17 Ways Mindfulness Meditation
Can Cause You Emotional Harm

by Melissa Karnaze

Approach mindfulness meditation with cautionMindfulness meditation is not a fad, say journalists, celebrities, psychologists, and even transhumanists.

But what writers, researchers, clinicians, teachers, and practitioners won’t tell you.

Is that there are seventeen hidden dangers of practicing mindfulness meditation.

When you’re not being mindful of how you’re treating your negative emotions.

How mindfulness meditation contradicts itself

Mindfulness meditation is supposed to promote mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment. It’s also supposed to promote acceptance of all experience.

However, when you look at what’s actually said and written about the practice, it’s a different story.

Because when it comes to stress, physical pain, emotional pain, discomfort, or any other undesirable sensations.

You’re supposed to get rid of them (or “defuse” them) by:

    1. “Observing” them
    2. Avoiding actually experiencing them so you can continue to “observe” them (also known as resistance)
    3. Telling yourself that they aren’t real
    4. Telling yourself that they aren’t necessarily accurate
    5. Telling yourself that they aren’t you
    6. Detaching from them as a result of telling yourself that they aren’t to be experienced, but rather “observed”

This is supposed to be a “nonjudgmental” process, but what happens most of the time — judgment of negative emotions. Why else would you try to get rid of them through such a technique?

When you really don’t judge a negative emotion, you let it run its natural course — without trying to step in and control the situation through cultivated mental discipline.

The process listed above trains you to dissociate from your unwanted thoughts and emotions. Who’s to say if you should experience “unwanted” thoughts and emotions” as you start to become aware of them? That’s your call. (We do emotion regulation all the time.) But it’s not the issue; it’s the deception.

The mindfulness meditation movement completely ignores its inherent contradiction. At least currently.

All because of lack of true acceptance of the emotional experience. Or fear of the emotional realm, which stems from obsession with artificial evasion of suffering.

The movement claims that mindfulness meditation “allows you to experience the present moment and be open to new experience.”

When it closes you off to certain unwanted experiences.

The common prescription of mindfulness meditation prevents you from being mindful of unwanted thoughts and feelings. (If you just follow them, though, they often work themselves out.)

What’s so bad about mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation, like any other meditation, is a tool.

How you use that tool matters.

Many use it to avoid having to feel emotional pain.

But of course they won’t tell you that.

The cover story will be something nicer, spiritual even. Like, “I want to be more in touch with my true nature.” “It helps me de-stress.” “It makes me happy.”

Getting in touch with your true nature, de-stressing, and being happy are all possible without suppressing negative emotions. (They’re only possible without suppressing negative emotions, in the long run.)

Of course you’ll temporarily feel better if you don’t have to face your unwanted thoughts and emotions — which are just there to alert you of problems in your environment and/or your thinking. That by the way, only you can fix.

Of course you’ll have fewer worries if you stop thinking about your problems. But you’ll have to meditate again to get that high. Because you are not a monk living apart from modern civilization. You have demands of daily life that leave lots of room for things like interpersonal conflict, communication issues, and having to balance family with work.

Mindfulness meditation won’t fix your problems for you. (Unless you use it to really become mindful of your emotional experiences so that you can work through them constructively and mindfully.)

The first step you need to take in fixing your problems, long-term, is becoming mindful of them — by paying attention to messengers — the negative emotions.

When you detach from the thoughts and emotions alerting you of those problems — you ignore the problems. Or ignore important components. And might even make the problems worse.

If you’re not mindful about how you’re using mindfulness meditation to defuse your negative emotions, it can cause you emotional harm in seventeen crucial ways.

17 Ways mindfulness meditation can cause you emotional harm

Mindfulness meditation is about clinging to the story: Emotions aren’t real. Aren’t accurate. Will pass.

When you dissociate from your negative emotions, an integral part of who you are, seventeen of many unintended negative consequences may result:

    1. You start to judge uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as inferior, unreal, or bad. Which gets in your way of actually learning from them, experiencing and healing them, growing from them, and integrating them.
    2. You get good at stuffing anger and other negative emotions. Which might make them go away — temporarily. But hasn’t shown to be very effective.
    3. If and when a traumatic or emotionally painful experience occurs, you don’t fully process it, and cut your grieving process dangerously short.
    4. You have low tolerance for processing grief. So if you start to remember something traumatic, you stuff it down, potentially re-traumatizing yourself.
    5. You expect meditation to fix your problems for you, resolve your relationship conflicts, and make you happy. Each of those things requires hard work, commitment, and realistically, some discomfort. When you look to meditation to save you, you stop putting in the hard work and commitment, and evade the discomfort. Which makes it harder to effectively work toward your goals.
    6. You detach yourself from conflicts in your life, expecting that meditation will get rid of the negative emotions — and fix the problem altogether. The emotions just signal the problem. Even if you ignore the emotions, the problem is still there.
    7. You detach from your partner or loved one when they’re upset or experiencing an emotion you see as undesirable. You wish they’d just meditate it away, calm down, take a walk, get a grip — do whatever it takes to get rid of the emotion. When you invalidate your partner’s negative emotions, you cause serious wounds to both of you, harming trust and intimacy.
    8. You find it difficult to connect to your feelings when you want to be emotionally honest with yourself and others. Because you’ve trained yourself to avoid them. This impairs your ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.
    9. Your relationships deteriorate, because you lose touch with what interpersonal conflict really means. After all, no one is really experiencing hurt feelings, right? Those feelings aren’t really real; just dissociate from them. Or, “observe” them.
    10. You struggle to empathize with others, or understand their pain. If you don’t feel your own pain — you can’t expect to have compassion for another’s pain.
    11. You lose your ability to naturally feel upset, sad, or concerned when there’s an issue in your life that you need to address. This puts a damper on healthy discernment.
    12. Your ability to feel positive emotions is also affected. Because you don’t allow experience of the negative. The positive cannot exist without the negative. Get rid of the negative, the positive has no meaning.
    13. Your passion and drive in life start to fade, or shift away from those things that are truly special to you. Which may be a good thing, if you don’t want to cling to such things. But a bad thing if you give up pursuits that once gave you meaning and reward.
    14. You start to feel dissatisfied with your life, and alone. But because of the nature of mindfulness meditation, you compound the problem by meditating, dissociating, and numbing even more.
    15. You become fixated, obsessed, attached to abstract, man-made, escapist concepts like enlightenment and transcendence. This distracts you from attending to your actual life, here on Earth, as a mortal human being.
    16. You subconsciously seek a guru or teacher to show you the way to “better” enlightenment and transcendence. You have no idea how this person deals with their interpersonal relationships, not to mention conflict. You have no idea if this person could manage the mundane responsibilities you struggle to balance in life. Yet you put this person on a pedestal, and potentially take a advice that’s really not suited for your lifestyle.
    17. You get it in your head that humans are so imperfect. This may come from the spiritual beliefs surrounding the practice, or just hanging around others who practice. (“Perfect” is a human construct by the way.) You then judge your human-ness. And seek to quiet (or kill) your ego, or self concept. Which puts you in ultimate conflict with yourself.

