfulness without a lot of the same awkwardness. On social media or something, you have more air, more time to respond, more control over your message. You have the opportunity to bring in that mindfulness without the demands of live conversation or someone right in front of you. Maybe as we move online, we can be more mindful. I know that’s not what the Internet’s reputation is for mindful conversation. But as you said, it’s a tool.

Jackie: You can use it for thoughtful content, putting out into the world really almost a curated set of your ideas of what you want more of in the world. Or we can use it in the same way that can be damaging in real life, being very reactionary and divisive. But like you said, it’s a tool. It can bring people together or it can separate us.

Maria: Yeah. And just as you were saying that it can help reduce the social anxiety and be able to give some more space. Even if we talk about texting instead of talking to someone face to face how that can sometimes be helpful.

Maria: But I think it can also be detrimental because it also robs us of the opportunity to be in that uncomfortable space and learning to sit with it and then really be mindful around face to face conversations, especially with people that are not necessarily like minded. If you’re thinking about like your neighbor, yeah, that might be a completely different person to you that is just physically in the same neighborhood.

Maria: And that’s very challenging. On one hand that can also be danger of escapism into a world where you don’t have to deal with that. You don’t have to deal with a person that might have different opinions and how to still be mindful in a face to face conversation and still be mindful with people that are not finding you because they have similar interests on the internet, for example.

Jackie: Right. I think you highlighted a good point there in that the internet has the ability to dehumanize the person that you’re talking to. And maybe that’s the challenge as we go forward to remind people that there’s a person on the other side and I think that’s what we’re talking about in real life conversation as well. It’s a real person in front of you and breaking out of those habitual conversations and habitual responses and really getting to The reality, the real person that’s in front of you, the present.

Maria: I think if you’re able to bring mindfulness into a conversation, even so it might feel awkward at first, you’re deeply listening, You were able to increase your empathy. By humanizing that other person more. And if you’re not as reactive, you get less misunderstanding.

Maria: And it gives you an opportunity to practice. It’s a practice that you can be with uncomfortable situations.

Maria: And deep down, people want to be seen. They want to be heard fully. So I think after the first uncomfortableness because it’s different from what they’re used to, I think it gives the opportunity to really be seen by another person, to really make this deeper connection because the other person is listening to you.

Maria: And also start feeling some more belonging. If you have a deeper connection with other people, you also feel like you belong somewhere and you’re not isolated.

Jackie: Yeah, you can’t do that when you don’t get to that next level, when you don’t go a little deeper.

Maria: Agreed.

Maria: Yeah. Interesting topic. I would like to know from anyone listening to this or watching this, how you feel mindful interactions might be awkward or maybe you have examples and maybe also examples of how it felt like a deeper connection or a more meaningful interaction. Yeah. It would be nice to hear some examples or some stories from listeners. Sure.

Jackie: I think we miss a big chunk here in this conversation because you and I are both married and we have been for a long time. But I think about when you’re talking about text messages, how dating happens now online, and so maybe our listeners who have used dating apps could let us know, does that form of conversation versus, talking at a bar or something do you find that you can be more mindful and get into deeper conversations? Or is it harder to humanize the other side. So I’m curious from a dating standpoint.

Maria: Yeah. And also just in general, mindful conversation within the realm of dating or starting to date. That’s definitely very interesting.

Maria: Yeah. I think that starts off our series.

Jackie: We’ll dive more into just some of the ways that there’s been resistance to mindfulness whether it’s the systems of our society or it’s our own individual resistances we’re just going to go through that and talk through them.

Maria: Yeah. Maybe we can talk about what they are, because I would like to see if maybe some of the listeners have some additional topics that come up in their mind when they hear the list of the topics we want to bring up in the future episodes of the series, and then we could maybe include or add on as well.

Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Maria: So far, we have come up with a few and we grouped some of them together because we think they fit together as a topic within one episode. I think one of them which we also mentioned a little bit today is the whole topic of productivity and capitalism, how mindfulness fits within that and how those systems or those thoughts oppose mindfulness, how that can be a case against mindfulness.

Jackie: And are they mutually exclusive? Can we be mindful in a capitalistic society?

Jackie: The next one that we want to talk about is more things like spiritual bypassing and cultural appropriation, toxic positivity. So getting stuck on the flashiness of mindfulness or maybe some of the artifacts of it or something without the real work, the shadow work.

Maria: Yeah. Also thinking about like this whole new age spirituality that’s coming up now and how that interacts with mindfulness and maybe actually opposes mindfulness in a lot of ways.

Maria: Another topic is maybe a little bit more of a political one: the fear of wokeness.

Jackie: I can’t believe it’s a political topic.

Maria: I know, it shouldn’t be. But the fear of wokeness. A lot of things fall into that, acknowledgement or loss of privileges. The whole discussion of patriarchy, racism, classism, gender equality. Also ableism and all of that, how that interacts with mindfulness.

Jackie: Right. And I’m so interested to talk about, from, I know it’s political, but from like a marketing perspective, how there’s this campaign against wokeness, which is just so strange to me that there’d be an active group against being present and aware in our culture, but we’ll talk about it.

Maria: Yes, that will be interesting.

Jackie: Yeah. Also we want to discuss mental health and generational trauma. So talking about the limits of mindfulness and how we need other support systems around mindfulness to address certain traumas or different situations or different people’s circumstances.

Jackie: So it’s not just a plug and play.

Maria: The whole where mindfulness is not enough or not a standalone solution.

Maria: And the last thing is: “mindfulness is too hard and unsustainable all day long” as a topic. I think we touched on that a little bit already in our discussion today. Is it really possible to be mindful all the time?

Jackie: And not Thich Nhat Hanh or something.

Maria: N In a normal life setting, you’re not a monk.

Jackie: If there’s any other, big obstacles, or cases of why we shouldn’t be mindful or can’t be let us know if we should devote a topic to it. Or we can discuss it on social media.

Maria: So yeah, if something came to your mind while we were talking about this please comment.

Maria: I want to thank everyone who is listening or watching this episode. Again, for your support and I really hope that we help you in your own journey to mindfulness and give you some good food for thought. And we also hope that you will be with us again for the next episode.

Jackie: Yeah. Find us on social media. We are @BecomingMindfulPodcast or you can visit our website, becomingmindfulpodcast.com and we hope you reach out and let us know your thoughts on today’s episode and we hope you subscribe and follow us on this journey of diving into some of the obstacles behind mindfulness.

Jackie: Thank you. Until next time, be well.

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