Mindfulness making people ill?

I have been noticing articles appear in recent months suggesting there is a darker side to mindfulness based therapies. Most recently the newspapers are full of stories about this including this one in the guardian:


As with many newspaper articles the headline usually creates a distorted view of the topics, but at the same time there is no smoke without fire. I came across mindfulness years before it became a popularised and a new self-help fad. Then I was reading some stuff on eco-therapy with people with substance abuse problems – and one of the discussions in one of the books centred around how connection with nature also led to greater mindfulness.

My understanding of it then as is now is that it is a level of awareness cultivated by directing conscious effort into daily activities rather than a contemplative navel-gazing and ego dissolution. The benefits here are to provide a level of internal monitoring for which for addicts at least provides a means for checking out intrusive thoughts related to using drugs or alcohol.

One of the main concern I have with the whole mindfulness movement is that many practitioners of mindfulness, particularly those associated with the recovery movements seem to act as if having an Ego is a problem and that the solution is to destroy it or at least deflate it. What they mean by Ego of course is an inflated and distorted sense of self. Different then to Freudian or other Ego psychological conceptions. From the self we derive an identity, a sense of who we ar win relation to others. So it is not surprising really that a practice targeted at dissolving ego can potentially be harmful to some people. A dissociated self is potentially a step towards psychotic breakdown in people who are otherwise psychologically healthy, as this article seems to suggest.

There are times when people are desperate for a ‘cure’ to their emotional or other distress. Changing themselves becomes an implicit mantra of many self-help or popularised coach programmes: the old structures have to be torn down and exposed as what they are: illusory. If only everything in life was so simple!! Habits of speech, thought and emotions have taken years to build up and the thought of a quick fix seems rather alluring but is essentially snake oil sold by many change merchants. Change and progress in one’s life comes as a result of the action we pursue and the commitment we have for the goals that underlie them. I am not anti-meditation and frequently practice meditatively myself, but rather than pursuing the life of a monk, with the purpose of dissolving my ego or disappearing in a glorious union with an invisible god, experience tells me that a more easy-going approach to growth is better for me in contrast with nuking it, ramping up the practice and turning the dial to 10. Trying to mediate like a Bhuddist for me usually results in feelings of inadequacy as I find it difficult to sit still for too long and become easily distracted. Some might say this is the whole point: discovering how distracted we are on a daily basis. I find that recognizing how ‘noisy’ my own head is, levels me and prevent me over-identifing with the thoughts running through my head. It works for me, and if this works for you then thats absolutely fine.

Most therapeutic techniques can produce new insights and change, but with this can come unexpected surprises. Doesn’t being mindful also mean being attentive to our own readiness to face these? If mindfulness or anything else works for you – Great!  Keep doing it, but don’t be blinded to the possibility that it might not work for you, or might stop working for you. Perhaps this is what more meditation practitioners should  preach: Follow your own intuition about your meditation.

Do what feels right, not what others tell you is right!


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