Meditate with mindfulness

Meditation doesn’t have to be harmful to your emotional health.

Mindfulness meditation may not cause you emotional harm.

However, if you’re using it to avoid experiencing your negative emotions, be mindful of that endeavor. And pay attention to any unintended negative consequences that may result.

Mindfulness meditation can help you process physical pain. Mindfulness can help you process emotional pain. And meditation can get you in touch with how you really feel, and how you can respond to your life in constructive ways.

It all depends on how you use the tool.

If you’re brave enough to feel, and be truly mindful of your personal experience, you can:

But you have to feel, all of it, first!

That’s real mindfulness.

This is the 6th article in the series, “Mindful emotion regulation: An integrative review.”

What do you think?

Do you meditate? Does it help you get in touch with your emotions?

What do you feel are potential pitfalls of mindfulness meditation? How about potential merits of mindfulness meditation?

Want to learn more about how to work with your emotions? Sign up for the free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct.


{ 226 comments… read them below or add one }

Willy February 4, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Melissa,

Personally, no one I know who practices medidation to “meditate” their problems away nor have I read any books or come across any articles that in even hint at practiving mindful medidation for that purpose. So I am a bit confused as to where all this is coming from?

I do realize that this sort of thing happens when people turn to and expect a higher power to save them from problems they are experiencing or simply chalk it all up as something like “this is the will of God” and disassociating themselves from being response albe. I this akin to what to what you saying about how the practive of mindful meditation can and perhaps is sometimes misused?

Willy

Melissa Karnaze February 5, 2011 at 12:13 am

Yes Willy, it’s akin to that.

Francis February 5, 2011 at 3:47 am

I always like reading your blog posts – and I understand where you’re coming from with this one. For example, I can remember someone I knew of many years ago who did use meditation to keep some traumatic experiences at bay.

However, I think your assertion that mindfulness meditation is an attempts to ignore and suppress negative feelings is a generalization that isn’t entirely backed up by the facts.

Take the following from ‘The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness’ by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn, which must be one of the best-selling books about mindfulness.

Firstly, two of the chapters are entitled ‘Reconnecting with Our Feelings’ and ‘Befriending Our Feelings’, which doesn’t suggest any attempt to ignore feelings.

And here are two relevant quotes:

‘If, paradoxically, we can turn and face whatever it is that we are finding scary, difficult, or depressing rather than perpetually distracting ourselves to no avail, we are actually still doing what the brain wants us to do: giving high priority attention to the matter at hand. It’s just that we are no longer giving it attention in the old “doing” way. We are approaching the moment – whatever it is, however it is – not by reacting but rather by responding, by bringing an open, spacious and affectionate attention to the feeling in the moment as it expresses itself in the body. Now are are in a relationship to the alarm in a new way, one that provides us with a viable alternative to endlessly thinking about it.” (pp142-143)

‘So it’s usually helpful, once we acknowledge the presence of thoughts as mental events, to go underneath the thought level and work through directly sensed body experience – the feelings we get from an unpleasant experience (such as a sense of anger) as well as physical sensations (such as tightening in the shoulders). To do this, we bring an affectionate and discerning awareness to each aspect of our felt emotions, as best we can, using the meditation practices from Chapter 7. We may notice changes from moment to moment – for example, the transformation of a sense of anger to a sense of hurt, then to a softer sense of sadness.’ (pp173-174)

What I was really impressed by when I first read the book a few years ago was the foundational place that the authors gave to dealing with feelings. I wish that I had been able to use that approach when I first started meditating.

Karma Gyatso February 5, 2011 at 8:08 am

With respect, you seem to have completely missed the point of mindfulness meditation which can happen when we pratice without the guidance of a proper teacher. Properly taught mindfulness meditation has the potential to provide us with the most natural understanding of our mind and the source of our emotions. Many people in the West are now turning to mindfulness because they are feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or generally unhappy. These emotions are there already – before undertaking a practice of mindfulness. However, we are unable to see why we are unhappy (i.e. the causes) – we think the next material object we buy will bring us happiness – and although it might bring us a fleeting illusion of happiness, it of course doesn’t result in lasting happiness. The only route to happiness is to see how our mind is working and to see the source of the emotions and thoughts that lead to our unhappiness. The way we “see” the source is by the practice of settling the mind – this can take time, but when the mind is sufficiently settled we can see the source of our unhappiness. Of course this can be challenging because we see things that we do not like in ourselves and others which challenges our percieved identity of ourself. However, such insight shows us how things really are – how we really are – as opposed to a dilusion and fog which we live in with an untrained mind. Also, when we actually “see” the source that has caused us so much unhappiness for years we are liberated from that unhappiness. To counteract any things we see in ourselves and others that we do not like it is essential to also practice the cultivation of compassion. Many “new” so-called meditation teachers do not teach the practice of compassion alongside mindfulness. My teacher considers meditation and compassion to be like the two wings of a bird – they go hand-in-hand to enable the mind to develop in a balanced way. It is essntial to find a good teacher of meditation. Sorry for the long comment but it’s a big topic.

Melissa Karnaze February 5, 2011 at 10:08 am

Francis, if I thought that anything associated with the word “mindful” was about suppressing emotions, this site would be called something else. :)

The only route to happiness is to see how our mind is working and to see the source of the emotions and thoughts that lead to our unhappiness.

I agree with your main point Karma, just not in how it’s played out.

The way we “see” the source is by the practice of settling the mind – this can take time, but when the mind is sufficiently settled we can see the source of our unhappiness.

“Settling” the mind can help in some cases, but the nature of emotion is not usually “settled.” There are other ways to trace the “sources” of emotions which are more constructive and rewarding than simply seeing emotions as not being “real,” calming them down, and dissociating from them.

From your perspective, I live “with an untrained mind.”

From my perspective, most minds are trained to flinch and dissociate from painful emotions (abstracting them through meditation practices included) instead of fully embracing, accepting, and integrating them (which involves actual emoting) — just by being a product of our society, and especially being a product of spiritual teachings that emphasize emotions as not being “real.”

Jenny February 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Thanks for another great article, Melissa, I always find your blog informative and enjoyable, and often find you articulate clearly ideas that remain somewhat inchoate in my own mind.

I get the impression that the inability to distinguish between disidentification and dissociation (I hope I’m not putting words into your mouth here – correct me if I’m wrong please) is more common than many Dharma Egos and therapists realise, and it is a real problem.

Jack Kornfield recounts with characteristic wry humor how his years as a Buddhist monk taught him to ‘transcend’ his emotions, yet when he returned to the West he had to start pretty much from scratch to learn to really deal with them.

