‘Many benefits and fruits of Zen practice are real, but they are not to be gained, nor pursued. Just sit, regularly, for a sustained period, and see what is here right now.’
Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
Many psychotherapists find that mindfulness is of value in terms of their practice. There is a considerable evidence base that it can be an effective therapeutic tool. (Also see Baer, R. A. and The Lancet,)
Psychotherapists using mindfulness techniques help patients to understand, for example, that ‘thoughts are not facts’ (Christine Dunkley & Del Loewenthal) Self- awareness is vital, and such therapy can help people understand how they might be contributing to their own distress. For example, we might learn to accept the impermanence of life, instead of denying it:
“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not. We need to learn to appreciate the value of impermanence. If we are in good health and are aware of impermanence, we will take good care of ourselves. When we know that the person we love is impermanent, we will cherish our beloved all the more. Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us. When we practice mindfulness of impermanence, we become fresher and more loving.” Thich Nhat Hanh
There are three main ways in which mindfulness is used in therapy: (Barker)
- Teaching mindfulness to clients
- Practising mindfulness themselves in order to cultivate therapeutic qualities
- Attempting to create a mindful encounter in therapy itself
The techniques of mindfulness are used in several different therapies. For example, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy blends mindfulness with Cognitive-Behavioural therapy.
Mindfulness Based Stress-Reduction Therapy, developed byDr Jon Kabat-Zinn, aims to help alleviate some of the anxieties of daily life.
It is often used in the treatment of chronic diseases, with some beneficial outcomes. It is frequently offered as a group therapy, focussing on such aspects as staying in the present moment and the importance of the individual taking regular time out for meditation.
Critique of Mindfulness
‘The commodification of mindfulness and meditation is increasingly prevalent and problematic’ Rosenbaum and Magid
Whilst there is no doubt that mindfulness can be helpful and therapeutic, it has limitations. It is not for everyone, and needs to be used professionally.
Whilst there is considerable value in using mindfulness to reduce stress and increase self-awareness, it must be emphasised that it is not a panacea for all ills.
‘There is a contemporary shift in its use and meaning, which actually distorts mindfulness, taking it far from the original Buddhist emphasis on ethics and consideration of others. The danger is that it will be diluted into a corporate, self-serving and over-secularised commodity.’ Rosenbaum and Magid
An increasing backlash against this popular trend is occurring, in that it is becoming fashionable and commercial. It is often promoted as a kind of designer cure-all, another ‘one size fits all’ solution to life’s ills. Another criticism is that it encourages a narcissistic focus on the self.
Thus, there are mindfulness colouring books, mindfulness apps and books like Mindfulness for Dummies, The Mindfulness Diet, Mindfulness for Dogs, Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate, Mindfulness on The Go, Mindful Birthing and so on.
‘…this new corporatised McMindfulness – which in the long term will do as much as a McDonald’s Happy Meal to sate a person’s gnawing hunger for a richer life.’
Incredibly, a Chicago burger bar sells ‘a more mindful burger.’ Joiner.
I wonder how they might advertise this product? Your ideas are welcome in the comments box below. Please contribute whatever comes to mind!
Here’s my take on it:
One American headline asks:
‘Does L.A.’s Absurd, Narcissistic, and Pricey Mindfulness Trend Have Its Benefits?
In Los Angeles, mindfulness has become a hot commodity (Los Angeles Magazine)
The writer’s conclusion is that it does: ‘Bring on the chakra exorcism and $24 hemp smoothies,’ she adds, entranced by her experiences. One of these ‘experiences’ is lead by a woman ‘spending the full 15 minutes with a hand over her heart, head tilted dreamily to the side, whispering, “May I forgive myself” over and over again.’
There is criticism of mindfulness as a process that prevents thinking, that it can be used as an avoidance of considering difficult situations, merely by an unquestioning acceptance of them.
Although the NHS supports mindfulness, an Oxford academic claims it stops people thinking deeply:
‘I think mindfulness and meditation are bad for people, I absolutely think that. People should be thinking.’ ( Theodore Zeldin)
This misuse of the concept surely constitutes another form of mindlessness; there is criticism that corporate organisations use mindfulness in order to stop employees thinking about problematic work issues. (Hackspirit.com)
In similar vein, some schools and universities have used mindfulness to reduce student stress. However, there has been criticism that, as in the corporate setting, such use masks institutional flaws by focussing the problem on the students’ mental health.(Harriet Swain)
Another criticism resides in the ‘infantilising’ nature of this approach, in that it implies that students are going to be troubled emotionally if they do not engage in mindfulness.
Of course, some children are troubled emotionally; at this present time, the evidence of this in terms of child suicides is painfully apparent.
Offering mindfulness exercises is not going to help such children:
Pooky Knightsmith, vice-chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, said such exercises could be actively harmful for those who are particularly vulnerable or have a history of trauma.
“If a child is suffering abuse at home, being given space and time for thoughts to drift through your head isn’t necessarily good,” she said. “Schools need to be aware of the potential risks, even with the most seemingly nice of interventions.”
Have you had experience of mindfulness? What do you think of it? DWill you let me know in the comment box below?