My grandpa grew up in a remote village in China.
It wasn’t until he was seventeen years old that he encountered anyone from outside of his village.
Those outsiders were Chinese soldiers.
They recruited him to fight in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
He fought in the war for eight years.
He never did receive a formal education, which broke his heart.
But he was fortunate enough to move to Hong Kong after the war. He worked his way up from janitor to successful and well-respected business owner. And sent his daughter, my mother, to the United States for college.
What no one says about the mindfulness meditation lifestyle
My grandpa once shared these words with my mother when she was young:
“Monks do not contribute to society. All they do is hide in the mountains and meditate all day long.”
By the time he said them, he had seen China in great distress.
He had fought a war just to survive when his village could no longer feed him.
He didn’t say those words lightly, but from careful observation.
The dark roots of mindfulness meditation
Too many Westerners forgo hardship, born into wealthy countries like the United States of America.
Americans especially, think they can tinker with the next eastern “toy,” be it yoga or mindfulness.
I say toy because people don’t look deeper. They don’t think about the broader backstory — the philosophical and political underpinnings of an ideology.
Mindfulness, which in many contexts today is synonymous to Buddhist principles, has dark roots.
Buddhism emerged in suppressed societies in the East, including China and India. Take a look at those places today, and it’s still very dark.
Big Brother has a firm grip on China. India is so racked with poverty that children right now as you’re reading, are being forced into prostitution.
These are deep, dark troubles.
Yet Westerners don’t include this in their mindfulness storytale.
They glorify all of its light and joy, without recognizing the shadow.
The evasive component of mindfulness meditation
My grandpa made that statement because he witnessed first-hand how mindfulness meditation can actually be used in a dysfunctional way.
In a time where China’s people were barely hanging together, there were monks who chose to isolate themselves from China’s problems, and ask for donations to fund their way of life.
Donations, from those who struggled to feed their own families.
My grandpa’s mother died from starvation when her sons left her to fight in the war.
In my grandpa’s eyes, being a monk was a way to evade society, and all of her problems.
The dysfunction of a mindfulness meditation lifestyle
In India, the social fabric condones “looking the other way” instead of facing society’s problems.
People spend their lives in pursuit of enlightenment, hiding in the mountains, or both. Schools refuse children born into brothels because they are the “untouchables.”
This is a dysfunctional system that’s underpinned by religious constructs.
And then remnants of that culture trickle into our self-help bookstreams, and we lap them up without awareness of the greater context from which these principles emerged.
Westerners try to fit practices like mindfulness (and zen) into their daily practice, with little regard for how it can lead to problems in their ability to remain connected to society, and all of her glorious problems.
Mindfulness meditation needs balance
But too many people today worship EEG brain waves generated by monks who mediate all day long.
To wonder at something we don’t yet fully understand is one thing.
To take it to the next level and assert that we should all use mindfulness mediation techniques to essentially get rid of our emotions?
That’s a recipe for disaster.
Mindfulness meditation can’t be fear-based
And it reflects a fear.
Of facing the pain that comes with being human, and living in a human world.
Going on meditation retreats so as to avoid real-life problems, pedesteling a guru or any other teacher for that matter, using meditation to “release” anger, and trying to permanently silence your Ego/emotional self — is not constructive. It goes against what our future hinges on.
Mindfulness, when taken to this extreme, is dangerous. Not just to an individual’s mental-emotional health and well-being — but to that of the planet.
Because it condones that large groups of people to disconnect from their emotions and look the other way when society’s knee-deep in problems.
Direct mindfulness toward your emotional experience
Suffering’s no fun, and yeah it’s part of being human.
But don’t be lured into thinking that you can change your human nature by defusing your emotions. Don’t run from yourself in fear.
Muster up your courage instead.
You are a human of the world. You have emotions so that you can care, and understand what true compassion is.
Why mindfulness meditation has a dark side
My grandpa also told my mother:
“If everyone became a monk, then we would have no food to eat, no way to live. Society would fall apart.”
Getting food, building shelter, creating laws and agreements, protecting borders — those reflect the dark powers, your dark side.
It’d be nice if you didn’t have to get your hands dirty, but you do have to in order to survive.
The dark side of mindfulness meditation is an escapist attitude — from response ability to life.
(Many mindfulness-based practices try to warp your relationship with emotions so that they’re relegated to vagaries of perception.)
People who seek this escape don’t want to get their hands dirty with all the ugly things you have to do in life to get by, like:
But as much as mindfulness meditation is often used to avoid the above, you can’t deny your dark side.
You can’t meditate it away.
What you can do is start using your dark side in a balanced way.
Which is the only way to create life that is genuinely guided by the principles of mindfulness.
This is the 4th article in the series, “Mindful emotion regulation: An integrative review.”
If you enjoyed this article, you can also check out the free 10-part email course, “Your Life is Your Construct.” It delivers practical inspiration on how to be more mindful of your emotions.