Is mindfulness making us ill?
It’s not a new article but here is my response to it.
As a qualified therapist and someone who facilitates a mindfulness based retreat here’s my take on the issues the article raises.
To me “mindfulness” is simply paying attention with compassion to the felt experience of the present moment in the simple way that our minds and bodies are set up to do.
Over millennia, human beings have evolved ways of being that compliment living as an integral part of the natural world and the state of aware, mental quietude that is now called “mindfulness” is simply a natural, default state that compliments a life in nature. It’s not a recent development of the mind, it’s simply the natural state that comes about when all the internal mental and external distractions are removed.
One of the great tragedies of the modern era is the schism that living a life removed from nature has caused within our own psyches. The modern context stimulates the part of us that has split away from nature and in so doing has caused many to lose the direct contact with human nature that our ancestors and people who live a more natural life still enjoy to this day. This quiet felt experience of the present moment is a state of congruence between mind and body that relaxes us and promotes well being. I don’t think anybody would dispute that.
However, a mind accustomed to anxious rumination and reactivity to external stimulation over a long period of time can get stuck in a pattern of avoiding feelings that really require expression for a person to remain healthy. They can build up inside and cause emotional disturbance or sometimes cause dramatic outbursts.
When we start paying attention, obviously we might start experiencing all the feelings that we had hitherto denied. Because of this I agree with the article that is wise to do these things in the presence of someone who can help you positively express and process those feelings if you think this is likely to happen.
The thing that the article does not sufficiently take into account, (in my opinion), is the context within which mindfulness takes place. The mindfulness practice that we do on the Walkinginspirit retreat takes place in the most generous natural surroundings you can imagine and most people find that nature herself is able to hold the space for them to safely become fully present in the moment.
I have not had one single person, so far, who has had a dramatically bad reaction and according to the 7% figure quoted in the article I should have. Sure, everybody has moments of emotion and sometimes difficulty too and also joy and real bliss. That is all natural and part of the process as far as I’m concerned.
The opening of self during mindfulness in nature tends to be stepped and during the course of the week the mind and body settles down more and more and we experience a great sense of relief and a viscerally felt recognition that in nature we have come home. As this deep rapport with the natural world develops, ever more subtle defences are released and ever more subtle dimensions to out senses are realised.
It’s a beautiful thing but I wouldn’t recommend walking through Victoria Station in such an open state. What I have come to realise about being mindful is that the unnatural modern context is often not a safe place within which to practice it fully and this, I suspect, is why many people who have experienced the joys of the archaic way of being become motivated to move away from cities and find a simpler way of life that is more conducive to being congruent with their truer sense of “S”elf. Hence the appeal of the “cabin in the woods”.
Not everybody is able to do this of course and what I will be focussing more on this year during the retreats is helping people to open and close their awareness with more flexibility and be more discerning about what situations are safe to be fully open and mindful in… and which ones aren’t. Reentry needs to be managed well after any retreat.
Is mindfulness making us ill? Absolutely not! We are either unwell in some way to begin with, and paying attention to ourselves facilitates its expression, or we encounter a normal difficulty or healing crises that simply has to be passed through on the way to better mental and physical health.
Is mindfulness for everybody?
Well, that is ultimately a choice for people to make for themselves but it would be hard to make a case for there being some people for whom becoming aware or paying attention to the present moment with compassion is not advisable.
Maybe next it will be recommended that becoming less aware is better for your health? In a sick society maybe it is. Lol!
Maybe it’s not the natural feelings of loss, grief and depression that normal people feel living in a society divorced from nature that is the problem… maybe if we are NOT feeling those things to some extent we are simply not paying ENOUGH attention to what is being done to our lives and our beautiful world.
Anyway… enough of all that. Come and pay attention to your beautiful self and to our beautiful world with me in Somiedo this year. I guarantee you will love it.