Author Topic: "Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)  (Read 805 times)

Offline moSh

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"Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)
« on: August 03, 2016, 07:46:19 am »
I just saw this article from the start of this year, and it immediately gave me an intense 'uh-oh' feeling: here could be the start of the path of demonisation that often accompanies something as it gets more and more publicised.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/23/is-mindfulness-making-us-ill

It's an interesting read--particularly to my psychology background--and I'm not refuting the content at all, but to me this paints a picture of mindfulness misinterpreted. The way mindfulness and meditation are generally viewed by the majority here in the West is undoubtedly 'that practice that makes you happier'. It's definitely one of the main reasons that spurred me to try it out in the first place. Yet, while it is indeed the cessation of suffering that mindfulness and meditation aim to achieve, it's not through mindfulness and meditation alone--and this is perhaps what is crucially left out in our view of it. Mindfulness has become a hot topic (here in the UK at least), particularly with businesses and corporations harnessing its powers to make their workers happier, more productive, and thus more profitable. It's rising into Western consciousness as a tool for relaxation, for self-examination, and ultimately for happiness--which I have absolutely no problem with--but I feel people aren't getting the full picture.

What the results highlighted in the article suggest is that mindfulness is marketed as a 'fix': "If you meditate your problems will eventually disappear". It has no doubt helped a lot of people in that way, but the misleading nature of its seemingly concrete and sufficient implication means that these unexpected 'side-effects' (loss of identity, paranoia and depression being some mentioned in the article) are only ever going to be treated as such. In my opinion, understanding of the other elements of Buddhism, such as compassion, emptiness and impermanence, would help in dealing with these effects--though I realise its not realistic to ask that of people.

This was a bit of a stream of consciousness after having just read the article, but to me it looks like there could be some sort of backlash against mindfulness if things like this start to snowball (I don't mean the article itself, but the misunderstandings of the purpose of mindfulness). Thoughts?

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: "Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2016, 08:38:40 am »
It has no doubt helped a lot of people in that way, but the misleading nature of its seemingly concrete and sufficient implication means that these unexpected 'side-effects' (loss of identity, paranoia and depression being some mentioned in the article) are only ever going to be treated as such. In my opinion, understanding of the other elements of Buddhism, such as compassion, emptiness and impermanence, would help in dealing with these effects--though I realise its not realistic to ask that of people.

I've found that mindfulness can be quite a challenging practice, and removing it from it's 8-fold path context might well be problematic.  Mindfulness can bring you face to face with who you really are, warts and all, it can make you more aware of uncertainty and transience, it can make you more aware of suffering ( your own and others ), and so on.

So doing mindfulness as a stand-alone practice could lead to psychological problems.  Though my guess is that in most cases these problems were already present, and mindfulness just made people more aware of them.

And of course the purpose of mindfulness in a Buddhist context is to develop insight, it is not intended as a therapy or even something to make people "happy". 

Offline moSh

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Re: "Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2016, 08:52:35 am »
Thank you for making my thoughts far more coherent, as always Spiny.

I have a friend that has an unfortunate amount of problems in her life, and has long taken to drowning them, yet remains one of the most caring people I know. She thinks she could never meditate because she can't stand the thoughts that circle round her head all day, and she'd rather use her time helping others with their problems than looking at her own. I've always assumed that 'anyone can meditate, and it can benefit anyone, everyone should meditate', but this contradicts that pretty significantly I think, at least the last part. Without decent guidance, mindfulness could do more ill than good, yet because of how harmless it looks anyone can be a mindfulness teacher, you don't need a qualification.

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: "Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2016, 09:34:19 am »
Thank you for making my thoughts far more coherent, as always Spiny.

I have a friend that has an unfortunate amount of problems in her life, and has long taken to drowning them, yet remains one of the most caring people I know. She thinks she could never meditate because she can't stand the thoughts that circle round her head all day, and she'd rather use her time helping others with their problems than looking at her own. I've always assumed that 'anyone can meditate, and it can benefit anyone, everyone should meditate', but this contradicts that pretty significantly I think, at least the last part. Without decent guidance, mindfulness could do more ill than good, yet because of how harmless it looks anyone can be a mindfulness teacher, you don't need a qualification.

I think most people could benefit from simple samatha practice, just watching the breath and allowing the mind to calm down somewhat.  Or just doing some relaxation exercises can be very helpful.

Offline Dblues8

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Re: "Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2016, 01:39:26 pm »
"My instincts tell me to run, but I can’t move my arms or legs. I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing. Then we’re told to open our eyes and the feeling dissipates"

This is EXACTLY what happens early on in meditation, as a beginner.

This lady, for the first time, she brought attention to her subconscious feelings and thoughts by the basic meditation.  They came up and went into view in her conscious mind.  What comes up can be very ugly.  You are actually facing your issues.

But you know what happens? If you stick to your meditation it subsides.

This is the whole mechanism of the meditation.  A negative thought/feeling comes up.  If we just let it be and watch it and stick with our meditation it comes up and out.  This works for every type of negative emotion, they are all the same at the root.

I remember I had a huge panic attack at my first retreat. I talked to my meditation teacher, he seemed oddly calm.  He knew how it works and he had seen it a hundred times in students.  He just told me to relax, just watch it and let it be.

And you know what? After it fluxed up and down it slowly started to subside, it was not easy but I was slowly beating it.  And you know what? That retreat cured me of panic attacks.

So when you start meditating it can be like throwing water on a hot coal.  It gets noisy and chaotic but then it begins to cool.  Just like a beginner meditator, you are getting a first glance at everything below.  As you progress your problems start melting away and the meditation because easier and you become very clean.

If you are looking for a super chill, cosmo magazine, 15 minutes a day meditation forget this post

If you want to do some real work, eradicate your problems, and travel the path then take a retreat and learn how it really works.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2016, 01:41:36 pm by Dblues8 »

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: "Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill" Article (Uh-Oh)
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2016, 12:24:55 am »
Thank you for making my thoughts far more coherent, as always Spiny.

I have a friend that has an unfortunate amount of problems in her life, and has long taken to drowning them, yet remains one of the most caring people I know. She thinks she could never meditate because she can't stand the thoughts that circle round her head all day, and she'd rather use her time helping others with their problems than looking at her own. I've always assumed that 'anyone can meditate, and it can benefit anyone, everyone should meditate', but this contradicts that pretty significantly I think, at least the last part. Without decent guidance, mindfulness could do more ill than good, yet because of how harmless it looks anyone can be a mindfulness teacher, you don't need a qualification.

Lost track of the number of people I see and who make me think that taking up meditation would really help them, but unless they are motivated there is really nothing you can do. Apart from being the sort of person they like to be around, and getting them curious about why you are different from other people. Which just may get them into meditation eventually.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

 


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