A timely point well articulated, Melissa. Thanks!

Melissa Karnaze February 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for your comment Jenny!

I get the impression that the inability to distinguish between disidentification and dissociation (I hope I’m not putting words into your mouth here – correct me if I’m wrong please) is more common than many Dharma Egos and therapists realise, and it is a real problem.

Exactly. The jargon is all there to dissociate from the dissociating going on!

Martha February 6, 2011 at 2:10 am

I’m interested in the use mindfulness techniques to help people who suffer from anxiety disorders. One of the commonest problems is over-engagement with the thoughts and emotions generated by anxiety, so it’s really helpful to be able to step back a little and view them dispassionately. Eventually most people have to spend time working on the thoughts and emotions that are feeding the anxiety, but that’s impossible while the anxiety dominates.

Serge February 6, 2011 at 2:19 am

Hi Mellisa,

I was introduced to the Jon Kabat-Zinn method (ie. Mindfulness) a couple of years ago. This 8-week course is pretty straightforward and originally proposed as a last resort when all other medical interventions can bring no further relieve for people with chronic pain. His program became very popular in the US and later also in Europe. It may be a bit “hyped” lately, but at it”s core I believe it’s a very useful practise. I’d like to note that JKZ – in his books – explicitly talks at length about everyone’s dark side, and the difficulties of opening up to those emotions you’d rather not want to experience.

Karma Gyatso February 6, 2011 at 6:38 am

Thank you for your response to my comments above.
You say: ““Settling” the mind can help in some cases, but the nature of emotion is not usually “settled”.”
I agree, the nature of emotion is not settled, far from settled most of the time, but the true nature of mind is settled – and this is what the practice of mindful meditation cultivates. When we have attained stability of mind we are able to “objectively” see the unsettled thoughts and emotions with clarity rather than been caught up in them. This allows us to accurately address the sources of our unhappiness with complete understanding and acceptance.

I appreciate there are other ways to trace the “sources” of emotions, however as far as I am aware they all require a degree of guidance from thought – be it internal thought or external thought from a therapist to guide. Meditation is “thought without thinking” – merely being a passive observer of our thoughts and emotions as they arise autonomously. As soon as the “thinking mind” kicks in it will have a preference and the preference will be to distract the obeservation into atrain of thought which takes us away from experincing the true source of our emotion. In my experiences, the experince of the true source of emotion is never as bad as the unhappiness experinced from the habitual thought patterns and there appears to be a self-regulator such that we only see what we are ready to see.

I am not sure why you believe spiritual teachings emphasise that emotions are “not real”. Certainly from a Buddhist point of view it is the complete opposite – emotions are considered to be very real. There is the relative reality in which we experience all the emotions as we do in everyday life (very real) and there is also an absolute reality co-existing. The emotions we experience in relative reality are derived from our past experiences and our conditioning and these are very real to us. However, these emotions arise because of our identity of self and our self-worth – e.g. I might walk around all day thinking I am ugly and that everyone in the world thinks I am ugly. This will affect my self confidence, the way I interact with people etc. – that is relative reality – it is very real to me because I have decided that I am ugly because of past experience and conditioning. However, nobody is really ugly because ugliness is merely a projection of the viewing mind – therefore absolute reality also exits. Mindfulness meditation allows us to see with clarity the feelings – e.g. how my belief that I am ugly makes me feel and provides the means for accepting that feeling – i.e. how I feel about what I feel – e.g. not accepting that I feel ugly but accepting the emotions I experience because I believe I am ugly.
Therefore, meditation is about seeing our “real” emotions clearly such that we are able to accept them in an understanding and compassionate way. It is only through seeing our emotions clearly and accepting them that we can have lasting happiness. Proper meditation can be incredibly healing. However, as I mentioned previously, it is vitally important to have a knowledgeable and experienced meditation teacher.

Melissa Karnaze February 6, 2011 at 8:43 am

Martha & Serge, thanks for sharing.

…the true nature of mind is settled – and this is what the practice of mindful meditation cultivates.

Karma, the nature of the brain is dynamic and adaptive. Through the course of 24hrs, the brain switches from various states of consciousness (e.g., from sleep to wake state). Even if you’re talking about nonphysical mind, the brain is still the anchor for physical consciousness.

When we have attained stability of mind we are able to “objectively” see the unsettled thoughts and emotions with clarity rather than been caught up in them.

This is what I mean by seeing emotions as not “real.” Being “caught up in them” (the extent of that may vary) validates that they are real and true in the moment. Because they reflect how you construe your experience. How you construe your experience is real, because it directly influences your notion of reality.

Not getting caught up in emotions is about stepping back and saying, “Wait a sec, this emotion isn’t necessarily 100% objective, therefore I shouldn’t trust it because it’s not ‘real.’”

From my perspective, “seeing” your emotions instead of experiencing or identifying with (or being mindful of) them in the moment and/or trying to detach from self concept or “ego…” can very easily make you miss out on the “sources” of undesirable emotional patterns — problems in thinking or the environment, or incongruities between the two. (I think you’re getting at the same thing, but in doing so “more objectively” than “through the perspective of your emotions.”)

My perspective probably doesn’t seem sensible to you though because from your perspective the “true” nature of the mind is “settled.”

Put simply, this won’t make sense unless you’ve done it, integrated an undesirable emotional experience mindfully — totally embracing it in the moment and finding out what happens next. :)

Anon February 7, 2011 at 1:42 am

Melissa, I understand completely what you are talking about. Perhaps some of your readers would like an example of how what most people call ‘mindfulness’ can be damaging and prevent integration of true experience.

