Why You Don’t Need Another Mindfulness Tool
Kiki Koroshetz is the wellness director on goop’s editorial team and the ringleader of the goop Book Club.
During my past-life regression therapy session, I learned I was a soldier at war. I don’t know which war, but it was thrilling. The whole week was thrilling. I got an herbal soak foot massage, a head massage, a hand massage, something heavenly called the Royal Ayurvedic massage. I met with a naturopath and an acupuncturist. I did pranayama breathwork, yoga, and Qigong. I swam in the lap pool and sat in the leisure pool overlooking a secluded beach. I read all the books that I had stuffed into an XL tote bought for the sole purpose years ago of being stuffed with books. I fell in love with a pumpkin soup and a “cappuccino” made with coconut milk and dandelion “coffee.” I feared the phone in the villa would ring and someone would tell me that it was a mistake and I wasn’t supposed to be there.
“What are your fears?” asked Rajesh Ramani at the first of our three sessions. I didn’t tell him about watching the phone. We talked about marriage, stress, and how to listen to feelings and emotions. The mind can only rationalize, Ramani told me. It doesn’t know how to understand emotion.
Ramani is a life-enhancement mentor at Kamalaya, a wellness resort and retreat on Koh Samui in Thailand. He’s been training and working in spiritual philosophy realms for the past two decades.
The week I stayed at Kamalaya, he taught me different breathwork and meditation techniques. He told me stories about himself and other retreat-goers that made me laugh. He gave me homework. I wrote down lists of needs, things I was grateful for and proud of, and feelings I was searching for. I felt calm, uncommonly so. I left with tools for creating patience. I didn’t want to leave his sun-drenched office. I didn’t want to leave Kamalaya.
“I wrote down lists of needs, things I was grateful for and proud of, and feelings I was searching for. I felt calm, uncommonly so.”
It’s been a little over a year since I did. I thought about Ramani the other day. What would he say about having patience now? What tools would he recommend?
We got on a Zoom call. Ramani at his home on Koh Samui, me in LA. The connection was terrible. It was good to see him.
He told me about a video he watched online of someone painting. He said that 2 million people had watched it. “It’s just someone painting something,” he said. He laughed. So many mindfulness sites and tools. “Everyone is a coach, teacher, advisor. And there’s a huge need for that right now. But I what I want to say is, why are we focusing on all this now? What do we actually want?”
“Ask yourself,” Ramani said, “Why am I looking for this tool? Why am I looking for mindfulness?”
I saw myself frown on the Zoom thumbnail. I wasn’t going to get a tool? I was going to have to think about what was happening within me?
“You don’t need to go meditate on an app,” Ramani said.
I was listening again. Things I don’t need to do interest me.
Before you reach for a tool, find out what problem you’re trying to solve, Ramani suggested. Which sounded reasonable. How do you do this, though? The first step, he explained, is just to slow down. Sit still for five minutes. “You can keep your eyes open,” he said. “It’s not meditation. Get a nice chair. It’s fine. Do not read. Do not listen to music. Do not engage with intellect. Sit still. Watch.” Calm down your body and calm down your mind, so it is possible to see where you’re hurting.
Then, to up the ante a little, start noticing the things around you. Clock. Computer. Wall. Tree. Window. “Whatever it is, watch and name it,” Ramani said. Move only your head, no other part of the body. “Listen and name,” he said. “There is a car. There is a bird. Someone is running their vacuum cleaner.”
After this exercise, you’ll be in a more fit state to look at the problem. This might mean identifying: I’m stressed. I’m missing people. I’m missing a hug. I’m thinking too much.
“What’s the underlying emotion?” asked Ramani. Acknowledge the emotion there: I am afraid; I am really scared now.
And this is the important part, so of course it’s the hard part, too: Don’t resist that emotion. “It’s okay: I am going to let the fear go through my body,” said Ramani, talking through the example. You can be angry for a while, and then it’s gone. “You can’t be eternally angry unless you never feel it,” he said.
“And this is the important part, so of course it’s the hard part, too: Don’t resist that emotion.”
If you’re sad, it’s acknowledging, “Okay, I’m sad.” Now Ramani frowns. “Let me be sad,” he said. “What’s wrong about that? We have this misconception that we should be strong, better than this. Where did we get all of this from?”
Wait for emotions to leave, for them to move. “It doesn’t mean we throw things and say whatever we want on social media,” said Ramani. “No, that’s not observing. That’s becoming the fear.” Don’t become the fear: “But observe it so you can let it go.”
And ask yourself if your stories are absolutely true. Because they could be partially true. “Our mind is cunning,” Ramani said. “We can create big stories out of a few small pieces of information.” (Coincidentally, this is a destructive pastime of mine.)
For example, your neighbor lost his job, so you think could lose yours. Become aware of this story. Question whether it is absolutely true. “Say, ‘not useful to engage and not now,’” Ramani said. “Might be true tomorrow but not now and not useful.”
“‘Our mind is cunning,’ Ramani said. ‘We can create big stories out of a few small pieces of information.’”
What is left at the end of this internal process? You see your problem more clearly. “If it’s possible to take action, do it,” said Ramani. Because now it is not a random action—it is not doing just to do. And if there’s no action possible right now: That’s okay.
“Everyone is intelligent,” Ramani said. “They are the best at their life. They know the most about themselves. We don’t have to teach people to do all the right things. Even if you try to teach people from your experience, it doesn’t work.” He paused. “My father told me so many things.” We both laughed. “It took me so many years to find they were true,” he said.
What we need, said Ramani, is our own intelligence, our own ability to handle things. Stress clouds us. But when we can get clarity, when we can calm down the body and mind, when we can throw out what’s not useful, we can identify our problem—if it exists—and do something worthwhile about it. Or not. We can just be.
“Because now it is not a random action—it is not doing just to do. And if there’s no action possible right now: That’s okay.”
“Do not practice something just for the sake of practicing something,” he said. “Pranayama breathing—why? How is it actually helping you? It could be great. But how is it helping you?”
This is what Ramani calls integration. When you become aware of what you’re looking for, when you know why you’re using a tool, when you can notice what impact that tool is having on you: Simple practices can bring profound results. We don’t need to do profound things, though, Ramani reminds me.
If we don’t integrate the results of what we are doing into our life, the tools won’t mean anything to us. It becomes a fad. “Like me watching those videos,” Ramani said. He laughed again. I thought of him watching a tutorial on YouTube, losing an hour to it, and then shaking his head: “I’m not a painter.”
I looked at the clock, 6:30 p.m. I wished him a good rest of the day. It was 9:30 a.m. in Thailand.
That night, I decided not to attempt anything profound (which was not a great hardship). Instead, I sat still for five minutes. In a fairly nice chair. I didn’t meditate. It was not profound. I felt calm, uncommonly so.