There is so much talk these days about mindfulness these days that I thought I would try to clarify things a bit. You may be wondering what my qualifications are to make these statements about mindfulness. To begin with I have been meditating regularly for about 40 years. I took the Transcendental Meditation course at that time as a way to deal with stress. I have read extensively on the topic since and practiced numerous techniques. Additionally, I taught mindfulness as a therapeutic technique when I was the director of a residential facility for mentally ill adults. While I’m sure there are people out there who know more about the topic than I do, I know there are quite a few who know less.
Having said that I want to address some of the negative things I have heard about mindfulness.
- Mindfulness is a secularized Buddhist practice. I have seen people use this statement in two ways. First, people say that by separating mindfulness from its spiritual component you devalue it and limit its effectiveness. I have even seen the word McMindfulness used to derogatorily describe the practice. My answer to that is that we are not secularizing the spiritual, we are spiritualizing the secular. Mindfulness is a spiritual practice no matter how you package it. Second, there are people who think that you shouldn’t practice mindfulness because of its Buddhist origins. The truth is that there are mindfulness practices in every major religion, though they may call it something else.
- Mindfulness is a waste of time. People who say this generally have not tried it. There is an increasingly large body of evidence that clearly supports the usefulness of mindfulness.
- Mindfulness is dangerous. Generally, people who say that are referring to difficulties that can arise when someone who already has some mental difficulties tries mindfulness without supervision. My suggestion here—and this is a good idea for lots of reasons—is that we all quit being judgmental about people with mental illness and direct more resources as a society to helping them. Mindfulness is not dangerous for the average person.
- Mindfulness is confusing. There is a lot of debate about what is and is not mindfulness, or how to classify the different types of mindfulness. I will say this: If something meets the definition of mindfulness then it is mindfulness. Mindfulness is directing your attention to one thing, this present moment, without judgment. I have noticed that people who want to say that their definition is the right one are usually trying to sell something. Mindfulness is simple. Getting good at it requires practice.
My advice at this point is this: in the long run don’t learn all your mindfulness from one source. Practice every day. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you see positive changes in your life be grateful.