Mindfulness – good or bad?

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Mindfulness is really just the process of focusing on the now in peaceful awareness of yourself and your environment.  Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

There is sometimes discussion in the press about mindfulness.  It has become the mental health technique that some people love, some people hate.  Some of the discussion has been about a simplified version of mindfulness that has taken hold in the form of short courses.  Some say that its roots in Buddhist ethics have been lost.

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Like any word, it is up for grabs in terms of meaning, but the type of things associated with it are:

  • bringing one’s awareness to the present moment
  • gaining control or mastery over one’s own thoughts and emotions
  • learning not to over-react to one’s environment or situation
WHAT ARE THE SPIRITUAL ROOTS?

Mindfulness has strong roots in Buddhism.  Buddhism usually advocates training the mind in two key skills, compassion and wisdom.  The enemy of compassion is selfishness, and the enemy of wisdom is delusion.

When we are angry, for instance, we are both selfish and deluded.  We are reacting against our environment; we lose mastery over our own thoughts and emotions; and we become paranoid, imagining enemies past and future.

Mindfulness is the opposite of these negative emotions: it involves quiet awareness of our environment; peaceful awareness of our own thoughts and emotions; and clear-thinking awareness in the now.

Most Buddhism sees the world as changeable, individual by individual, through learning.  The learning involves building one’s ability to be warm-hearted and compassionate, and to be wise and non-delusional.Buddhism does tend to equate health with enlightenment; although there is also a belief that it takes time (sometimes hundreds of years) for good behaviour to result in health.

WHAT IS MISSING IN MODERN MINDFULNESS?

In my view, most of ‘old’ mindfulness is there in ‘new’ mindfulness.

Both involve learning to achieve peaceful focus on ourself and our environment in the present moment, and therefore a degree of health and self–discipline.

Even the ethical basis of mndfulness is still there.  Essentially, negative, selfish, violent emotions are discouraged, and positive, compassionate, peaceful emotions are encouraged.

WHAT ARE THE HEALTH WARNINGS?

There are possibly some things to be aware of when training the mind.  These warnings are there in more traditional Buddhism, as well as applying to modern quasi-medical mindfulness techniques.

  1. The mind is sometimes unpredictable, and some skill is required in training it.  For some, awareness of one’s own thoughts and emotions can be disturbing for a while.  The guidance of a good teacher can help.  In general, if you are disturbed, then stop the practice.  A feeling of peace and health is usually a sign that you are on the right track.
  2. Like all techniques, it can be misused.  The ability to focus calmly can be used by the non-compassionate to hurt and control others through scheming behaviour.  Beware a lack of compassion in yourself or your teacher.  Some present-day teachers of mindfulness may be trying to appear professional or be promoting their own power.  Avoid them unless they seem to you to be truly kind.
  3. Beware those who insist mindfulness can only be done in one way.  The pressure to conform is unhelpful for some, and mindfulness classes can be used to dampen down spirit and creativity.  If you feel it is healthier to escape a particularly bossy class leader, then leave the class and find somewhere else to practice!
In short, use your own intuition: remain at peace, watch out for controlling behaviour, and don’t let anyone cramp your natural creativity.

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SUMMARY

There is some discussion in the press about mindfulness, suggesting it is over-promoted, or can be harmful.

Mindfulness is quite a simple thing: bringing awareness to now; bringing one’s thoughts and emotions under control; and not over-reacting to one’s environment.

It has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, which seeks to promote compassion and wisdom.  Mindfulness techniques train the mind to these ends.

Most of those roots are still present in modern mindfulness.

However, to ensure your good health, only do what brings you peace; don’t let others use mindfulness classes to be bossy; and beware of classes which seek to silence your voice instead of letting you be heard in all your creative goodness.

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