The Real Truth About Mindfulness

‘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.’

Rosenbaum and Magid

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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

 

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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.’

 Daily Telegraph

 

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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:

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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.”

(Independent,2017)

Have you had experience of mindfulness? What do you think of it? DWill you let me know in the comment box below?

4 thoughts on “The Real Truth About Mindfulness

  1. Thank you for another thought provoking piece, Linda!

    I have been practising mindfulness for the last 10 years, originally as a means to reducing anxiety. It was introduced to me by a therapist as an additional life-skill to adopt in my everyday life, but it was by no means a part of the therapy itself.

    I am inclined to agree with Rosenbaum and Magid’s observation, that the concept of mindfulness appears to have sadly become a commercial vehicle for making money.

    For me, the true Buddhist meaning and practice of mindfulness has been greatly distorted and I would suggest somewhat contaminated by so many people and probably for financial gain.

    The tradition of mindfulness not only seems very different to how it was originally practiced by Buddhists, but the concept of mindfulness appears to have become confused and considerably diluted by so many people across the globe.

    I can see how Dunkley and Loewenthal believe that mindfulness can be a useful adjunct in therapy by helping clients recognise that thoughts are not facts. This, coupled with an increasing self awareness, may often be extremely powerful and liberating for people seeking help with stress and anxiety.

    I was introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings about 10 years ago and I regularly listen to his audio recordings. Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach to mindfulness is something I relate to extremely well – certainly the acceptance that things are not permanent, is a very freeing concept to live by.

    Overall, I agree that mindfulness is far from a panacea for everything, but used in the more ‘traditional’ Buddhist context, it is a wonderful skill to incorporate into everyday life – just allowing yourself a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness, can be very grounding indeed.

    However, I also feel that the ability to explore thoughts and feelings on a much deeper and more meaningful level, especially within a therapeutic setting, provides incredible insight and the importance of doing so, should not be underestimated.

    I do hope my response isn’t too lengthy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Fiona,

    Thanks so much for your most interesting and informative response to my post. I am always happy to receive your thoughts and feedback and they are certainly not too lengthy.

    You are obviously aware of much of what I have written and it is good to hear about your experiences in this area. I agree that mindfulness has become over-commercialised, which is a pity, as it does, as you say, have some constructive and therapeutic effects when used with sensitivity and professionalism.

    I will listen to Thich Nhat Hanh- thank you for mentioning this. I find his thoughts most informative and I did not realised he has made recordings. I too find the concept of impermanence really helpful in my life, especially when things are difficult.

    On a personal note, my husband has recently recovered from cancer and we both kept an awareness of this concept. It helped. And he has recovered from his illness, with his particular treatment having a 95% success rate.

    You end your comment with a statement about exploring in a deeper way. As an analytic psychotherapist, I am in complete agreement here.

    With best wishes,

    Linda.

    Like

  3. Hi Linda,

    You will see that Thich Nhat Hahn’s work is available on different media – I do hope you enjoy listening to his recordings. I have enjoyed several of his audiobooks and some of his mindfulness CD’s too.

    I can well imagine that the idea of impermanence will have had a very powerful meaning to you and your husband during his illness. I’m really pleased to hear he has made a full recovery…..that’s wonderful!

    Best wishes,

    Fiona

    Liked by 1 person

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