Mindfulness: Its Benefits and Challenges
The self-help industry has latched onto mindfulness in a big way. Numerous books and now even magazines devote themselves to the topic and trumpet its benefits.
This is no bad thing. We ourselves are strong advocates of mindfulness approaches as a means to help with a range of psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, depression and also relationships.
However, there are a number of ways in which this recent surge of enthusiasm can be misleading, and can diminish the richness of what is in actual fact a long-established practice.
Firstly it can give the impression that mindfulness is a magic cure for all ills. While it can help in many ways, this impression risks overlooking the practical challenges that the actual practice of mindfulness involves.
Mindfulness is grounded, whether we like it or not, in the regular practice of meditation, and this involves a level of self-discipline and commitment which can be difficult to achieve in our busy, driven, media saturated modern world.
Secondly, the amount of literature being generated implies that it is a complicated topic which needs much unravelling. But while the practice may be challenging, the basic concept and technique is really beautifully simple - even if unfamiliar to our modern Western sensibility.
Thirdly, and leading on from the above, the concept of mindfulness originates in the East, or more particularly in the teachings of Buddhism, something that often goes unacknowledged.
It can be helpful to extract what is a psychologically helpful practice from its religious context, which may put off some people. However, this does detract from the richness of the practice by neglecting its spiritual and moral dimensions, reducing it to a skill or a technique.
For Buddhists it is far more than that, being part of a means for achieving spiritual enlightenment and a deeper appreciation of the world and of the universe. It is a practice or a way of life, which Buddhist monks for many thousands of years have spent their whole lives cultivating.
This doesn't mean it can't have huge benefits for us in the West, but the challenges of mindfulness and its deeper riches need to be taken into account and respected if it is not to become just another passing fad.
We will come back to this topic in future blogs.