People who have no idea are turning on it.
Mindfulness has spread across the world. It’s made its way into mainstream society. Everyone from the housemaids to the Silicon Valley CEOs is into it.
But there’s one thing that makes me utterly sad about our predicament.
While mindfulness has spread like wildfire, there’s one essential ingredient that is lacking — Love.
Let me explain.
I recently came across tons of articles talking about the ‘Dark Side of Mindfulness’. As I went on reading, there were two key points I noticed:
First, the people talking about the ‘Dark Side’ were themselves not regular practitioners. They either left their practice after some time or practice ‘occasionally’ (who knows what that means).
Second, they’ve not studied the techniques deeply. Their own understanding of mindfulness is limited to what science says or hearsay. The truth of the practice, in my opinion, can only be learned from the people who teach them.
You might think that just because they’re using scientific studies to back their points, they should be right.
The problem is that it’s not true. For one, science looks at mindfulness with a robotic, mechanistic lens. They filter out what they call ‘woo-woo’ and only focus on the technique. For God’s sake, any philosophy, whether Buddhism or Yogic, is much more than meditation techniques.
Moreover, most scientific studies are done on untrained, or regular people. This is done often to see what kind of impact meditation has on someone who’s never done it before. But beyond that, this represents a false reality. Doing breathing techniques for 15 minutes a day for two weeks isn’t enough experience for researchers to base their conclusions on.
That said, let’s look at a few points that stood out to me while reading these pieces.
The first argument that people make against mindfulness is it leads to emotional detachment. Let’s see what they say. (I’m paraphrasing)
By detaching yourself from your emotions, you lose any sense of happiness. Not only do you lose the reaction to negative thoughts but also towards positive ones. You forget to enjoy a good sunset or appreciate the beauty in anything.
People try to leave their negative baggage behind while trying to keep the positive one.
As a result, they feel depressed or unhappy after practicing mindfulness.
People then start to avid problems or critical thinking leading to a vicious cycle of repeated escapism
First, it doesn’t take a monk to see that people are practicing the techniques in the wrong fashion. One central teaching of mindfulness is acceptance. To not cling to anything, but let it come when it does and go when it has to.
Attachment to anything will lead to suffering.
Even if people realize this, they go haywire. As I said, Love is the missing piece of the puzzle here.
People think acceptance is passive — like a cow standing in the storm with a poker face. Far from it!
It’s about the joyful acceptance of what life gives you. That acceptance is meant to give you the centeredness to think about solving that problem.
Instead of fleeing the scene at the slightest sign of trouble, mindfulness teaches us to see things as they are. To prevent our emotional reactions from going on a roller coaster.
The kind of passive acceptance everyone talks about, will of course make people numb. We have to practice joyful acceptance.
Do you think the saints and sages of all religions were numb, feeble-minded cowards? No! They shook the world with their teachings (Think Buddha, St. Teresa of Avila, and Paramahansa Yogananda).
They accepted things as they are. They enjoyed everything in life with the joy of God. With the love of God. But they also played a crucial role in uplifting society instead of escaping from the problem.
To sum this up, it’s not about overcoming emotions or complete detachment. It’s about transcendence.
When you transcend the emotions, you find a higher source of happiness. That’s where ever-lasting happiness is possible. If you escape reality or try to find happiness in this world of duality, you’ll be utterly disappointed.
The Societal Implications
The second argument is when everyone starts thinking that the problem ‘is in their heads’ (as is often taught by mindfulness), no one will do anything about it.
Ronald Purser, the author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality said in The Guardian:
“But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary — it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live.”
There’s a famous example that comes to mind.
Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Quảng Đức was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese Roman Catholic government led by Ngô Đình Diệm.
In the photo above, Duc is burning himself and not moving at all. This photo spread like wildfire around the world.
In fact, John F. Kennedy said, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the monk’s death.
Duc was well-versed in his meditation practices than a majority of the people on this planet. Did he sit inside his room thinking that the problem was in his head?
No. He burned himself as a part of the protest!
Yes, mindfulness teaches us that real suffering is inside us. That it’s not in the situation but in our reaction to the situation. But it doesn’t teach us to sit back and see the world or our community being destroyed.
People often think they can ‘change the world’. But little do they realize that real change starts inside. When you master yourself you inspire thousands of others. That’s how change happens.
Once you master yourself and your reactions, you can respond and not react.
Duc wasn’t even attached to his body! He would’ve been happy even if he was punished or put in jail. And it’s because of this detachment he could do something as bold as that to shake the world and end the persecution.
Thus, only by detachment can you think about the needs of others. Only by overcoming your own (mental) suffering, can you take the right action.
Ah, this is my favorite one.
People often say that they feel numb after practicing mindfulness. They can’t enjoy anything. And there’s no excitement. They think mindfulness makes them into machines.
This problem can actually be solved with all the things I mentioned above.
The reason people feel numb is…
- they fail to acknowledge a higher power (God is what I like to call it)
- they fail to develop love and devotion
The truth about meditation and the spiritual path is this — the further you go, the better things become. Colors become brighter, sounds become melodious, and your enjoyment multiples.
Why? Because you’re not enjoying things from your little, egoic self. You’re enjoying them with the joy of God! I can’t overstate this simple fact.
I know most of you reading this will either scoff at it or agree only to ignore it. But I can’t not say it.
This is a great delusion amongst many modern meditation practitioners and teachers. If we try to see meditation as just a focus-enhancing technique, of course, it will be boring. It will of course make you numb.
The Real Problem with Mindfulness
On the face of it, it seems that the most advanced humans in the western world are taking on Eastern traditions. But that’s far from the truth.
Entrepreneurs and engineers are taking millennia-old traditions and reshaping them to fit the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, largely atheistic culture.
Forget past lives; never mind nirvana. The technology community of Northern California wants a return on its investment in meditation. “All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde,” says Kenneth Folk, an influential meditation teacher in San Francisco. “This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.” The Valley has little patience for this “hippie bull****”
Simply put, they don’t practice mindfulness with an attitude of selflessness which is essential to transcend the ego.
This culture has made meditation transactional. Instead, meditation is best done in the spirit of self-offering. Offering yourself to the Ultimate Reality or God.
It’s time we need to bring love, devotion, and the right attitude to our mindfulness practice.
Contrary to what most people think, it’s not about being a “hippie.” It’s about a deeper spiritual connection in tandem with emotional, mental, and physical growth.
We need to stop thinking of meditation as just a technique and embrace the philosophy that comes with it. No matter what philosophy you accept, love, compassion, and kindness will inevitably be a part of it.
In that sense meditation is only a part of the teachings. It’s not the whole teaching.
Meditation supports and is supported by a lot of factors.
It never plays solo, it’s part of a larger orchestra inside our own being.
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