I have a dissociative disorder due to extreme and prolonged abuse in childhood. I was misdiagnosed as ‘anxious’ for many years and I struggled horribly just to keep going and do everyday things like working and caring for my family, self and home. No therapist I went to was ever interested in why I had problems and I got a lot of advice about hobbies, walks outdoors, positive thinking, relaxation exercises, etc. Great. I was always ‘cured’ by that useless crap only to have another breakdown a couple of months later. Then they trotted out the pills and saddled me with a decade-long benzo addiction and I was left to fix that all by myself because no one would listen to me when I realized it was harming me. Then I went to therapy again when I couldn’t deal with life outside of a drug haze and the memories started coming. The therapist seemed okay with it at first and because of this I thought I had finally found someone who ‘got it’. And then, after one integration and a short bit of comparative wellness, a MAJOR dissociative wall collapsed. Guess what the bastard hit me with? Mainstream ‘mindfulness’. He broke part of me with that. I’m sorry, but ‘observing’ myself being raped IS EXACTLY WHAT I DID WHEN I DISSOCIATED!! It is why I am the way I am. I have NEVER been allowed to be IN my life, I’ve only been allowed to watch. It’s still like that even with GOOD things. It has pretty much always been. But somehow I found the physical safety in my life to finally break through (no help from any therapist with THAT). Then that horrible ‘mindful’ (mindless, lying) therapist tried to shove me back under the rug and I hate him for it. Really? Depersonalization forever is better that facing reality full on until you can finally get peace from the thing? REALLY??? Does he know how difficult it is to maintain that? There is no energy left for anything else. And then I am supposed to ‘observe’ (dissociate) the sadness I feel because I can only ‘observe’ my children’s birthday party instead of being IN it? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just dissociate the dissociation. That therapy all but RUINED me. I can’t tell you how many years he set me back and how he retraumatized me with his continued and offensive foolishness. Yeah, I crawled out from under the drugs all by myself (while he was encouraging me to find a new ‘medicine’ so my reality would once again become unavailable). I have still not recovered from my dealings with this awful therapist. Using mainstream ‘mindfulness’ to deal with trauma is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to take your mind off the pain of broken legs. Not only do you end up with deformed legs that never get set, you end up having much worse problems than that!! I would like to see mainstream mindfulness (denial, detachment, depersonalized ‘observing’ etc.) leave modern therapies. It is so rampant and nauseating and I just DO NOT see how people don’t get it. I rarely comment here because I get very fired up on this topic, but I appreciate the work you do here. I swear I will NEVER let anyone do that to me again. EVER! Do you know I have PTSD reactions specific to certain words and phrases included in ‘mindfulness’ lingo because of that asshole therapist? (He’s such a denying liar and so stupid and brainwashed.) I have stood up and SCREAMED at my current therapist before when he has used triggering words. Because I have no use for being reasonable when I’d really like to scream at someone. I’d rather just SCREAM. And none of this would have been necessary had I just been allowed to cry and scream about being raped instead of being chastised for feeling my real feelings and instructed and ‘supported’ in mindfully dissociating them. If you can’t scream or cry in therapy, then WHERE CAN YOU DO IT?

Here is MY version of Eastern Philosophy (sorry – I’m crass and have no class) — His mindfullness bullshit stole five years of my life and many thousands of dollars that I will never get back and I’m ANGRY about it. It is NOT helpful to tell someone who has just been raped to take a bubble bath and live in the present moment. I think it is my former therapist who needs a bath. HE is the dirty one, not me.

Thanks for your courage and honesty, Melissa. It is SHOCKINGLY rare. You are an exceptionally bright and courageous young woman and I wish you every blessing.

Caroline February 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm

We are all unique …..what will work for one person may not work for another. Mindfulness is a Buddist practice or originates from Buddism(As far as I know) and at the centre of Buddist practice is compassion towards self and others. Practicing mindfulness with compassion helps me to stop the cycle of abuse and create positive new responses to the circumstances of my life. Mindfulness as a tool has helped me recognise and change the destructive patterns that have kept me captive in fear and depression. It helps me to become more aware of my experience of being alive and gives me the opportunity to understand my motivations and where they come from.I look inward with compassion to find the answers to my questions.

Melissa Karnaze February 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Anon, thank you for sharing your story here. It hits on several of the pitfalls of mainstream mindfulness that deeply, deeply concern me. And it provides a side of the story that few can grasp (because they’ve gotten really good at dissociating), and even fewer would acknowledge.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for the mental health institution to adopt this mindset without enough critical research into the complexity of the topic. You might like a book by a “recovering psychotherapist,” Anne Wilson Schaef, called Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science, and I think you’d like her writing style. She recounts how her professional training taught her to “contain” and “control” emotional experiences both in the office and in her own life. And how she broke away from the dysfunction and came to understand (and later facilitate in workshops) how to accept emotional processes and heal through them.

Thanks again for sharing your awareness and I wish you all the best in your continued journey of reconnecting with and integrating your emotions. :)

Caroline, are you referring to the mainstream notion of mindfulness, of observing and dis-identifying instead of experiencing emotions?

Caroline February 8, 2011 at 2:30 am

I feel that the practice of mindfulness helps me to become more aware of the emotions I am feeling. The idea of disassociating from them does not allow for compassion which is something I feel.I am a survivor of childhood abuse and I have never found therapy helpful( I have tried many that didnt work for me and often set me back).That is why I started the practice of mindfulness so that I could take control of my own healing process through observing my patterns and gradually changing my emotional responses. The best help I have ever got has come from the love and support I have recieved from others.My interpretation is based on Buddist practice.But it is a tool and it all depends on how you use it. I feel that mindfulness the way I view it is grossly misinterpreted in the mainstream. For me its about finding peace in myself not by disassociating but by observing as well as feeling.I also understand that there is a dark side to mindfulness when it becomes selfishness.But I would not regard that as truly mindful. I found that because of my childhood experience I based all my decisions on how I was feeling and often felt overwhelmed with emotion I couldent control so I avoided other people or even going out my front door because the fear would overwhelm me to the point that I would have to retreat and hide. I often felt overwhelmed with all the emotion I was feeling. Becoming mindful has helped me to overcome this exaggerated emotional response. Perhaps the idea of being in control is something that appeals to me as it was something I wasnt allowed as a child.

Melissa Karnaze February 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Caroline, thank you for clarifying and sharing more of your story. It’s a very fine balance to observe and still feel. I’m glad to hear that’s the heart of your practice, and that you have support from others, which really makes a difference!

Ben February 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm

So far I am finding the “mindfulness” ideas helpful for working with my issues. I like a lot of the ideas but I do think there’s an over-emphasis on the meditating and “ego” stuff, and I can DEFINITELY see the apprehension you have about how some of the ideas can be interpreted (I see the same danger in CBT. In fact I think I’ve been doing CBT on myself, poorly, all these years as a defence mechanism, and that’s become compulsive and has got me where I am now.)
Thankfully my therapist was very kind and understanding so if I said something wasn’t working for me for whatever reason that was fine, and that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. He didn’t always understand what I was trying to tell him, but he also didn’t push the issue and we moved on to other things. I have a lot of issues with not being able to express myself and my emotions. But with both my therapist’s help and the ideas in the book I’ve discovered that my “headaches” and whatnot are actually really strong emotions I have about things (trivial little things, big intense things, whatever) that are blocked up, like a stuffed up nose. The ideas in the book help me to lean into the headaches instead of hide, and when I do, I get a sense of the emotion, and lean into it even more despite the pain and thoughts start to snowball and emotions come out. It is very painful and very lonely but they do and having compassion for myself in those moments helps get it out. But I couldn’t do that if I was just saying “la-la-la thinking! la-la-la” to myself.

Caroline, for example, says she “based all my decisions on how I was feeling and often felt overwhelmed with emotion” which sounds like she needs more space to think and be ok with whatever ideas are giving her such strong emotions.

Anon sounds like the opposite. She says “[Am I] supposed to ‘observe’ (dissociate) the sadness I feel because I can only ‘observe’ my children’s birthday party instead of being IN it?”, which sounds like she needs more space to feel, and be ok with whatever feelings are giving her such strong thinkings.

