My initial enthusiasm for writing this blog was to figure out what I found so annoying about the mindfulness movement. Something is wrong here, my emotions said. No, no, no!
To help me figure out if it was just me or if those feelings were on to something, I decided to study the matter further and read a canonical work, Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (2013).
As part of their 2014 survey on religion and politics, Pew did collect data on the political affiliation of meditation practitioners. They found that most were conservative. Well, there goes my thesis I thought. Delving further, though, it turns out that many religious groups practice meditation, including evangelical Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons.
...mindfulness teachers and advocates, whom I assume don't want to drive away potential converts by creating a political litmus test for membership in the mindful community. Even groups that have promoted mindful political engagement shy away from explicit party affiliation
The purpose is to dazzle us. But dazzling doesn’t illuminate; quite the opposite: it overwhelms the vision. Dazzling blinds and confuses.
Sometimes uncomfortable thoughts and feelings take us down a path to nowhere and sometimes they lead to new insights or solutions to vexing problems. We might want to follow their lead for awhile and see where they are taking us. If we cut them off (“gently redirect” – same dif) the moment we notice them, we might miss out on a valuable learning experience.
The inner audience may nod in agreement, clap with enthusiasm, talk back to the stage, or perhaps engage in a distancing maneuver. The difference is between a receptive, engaged audience and an audience that observes without commitment to the narrative.
So it’s okay for thoughts, feelings, and sensations to make an appearance – to show up at the door - but it’s actually not okay to let them in. It’s about “letting go”, not “letting in”. Acknowledge and move on.
...mental activity (“thoughts and feelings”) the object of awareness, rather than sensory or somatic information. Is there something problematic about mental activity unattended by awareness, whereas sensory/somatic information doesn’t need to be supplemented with awareness?
What constitutes an “uncomfortable thought”? For some people, thinking about unfinished business does that, or thinking about the gap between one’s goals/values and current behavior, or thinking about recent social missteps.
...is it actually possible to see the whole truth and nothing but the truth? How do you know? Doesn’t everyone have a point of view? Why do you think some people can see the whole truth/elephant?
To be a fearmonger is to traffic in fear. Fearmongering is one way ideological and religious movements gain adherents and then keep them. The world is a scary place. We offer the way out.
The downside of living in such an interconnected universe is vulnerability. Between the psychological harm subtly inflicted years ago by our nonmindful parents, to lack of inner harmony and connection with others, to the myriad of “toxins” in our environment, the world is a dangerous place.
Two recent studies compared magical thinking in mindfulness meditators and non-meditators. Meditators scored significantly higher in magical thinking than non-meditators. The study authors suggested two possible reasons for this difference between groups: the mindfulness meditators came from a Buddhist tradition that incorporated magical ideas; and/or mindfulness is associated with greater open-mindedness.
...if the point is to be non-judgmental, non-reactive, and simply aware in the moment, focused on your breath, then interrupted thoughts or feelings may just be a casualty of the practice...
Life is full of unavoidable suffering: we can’t hold onto happiness, everything changes, nothing lasts, everybody dies, pain in inevitable, we are endlessly seeking and desiring without lasting satisfaction; an inner emptiness haunts our every moment.
Here is the theme of endemic pain and suffering in our everyday lives, in which minor and transitory negative feelings become something deep and debilitating...
Parts of mindfulness practice may be useful, but does that mean you have to embrace the entire belief system associated with mindfulness practice – that is, an ideology with religious overtones?
For the sake of argument, let’s say that adopting mindfulness as a way of being contributes to happiness and physical health. Then again, belonging to almost any faith community increases happiness and physical health. That fact alone doesn’t entice me to convert or join. Truth-value matters.
Sometimes labeling, reducing (making little and laughable), and purposely ignoring complexity can be useful. We don’t have to give our full attention and cognitive resources to everything. We have to choose: does this matter enough?
As previous posts have amply shown, I'm not a big fan of mindfulness as a quasi-religious ideology. I’m not going to propose a specific counter-ideology. Sure, I have beliefs about what makes life worthwhile, what matters, the is and the ought.