Five New Myths of Mindfulness

Buddhism_in_disguiseThere’s a nice, comprehensive overview from Mindful magazine. Here’s my summary:

Myth 1: Mindfulness fixes something that’s wrong with you

Your mind is naturally capable of mindfulness, awareness, kindness, and compassion. It’s not in need of fundamental repair.

By gently repeating a simple habit, returning to an anchor for the mind, such as our breath, bit by bit a steadiness emerges allowing a better view of what’s happening in our mind and more opportunities to make choices about how to respond.

Myth 2: The result of meditation is a boring, bland, cult-like calmness and complacency

It’s so easy to confuse the practice of meditation with what the results are presumed to be. Meditation doesn’t require you to manage or police your thoughts and sit passively at home. The point of slowing down during meditation practice is to allow one to see how one’s own mind operates.

Myth 3: Mindfulness is just Buddhism in disguise

Buddhist practitioners have extensively researched the subject and the many Buddhist traditions offer wide-ranging insights, but that doesn’t mean Buddhism owns mindfulness any more than Italians own pasta or Greeks own democracy.

It seems unfair to deny the benefits of meditative practice to people because they’re not Buddhist and presume they can’t discover their interdependence with others and find ethical conduct and wisdom within themselves and the communities they’re part of.

Mindfulness has become a general term to describe qualities and virtues that arise from meditation, including compassion.

Myth 4: Mindfulness is being used to create perfect killers… and capitalists

The mindfulness programs under development for police and soldiers are intended to help them regulate their nervous systems so they make better choices and act less impulsively—and to mitigate the trauma inflicted on their bodies and minds. Whatever military choices political leaders make on our behalf, the fact remains that soldiers can reduce harm to themselves and others if they can keep a cool head.

Most of us work somewhere, would like to enjoy our work more, and want to be better at it. Yes, employers look at the bottom line, but in the main they know it’s important that we feel our work is rewarding and our workplace is a good place to be. Programs that genuinely improve employee health benefit both the employee and the employer.

Mindfulness training doesn’t dictate the ethical choices you should make, but it puts you in a better position to deliberately, actively make those choices for yourself.

Myth 5: Mindfulness is just the next trendy industry

The danger of the over-commercialization of meditation is real. The problem is not money per se. Some selling has to take place. Anyone who started meditating was sold on it by someone, but it’s overselling that’s the real danger. When meditation is presented as a panacea, with airy-fairy language that makes it sound as if five minutes of easy, breezy meditation will transform you, it’s literally too good to be true.

Mind training is serious business. Our minds are powerful and wonderful, and basically sound and good, but there also be dragons there. We are capable of developing or inheriting mental illnesses; we have deep, dark fears; and our lives and our world, however glorious and joyous they can be at times, are filled with pain. Support from highly trained professionals is often a good idea.