I think many of the “mindfulness” ideas are adaptable, but it definitely seems to be geared towards someone like Caroline.

Melissa Karnaze February 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.

Yes, as I understand it, there is a continuum in how harmful mindfulness meditation can be. We all regulate emotions (consciously or not), through expression at one pole and dissociation at the other. I think dissociative mindfulness more times than not has negative effects, regardless of where you “fit” on the continuum.

Which book are you referring to?

Fishy February 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I love the article. Scientific research and the media have been so fully supportive of mindfulness meditation, that it is interesting and refreshing to see a different perspective. This also helped clarify my concepts. So I really appreciate it Melissa.
As a student of mindfulness, I do share very similar doubts- even as I just read your article. But please allow me to use my limited experience and express my opinions.Hopefully we can have a constructive dialogue on the topic, for the sake of the topic =). And do let me know about what you think- I see this as a process of clarifying my/our ideas/ beliefs.
One of the biggest lesson I learned from my teacher at UCLA is, as you said- mindfulness is just a tool.
It does NOT fix your problems. What it does is it shifts your “relationship” with the problems. And instead of being helplessly caught up in them, with
mindfulness, you see clearly how your mind is conditioned to conjure up dramas and entangle yourself in it. This does NOT mean that emotions are unreal and inaccurate as you mentioned. It simply means mindfulness accepts the fact that ours minds have a natural tendency to further enlarge and dramatize the existing, REAL, yet negative emotions to an unwanted and unnecessarily unsustainable extent- thus causing us tremendous harm and suffering, mentally and physically.
Therefore, it is highly inaccurate to say that mindfulness abandons/rejects/judges emotions. This is the last statement that I would make about mindfulness because Mindfulness promotes the exact opposite of that. From my limited knowledge (at least the secular mindfulness that I learned at UCLA), mindfulness acknowledges emotions, even difficult ones (eg.fear) In every single class, the instructors always encourages us to tune in and IMMERSE to our emotions (good and bad), thoughts, and bodily sensations and thoroughly observe whatever comes up. It is very typical of the mindfulness tradition to RECOGNIZE emotion and even the underlying purpose of emotions. I believe a kind, gentle, open, curious ACCEPTANCE of all emotions is the most major foundation of mindfulness practice. Also, an INSIGHT to the root/cause of the difficult emotion is also very important- the CLARITY OF MIND. If after your observation, you find that the root of your sadness is your laziness, you have the liberty to find ways to make changes for the better, however you define better (but only after you recognize clearly what it IS) But if the root of the sadness is uncontrollable and irrational, which is often the case (eg. conditioned aversion/ hostility towards your brother) you can choose to let it go.
This is how I benefit from mindfulness personally. All changes or acceptance are possible after acceptance. It is ONLY AFTER fully recognizing the emotion/sensation. that we CHOOSE to place our attention to a more neutral sensation eg. breath. and “let go” of whatever UNPLEASANT sensations. The idea of ATTENTION, ATTUNEMENT, ACCEPTANCE, CHOICE TO LET GO, are very important in thinking about RECOGNITION of emotion and the subsequent LETTING GO of unpleasant emotions. Mindfulness teachers that I met never taught me what are the GOOD/SUPERIOR and BAD/NEGATIVE emotions. And the never taught us to REJECT anything. deep inside, we intuitively, personally know what is good for us. Nothing is coercive. They are all personal choices. Preference does not equate to judgement
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”–This quote of Carl Rogers’s resonate deeply with me. To me, mindfulness is action in inaction, subjective in objective, mind in body– and vice versa. Traditional dualism sometimes cannot contain mindfulness.
Scientifically, mindfulness recognize even the underlying purpose of emotion– “fight or flight” mechanism- that we get anxious and agitated in face of threatening events because we need the adrenaline and alertness to take proper, quick action in order to survive in hostile, life-threatening situations.
More importantly, science shows us that our minds does not always make accurate predictions (eg. eyes see optical illusions/mind fails to predict future.)
Similarly, the fight-flight system can be over-activated or falsely activated, and cause emotions (eg. felt in the body as increased heartbeat) Our physical body gets over-agitated to thoughts/objects/events that are non-threatening in reality. Or rather- our minds irrationally perceive non-threatening objects/events as threatening (false positive alarm) eg. nervous breakdown for planning a family reunion- over-worrying perhaps about the awkward silence on the dinner table, which is a valid concern to many. But our minds tend to dramatize the negativity and get so ATTACHED to the emotion of fear to an extent- that we reactively EVADE from acknowledging the “fearful” problem, forget the positive side of things and thus render ourselves INCAPABLE to effectively dealing with it.
Eventually, instead of being open-minded and comfortable on the dinner table and enjoying spontaneous topics of conversations, we involuntarily preoccupy ourselves with negative thought patterns and deliver awkward bodily/speech/behavioral cues. The family quickly cathces on this, and in the end all these negative thoughts intensifies the awkwardness, not to mention the rippling effects. ie. in a sense, we, (OR RATHER- our negative mind/thoughts) are who/what make sure that our worst nightmares/imaginations become reality. One unclear, entangled thought can be disastrous. Let alone trains of uncontrollable thought patterns.
So if it is established that mindfulness recognizes and accepts emotions. I want to talk about the important but missing elements of your characterization/definition of mindfulness in your article.
Among other key concepts of mindfulness that wasn’t mentioned in your article (balance, compassion, locus of control) ATTENTION – Where and how one skillfully places his/her ATTENTION- is a central teaching/practice in mindfulness that was neglected. Attention is neutral, open, curious, non-judgmental. For any given event, one can CHOOSE to TUNE IN to the positive side of an event, and/or the negative side- both of which are equally possible/probable. And for many of those who are conditioned to tune in ONLY to the negative side, mindfulness is a good practice to recognize the equally important good, positive side of things. Sometimes, GOODNESS and BADNESS can be two sides of the same coin.
IF and only if anyone is interested, this attitude can be CHANGED in any moment- if we have enough mindfulness to sense when and how to S.T.O.P.- Stop the infinite vortex of negative thought, Take a breath, Observe our thoughts/emotions/minds/bodily sensations, and Proceed with more clarity, ease, and effectiveness. And this does NOT involve judging anything as inferior/unreal or bad as you mentioned. if anything, mindfulness teaches us that we all have a CHOICE, that we have an option to feel happy. it is NOT a happiness doctrine or dogma. No one should/will force you to be happy if you want to be unhappy. It is a choice, a very personal choice, also way of life. It is not impersonal. In fact, experienced mindfulness practioners ususally feel a sense of interconnectedness between humans- a sense of shared humanity (another important concept not mentioned in your article). Once we realize that we are all one big family, loving-kindness and compassion for your fellow man becomes natural. Afterall, Why would you hurt another part of yourself? The idea/belief of an inherent/INNER GOODNESS is also key to mindfulness. I like the idea of my mind as a wide open sky, a permanent, innate sense of equanimity, calm, ease. Emotions/feelings always appear as clouds and cover the sky. They change, fluctuate, come, and go. Paradoxically, we must realize the law of impermanence to realize the law of permanence. I say this almost with certainty. One can say that there is no scientific grounding to the assertion that humans possess “eternal” “innate” sense of “equanimity” “ease” “calm” “compassion” and “inter-conntedness” and it is just conditioned, unclear, murky emotions/thoughts that inhibit us from attaining those qualities. Long time meditators often talk about INTUITION, that when you are truly clear-minded and mindful, you intuitively KNOW goodness. U do not have proof to substantiate the claim, but when one of the greatest scientist said this: “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” I know there has to be some truth to it.

