Problems with Mindfulness Explained

Through the heavy silence, a thick New York accents chimes in and asks me to lay down, close my eyes and relax.

“Slowly bringing your attention to the fact that you are–breathing.”

I’m on the living room floor, lying on a thin yoga mat–on my way to dwell in a state of deep relaxation.

It’s the beginning of a mindfulness exercise called Body Scan, guided by western mindfulness pioneer doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn.

After 45 minutes of being guided to feel different parts of my body without judgement, the exercise is over.

A sense of accomplishment washes over me and I feel ready to start my day.

Full Catastrophe Living

Jon Kabat-Zinn made mindfulness famous in the west by stripping it of all its esoteric aspects.

Mindfulness originally stems from the Buddhist’s Noble Eightfold path which teaches:

  • Right View
  • Right Resolve
  • Right Speech
  • Right Conduct
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Samadhi

Clearly, being a buddhist isn’t the easiest career choice.

What Jon did was to take the mindfulness practice and discard the rest.

Then he started studying and documenting the effects, and repackaging it to what he called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Now he was running his own clinic, assisting thousands of people through MBSR.

It didn’t take long for additional iterations to show itself such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

Hospitals across the world started latching on after seeing the positive results from both empirical and clinical studies.

The Problems With Mindfulness

Let’s get something straight. Doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR gift to the world has helped hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions–including me.

And that’s not to speak of what Buddhism and their mindfulness has done for people…

Mindfulness, whether stripped of its esoteric aspects or not, has a lot going for it–and many people report the positive benefits on a daily basis.

But there are inconsistencies and problems with mindfulness.

Like it or not, this moment is all we really have to work with.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Why do we practice mindfulness?

It’s fair to say–to become more present. To enjoy the current moment.

The idea is that presence–is your acute awareness. Being aware of what’s around you, what’s happening right now, with a non-judgemental awareness (as the good doctor would have it).

This is why we practice things such as the Body Scan where we explore the feelings in different parts of our body, to just feel and explore the feeling–become aware.

We also let our thoughts come and go in order to reach the inner silence.

So far so good, right?

Maybe you have a slightly different angle on your approach to mindfulness–but this should get the basic gist of it.

One of the problems with mindfulness is that it proposes a dualistic view.

All there is, is right in front of us. If we stay aware of that–we’re present.

If we get caught up in thoughts, we’re no longer present.

Hence we do mindfulness practices in order to prolong the acute awareness state.

The dualism here is that acute awareness is seen as present, whilst thinking is seen as being non-present.

But even thinking happens in the present moment.

Are thoughts illusions? Certainly. But that’s a very different topic from speaking of presence and awareness.

Mindfulness Exercises

Seeing that one of the problems with mindfulness is its apparent dualism–the next question becomes:

What’s the purpose of the exercises?

If we accept the dualism of presence vs non-presence, which can also be translated into desired vs non-desired state–practicing for the desired present state makes sense.

But if presence is all there is, what are the exercises really designed to do?

If instead of temporarily getting to witness our sensations, experiences and thoughts in order to achieve temporary silence–what if we could see the thoughts for what they really are?

Thoughts are endless creative energy spinning non-stop in our minds–producing the most wonderful of ideas and the most meaningless of drama.

But regardless–it’s just as illusory.

This understanding allows us to see through thoughts–which changes our relationship to reality.

We’re no longer in an outside-in world, where the external dictates how we feel.

We transform into an inside-out worldview, where there’s nothing that objectively gets to us–only our thoughts about that very thing.

What About Bliss Brains?

Studies continue to show positive effects on the brain from mindfulness practices.

Grey matters increase, new networks form more easily and the Default Mode Network (the network that gets the mind to blabber on and on and on) decrease in activity.

What’s not to like?

The outside dependency.

While it’s certainly not a bad idea to create favorable circumstances for a good and easy life, the problem with mindfulness becomes the outside-in approach.

By letting the content of the thoughts dictate how we respond–we create a dependency.

That dependency translate into the need to constantly “exercise the brain and awareness” until they act as we’d like them to do.

But let’s take a step back again.

If we realize that, all that really does is turn the volume down on the noise–or change the static of it–we’re stuck with what we had before, just less.

At least temporarily.

If we can come to the insight that the very noise and content, is neither personal nor “us” creating it, there’s no need to identify with it.

Also check out Why I Stopped Meditating After 10 Years.

Then we can change our perspective.

Rather than us having all this endless drama that the monkey mind conjures up, it becomes more like listening to a good friend speaking of their endless drama.

The drama is the same, but the relationship to the drama is vastly different–creating a vastly different outcome.

You don’t need to exercise your awareness or change your brain to achieve that–only come to the understanding.

Conclusion

Mindfulness has helped a lot of people over the years, and many of the mindfulness teachers are improving peoples lives on a daily basis.

I’m simply proposing a different perspective here, achieving what most people are looking for in mindfulness–without the duality and effort.

And that is the direct insight and understanding into the cloud-like contents of our thoughts.

If we don’t fear our experience–there’s nothing we need to escape.

May you enjoy every day of your life.

Jonathan Swift

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