Critics of the modern mindfulness movement often note that those of us who promote the benefits of mindfulness have a way of getting evangelical in our attempts to raise awareness about the practice. “If it’s great for me,” we think, “it must be good for you, and you are missing out!”
The culture of mindfulness often reinforces this attitude in subtle ways: books, articles, and podcasts present these practices as a kind of panacean remedy for all our ills, so we struggle to understand why others wouldn’t want to give it a try.
Being excited about mindfulness may seem harmless, but when we get too pushy about it in our most intimate relationships—especially with our partners and spouses—it can become a source of relational friction, and even conflict.
Are You a Pushy Meditator?
We know this first hand. During the early years of our mindfulness practice, we both experienced an almost irresistible desire to proselytize to our spouse about the benefits of mindfulness. The experiences we were having on the cushion were so profound, so life-altering, we wanted everyone – especially our partners – to learn about the practice and experience these incredible benefits.
The more we deepened our practice, the more we felt the weight of years of anxiety, stress, and emotional baggage begin to lift. And that left us wondering naively: “Why wouldn’t everyone – especially our life partner – want the same?” During this time, the two of us even started writing a book together called Start Here on building mindfulness into the midst of everyday life.
The experiences we were having on the cushion were so profound, so life-altering, we wanted everyone – especially our partners – to learn about the practice and experience these incredible benefits.
This led us head-first into the traps of mindfulness evangelism. We would read a great book and then turn to our spouse and say with way too much unchecked enthusiasm, “You’ve got to read this book!” Or we would return home from a retreat, forgetting all the extra work that they picked up to support our time away and say, “I just had the most amazing experience. It was life changing! I think you would really love it. You have to do it!”
In spite of – or perhaps because of – these efforts to convert our partners into mindfulness enthusiasts, they remained uninterested in the practice. In fact, we soon learned that our not-so-subtle efforts to get them to read our favorite books on meditation or attend a meditation retreat actually backfired. They provoked responses like, “That’s great honey. I’m glad it is working for you. But that’s really your thing.”
The more we pushed our mindfulness agenda on our partners, the bigger the mess we made.
When Your Own Practice is Enough
There’s a great story about the early days of the San Francisco Zen Center, one of the first hubs of mindfulness practice in the West, that cuts to the heart of the matter. Mindfulness master Suzuki Rochi’s students repeatedly asked their teacher, “How can we get our partners to practice with us?”
These devoted students simply couldn’t understand why their husbands, wives, and family members didn’t share their interest in waking up at 5 a.m. to sit on the cold cement floor of the meditation center for hours at a time.
After numerous attempts to get an answer to their question, Suzuki Rochi finally weighed in. But it wasn’t the answer they were hoping for.
“Maybe one is enough,” Rochi quipped.
Maybe Rochi had it right. Maybe our partners don’t need to meditate. Maybe all of our attempts to subtly (and not so subtly) convince them of the power of this practice are actually pushing them in the opposite direction.
This has certainly been our experience. And we have both noticed that by dropping all efforts to entice our partners into the practice of mindfulness, we have experienced a greater sense of love and connection. We have also noticed that our partners have found their own paths to practices that deepen their own experience of life.
Four Ways to Accept Your Practice Without Pushing It on Others
So what are the do’s and don’ts for being in a relationship with a partner who isn’t into mindfulness? Here are a few lessons that we have learned (the hard way!):
- Recognize that you don’t need others to meditate in order to validate your own practice. Even if we’re not consciously attached to our partner practicing mindfulness, this desire can sneak out in subtle ways. It even arises in thoughts like, “If I let go of my attachment to my partner becoming interested in mindfulness, maybe they will get into it.” The best strategy here is to work toward a place of radical acceptance – to begin to see that, as Roshi wisely advises, “one is enough” and that it is just fine if your partner never touches a meditation cushion for the rest of his or her life.
- Drop the air of superiority. Here’s another subtle trap of mindfulness evangelism. It’s a belief buried somewhere deep down in the subconscious mind that “I am more aware, more awake, or more enlightened than you because I meditate and you don’t.” Of course, you would never say this to your partner. But it’s often communicated through comments like, “I had the most amazing meditation today!” or “I love meditating!” or “My mind is just so clear right now.”
- Accept your experience as yours alone. Jon Kabat-Zinn offers sage advice here. He advises us to resist the urge to talk about our practice. This is particularly true when it comes to our closest relationships. When you feel the urge to say, “Meditating is so great. It’s changed my life,” pause before sharing and take a closer look at your motives. In fact, when you feel like you have something profound to say about your practice, use that as a sign that it’s a good time to go back to the cushion. Sit with this desire to share your experience and see what’s underneath it.
- Let go of the idea that you are a “changed person” because of your practice. This subtle vice of mindfulness aficionados arises when we say things like, “I used to struggle with anxiety” or “I used to be so attached” or “I used to feel angry all the time, but I don’t anymore.” Such statements not only infuriate your partner and the entire community, but they are also generally based on the delusional idea that we’re now somehow beyond experiencing basic forms of human suffering, an idea that simply isn’t true.
In the end, the real key to practicing mindfulness with a partner who isn’t into it is all about letting go. Let go of the hope that he or she might one day share your love for the practice. Let go of your desire to boast about the amazing benefits of your practice. Let go of the feeling that you have achieved some sort of spiritual superiority through meditation. When you do, a new world of deeper connection and love awaits.