A short response to a few things you have mentioned…

1. You start to judge uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as inferior, unreal, or bad. Which gets in your way of actually learning from them, experiencing and healing them, growing from them, and integrating them.

My take: Mindfulness always invites us to hold an open, curious, accepting attitude in objectively observing all thoughts/intention/feelings/emotions/bodily sensations. To discern what/how to label/perceive sensations and whether or not to “let go” of certain sensations or take a certain course of action is an individual’s choice.

6.You detach yourself from conflicts in your life, expecting that meditation will get rid of the negative emotions — and fix the problem altogether. The
emotions just signal the problem. Even if you ignore the emotions, the problem is still there.

My take: Mindfulness encourages us to see with clarity and objectivity the roots and nature of conflicts/aversion. If a person feel sadness about having broken up with his girlfriend, meditation will not help him get her back. It will only help him see the nature and the root of the sadness- for him to take action, if desired. It should be apparent to all student that meditation willl NOT get rid of the negative emotions- unless actions are taken.

8. You find it difficult to connect to your feelings when you want to be emotionally honest with yourself and others. Because you’ve trained yourself to avoid them. This impairs your ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.

My take: Avoidance is the last thing that mindfulness meditation teaches. Full acceptance of everything is what mindfulness teaches. The first step is ALWAYS full recognition and acceptance of emotinos/thoughts. There is no conceivable reason, especially in mindfulness, to coercively deny the existence of a thought/emotion in the first place when you can already sense it. Mindfulness cultivates a sense of inter-connectedness that actually helps me relate to people better.

11. You lose your ability to naturally feel upset, sad, or concerned when there’s an issue in your life that you need to address. This puts a damper on healthy discernment.

My take: Again, i experience the opposite. with mindfulness practice, I feel hyper-alert. at times, I even worried if I will become over-sensitive to my thoughts/emotion processes. I get a feeling that you think mindfulness is mind-numbing activity– it is really more about mind-opening.

I see the western adaption of eastern philosophy into clinical health practice as a necessary and timely response to the increasingly competitive, quick-paced, multi-tasking, stress-producing material culture. And with countless scientific studies supporting the efficacy of the application of mindfulness in such wide areas as chronic pain treatment, ADHD, HIV virus control, cancer recovery, stress reduction, depression treatment; and in improvement in human functions such as emotional resilience, executive control, I am confident and excited that mindfulness has something to offer. Although I believe the pros overweigh the cons, mindfulness also has its limits and potential dangers (eg. it’s not the best treatment for social anxiety disorder) therefore i think it is very important that we continue to refine and review the theory and practice mindfulness. Sorry about the long, unorganized free writing… There are just so much more to say about mindfulness. Please know that these are not personal attacks, but rather a sincere, open discussion. I have a lot to learn and I am really excited to hear what you and others think/feel..Thanks!

Melissa Karnaze February 27, 2011 at 10:33 am

Hi Fishy, I’m having a hard time seeing what it is you love about the article, other than how it’s fired you up to disagree with me and reaffirm your preexisting beliefs about mindfulness meditation. What exactly are your doubts about the practice (beyond incompatibility for treating social anxiety)?

You’ve said that I am wrong in several respects, yet I’ve already disagreed with your main points in the article and previous comments. Asking genuine, direct questions (rather than saying how I’m wrong and expecting me to defend myself), and acknowledging the points of the article itself, would have a much better chance of fostering a sincere, open discussion with me. :)

Fishy March 1, 2011 at 12:51 am

Thanks for the response. I just want to be very clear(as stated earlier) that my focus is entirely on the ARGUMENT/ TOPIC, not YOU. So I am sorry if you get the false impression that I’m saying ” You are wrong” and expecting You to “defend Yourself.” This is not about you. This is about mindfulness. If I ever wanted one thing from this- it is your opinion on our disagreements. (not your “come back attack”)
Any criticism was solely for the sake of intellectual discussion- for the clarification/improvement of the theory/practice of mindfulness- something that personally intrigues me.
So I think my MAIN POINT is- mindfulness is multi-faceted. there is not one way to teach mindfulness. And there is not one experience. Depending on your teacher, the school, the tradition, the duration of your practice, personality, social/geographical background, experience- experience with mindfulness can vary drastically and can be very different from the almost dogmatic characterization you suggested in the article. Especially concerning the point- Do you agree? Because this is true for myself and my classmates/friends- as I shared all the doubts and thoughts about the harm of mindfulness initially. But as I practiced longer, new realizations about the practice, and later, life, come through.
I think one of the biggest struggle I have is with your point #8.
“You find it difficult to connect to your feelings when you want to be emotionally honest with yourself and others. Because you’ve trained yourself to avoid them. This impairs your ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.”
I personally feel much more connected, grounded. My take on mindfulness is that after you learn to “let go” of emotions, there is something deeper to CONNECT to. eg. like the everlasting breath and present moment- and this is what helps me. What are your thoughts on this?
And if it wasn’t clear- what I love about this article/website is the convergence of such differing opinions. My voice speak for my experience, and your voice speak for yours. I believe it is only through these passionate discussions where important insights arise. So please kindly, feel free to respond =)

kathy March 4, 2011 at 3:06 am

Yes, it is true that Mindfulness Meditation is not for everyone who are not ready to “show up” in their own life.

Kaz March 8, 2011 at 4:50 am

Maybe you don’t have to approve this comment to make it publicized, but here’s my small suggestions on the grammatic correctness of your articles. You tend to divide a complete sentence into separate ones, thus making them grammatically wrong.

And personally speaking I think these sentences look funny:

But what writers, researchers, clinicians, teachers, and practitioners won’t tell you.
Is that there are seventeen hidden dangers of practicing mindfulness meditation.
When you’re not being mindful of how you’re treating your negative emotions.

Your articles are otherwise great.

Just my two cents.

Melissa Karnaze March 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

Kaz, that’s intentional. :)

Zach March 26, 2011 at 7:55 am

Dear Melissa,
I couldn’t help but notice how aggressive and dismisive you are in your replies towards people with an opposite opinion on mindfulness. You seem to be unwilling to see the topic in any other light than the one you chose to see and get very defensive and “catty” towards people who aren’t agreeing with you….

danny iskandar April 4, 2011 at 12:21 pm

i don’t know where you got that mindfulness is getting away from negative emotions. the word is to ‘let go’, means no cling and no suppress.
to let go means to face it as it is, without judging, with compassion. but for most of us we judge what we feel which is already clinging into it. or most of us suppress it or deny it, pretend it is not there.

the third way is the hardest way, no clinging – to be able to face it as is. this needs training, the formal meditation helps us to do this.

is like a little child, when expose to winter weather which is very cold but for a child they seems to have no problem with that kind of coldness, but for me i have a problem. The reason my mind is continuing judging ‘ohh this is to cold, pls stop it.
there is no doubt that the coldness is a fact, but for a child it seems the coldness only at the sensation level, not to much on the thinking (judging level), oh this is cold, this is bad, and so on.

drew May 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm

no1 is truly ever happy this meditation gets u outside Ur box and helps u to see the world for what it really is.the bad and the bad and to show compassion in ever aspect of Ur life. so if u say meditation ruins Ur dreams and clogs Ur emotions. then u should do more studying because last time i check i’m happy almost everyday and i found out meditation doesn’t stop Ur dreams, it lets u realize that u didn’t really want that at all. and that my friends is called insight, get ur shizz streight.

Davis June 7, 2011 at 1:48 am

I was beginning to think that mindfulness is not as great as Kabat-Zinn and co have sold it to be. I suspected this, after a year of mindfulness, as I was feeling more unhappy then ever. Initally it was great, but then all my emotions that I ‘had accepted nonjudgementality’ (but did not process), came back as frustration, anxiety and depression. Intially I thought that maybe I was not meditating hard enough, but now I see meditatition is part of the problem.That is why I searched the web and found this article.

Mindfulness is a slippery slope between ‘doing it right’ as mindfulness teachers say, and slipping into a harmful denial of your humanity.

I think it is a like a medication wher ethe useful dose and the harmful dose are to cose to measure. Use it to help you sleep, but not to solve your life’s woes.

Melissa Karnaze June 7, 2011 at 9:16 am

Davis, I’m glad that you were able to follow your intuition. It takes great self-honesty to realize that it’s not “more” or “more right” meditation that you need in order to process your emotions in healthy ways.

Mindfulness is a tool, probably better for some things (like enduring chronic pain) than others (like “letting go” of anger), and it’s definitely prone to becoming highly dissociative, since its at start dissociative, or attentional-shifting.

I think we need much more research on the uses and limitations of mindfulness, instead of a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. Mindfulness is largely being taken out of context, and the bigger problem is that those who are prescribing it already champion a dissociative stance (much of society does) toward emotional experience. Buddhism, for instance, claims that anger is a poison, which effectively pits “emotion” as the enemy and the problem, instead of the potential ally and symptom.

Pipo July 29, 2011 at 3:53 am

Anxiety and depression mostly come from fleeing your feelings. The more you bury your pain, your anger, and don’t allow yourself to feel them, the more anxious and depressed you will get. Mindfulness is all the opposite : it’s about allowing yourself to feel anything, to think anything, to just “be”.

Mindfulness allows you to dive into your emotions, to truly feel them. I don’t feel it as dissociative at all, in fact it’s all the contrary. Anxious disorders are dissociative, because your thoughts and behaviour are not at all in adequation with reality ; it’s the same with depression. I don’t see how you can say that, for example, having panic attacks each time you take your car, is less dissociative than viewing the fear for what it is (= not real as there is nothing threatening around you) and trying to find what is below.

Anxious people run around with irrational thoughts like “hell i’m gonna die”, or “i’m ugly and everyone hates me”, all day, without being able to see that those thoughts just come from deep emotions, buried inside their mind and bodies. Mindfulness allows you to experience those emotions instead of hiding them behind thoughts and feelings of fear. There is control and focus involved, but they are here to help you see the emotion itself by calming your body and thoughts, instead of being totally lost in your thoughts and behaviour and just trembling with fear, not knowing why.

Of course meditation won’t solve any problem you have ; if anything, it will make those problems appear more and more, which is the only way to solve them really. I never read anything about mindfulness that says the opposite.

All your 17 points are actually totally opposite of everything you can read or learn from teachers on mindfulness. No teacher or no book would advise to suppress your feelings, to avoid negative thoughts, to suppress anything. It’s the total opposite. One of buddhas fundamental message is to never take anything for granted, to never accept anything else than your own experiences, to never submit to a teacher or something else that would promise you anything. To never expect result with meditation practice. You have to allow yourself to feel anything at any moment and not flee it with your thoughts or behaviour. You have to embrace the reality of your experience as a whole, be it positive, negative, thoughts, body sensations. The more you know about yourself, the more free you are.

Really, the message i got from everything i read about it is that mindfulness meditation is about “non-doing”. It won’t get things in you that aren’t already there. It’s just being there with yourself, in whatever state you are. Anxiety and depression don’t come from meditation, they come from your way of dealing with your life, from problems that you are for the moment unable to solve or are avoiding.

Lastly, anger becomes a poison when you can’t do anything but be a slave of it. I don’t see how walking around punching everyone that frustrates you is going to do you any good. Again, it’s not about suppressing it, it’s about seeing it for what it is, allowing yourself to feel it fully, and then take a conscious decision about what to do with it. Never has anyone said that anger should be avoided or suppressed ; it just should not drive your life if you want to be happier. You can only agree that if no one was able to control his or her anger, to take a step back from it, we would all live in a state of perpetual war. It’s not a good thing to strive for, i think !

Karma Gyatso August 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Melissa – although I decided in February that I would refrain from further comment – I have felt the need to comment again because, although I respect your right to have different views, your views need to be accurate and supported by fact. If your blog and subsequent comments are not related to mindfulness then that is fine. However, if your views are that mindfulness, taught correctly, is harmful you have a worrying lack of understanding of the fundamental practice of mindfulness and your comments suggest that this is the case. In posting this comment I am only motivated by hoping that you will open your mind to investigating mindfulness more deeply for the benefit of yourself and others. I appreciate and respect your knowledge of the cognitive sciences but we cannot directly learn about emotions only from cognitive sciences, as ultimately they cannot tell us what emotions are, what consciousness is or more fundamentally what the mind is –the mind, consciousness and thought cannot be the physical brain without unwarranted assumptions being made that would simply not be accepted in any other branch of science. I thought as scientists we had moved on from this archaic viewpoint some time ago. With regard to comments you have made:

“…the nature of the brain is dynamic and adaptive. Through the course of 24hrs, the brain switches from various states of consciousness (e.g., from sleep to wake state). Even if you’re talking about nonphysical mind, the brain is still the anchor for physical consciousness.”
The nature of most of our physical organs are dynamic and adaptive (not just our brain) – e.g. I do not consciously have to breathe – I do it automatically when I’m awake and when I’m asleep. Moreover, although beyond the scope of this discussion – it is possible to maintain mindfulness in sleep and in fact this is when most benefit can be attained as our conscious mind can then gain direct access to our dreamsate. With regard to your scientific background, the fact that part of a person’s brain “lights up” upon experiencing a particular emotion tells us nothing whatsoever about the emotion nor the individual experiencing the emotion. What would we see if we were able to physically look (under more and more magnification) into the brain of a person experiencing thought – would you ever see that thought or the emotion? No – because the thought is not part of the brain and therefore is not physical – mind is beyond the physical body – if you consider it to be physical then explain to me exactly where I can find my mind.

“This is what I mean by seeing emotions as not “real.” Being “caught up in them” (the extent of that may vary) validates that they are real and true in the moment. Because they reflect how you construe your experience. How you construe your experience is real, because it directly influences your notion of reality.”

The practice of mindfulness does involve seeing emotions as real – very real, for exactly the reasons you mention – because we are “caught up in them” and “they reflect how we construe our experience”. However, your thoughts are not necessarily “you” –they are (as you inadvertently say) your construction of your experience. You are not destined for the rest of your life to think the way that you do and to experience the emotions that you do – there is a “you” beyond the thought you are “caught up in” and through mindfulness practice (in the present moment) you can let go and free yourself from the repetitive thought patterns in which you are caught. After all – who is it that is observing the thoughts you think you are caught up in?

“My perspective probably doesn’t seem sensible to you though because from your perspective the “true” nature of the mind is “settled.””

Your blog is about mindfulness and therefore you have to refer to terminology which is relevant to mindfulness. In coming from the viewpoint that the true nature of the mind is unsettled, which you seem to be suggesting, you are showing a complete lack of understanding of mindfulness . The true nature of the mind being settled is at the very heart of mindfulness and essential to understanding the psychological processes which a person undertakes when practicing mindfulness. The true nature of everything known is to settle to a steady state – like water will settle to its lowest state and then, when all energy is taken away, it will become clear. The motivation behind practicing mindfulness is to settle the mind into its true nature – i.e. from an unsettled state in which we find ourselves into a settled state. To say that the true nature of our mind is an unsettled state , as you are suggesting, would mean that our motivation in mindfulness is to move into an unsettled mind state – this is very wrong and potentially harmful.

“Put simply, this won’t make sense unless you’ve done it, integrated an undesirable emotional experience mindfully — totally embracing it in the moment and finding out what happens next. :)”

I have done it – I have been practicing mindfulness for more than 25 years. The very essence of mindfulness is to live mindfully – each and every moment. It is not a quick fix – not a therapy to “fix” a person’s mind in a western-style pathological way. It is the opposite – in practicing mindfulness there is nothing to fix in a person – the person does not need fixing as we understand from a western scientific viewpoint – but simply needs to change their view to how they perceive their experience. I say simply – it is simply returning to the present moment and observing – however, being able to maintain the mind in the present moment for extended periods of time requires practice.

“Anon, thank you for sharing your story here. It hits on several of the pitfalls of mainstream mindfulness that deeply, deeply concern me. And it provides a side of the story that few can grasp (because they’ve gotten really good at dissociating), and even fewer would acknowledge.”

My heart goes out to Anon and her/his horrific experiences and I can fully understand her/his anger and resentment. However, mindfulness cannot harm anyone – only therapists can harm people and, in my experience, especially western therapists who think mindfulness (or any therapy for that matter) is easy to learn and a quick fix. Anon has been a victim in her/his childhood and no doubt been a victim by a therapist who claims to understand mindfulness in order to extort money. However, Melissa, responsibility here also lies with you – as you seem to know nothing about mindfulness and yet are proactively discouraging people from considering it as a means which may lead to happiness and contentment in their lives – I urge you to be cautious when putting yourself forward as an expert of something you know very little about – that is what Anon’s so-called therapist did!

“From your comment I presume you will think that I am not one of the “few” which can grasp the pitfalls of mindfulness because over 25 years I’ve “gotten really good at dissociating” – real dissociation lies in not being able to see why we think and act and experience the emotions we do – go on retreat with a recognized meditation teacher and look into your own mind and you will see these things – they are very real – you will not be dissociating you will be seeing.

“I think dissociative mindfulness more times than not has negative effects, regardless of where you “fit” on the continuum.”

Are you saying that there is a practice of mindfulness called “dissociative mindfulness” – these two words are contradictory and diametrically opposed – unless you are referring to being mindful that you are dissociating – which has to be a good thing….doesn’t it?

“Mindfulness is a tool, probably better for some things (like enduring chronic pain) than others (like “letting go” of anger), and it’s definitely prone to becoming highly dissociative, since its at start dissociative, or attentional-shifting.”

Mindfulness is very good for “letting go” and for anger and for that matter for addressing almost any emotion. With regards to anger, it is a destructive emotion both for those who are experiencing it and for those onto which it is being projected. To be able to be mindful when angry is of great benefit because we can then see the destructive effects it has on us and others – it is only by seeing (i.e. being mindful) whilst being angry that we can address this destructive emotion. Again you are showing a fundamental misunderstanding of mindfulness in saying that “its at start dissociative” – it quite simply is not and in fact is the opposite to what you say.

“I think we need much more research on the uses and limitations of mindfulness, instead of a “one-size-fits-all” mentality.”

Research and funding into mindfulness has grown exponentially in the last 20 years – there were 80 papers published in 1990 and over 600 in 2000 and the exponential trend has continued. You need to do your research before making statements that you can’t back-up.

“Buddhism, for instance, claims that anger is a poison, which effectively pits “emotion” as the enemy and the problem, instead of the potential ally and symptom.”

It is true that Buddhism claims that anger is a poison, but it is a massive leap and assumption on your part to state that Buddhism “pits emotion as the enemy and the problem” – simply not true. In Buddhism, anger is called a poison because it is considered a mental state which temporarily clouds the mind and manifests “unskillful” acts. Accordingly, it is considered to be a source of human suffering. The Buddha taught acceptance of things as they are – if we suffer from anger – we need to accept the causes of that anger to relieve ourselves from the suffering it causes and thereby break the cycle. Of course, in order to be able to accept the causes of our anger we need to be able to see the causes and this is where mindfulness practice comes in and from where it is derived from in western psychological therapies.

These comments are not in any way aimed personally at you and I do not in any way want to discredit your excellent website, but having read your comments I have felt the need to add an alternative view in response and welcome any reply from you.

Melissa Karnaze August 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm

However, if your views are that mindfulness, taught correctly, is harmful you have a worrying lack of understanding of the fundamental practice of mindfulness and your comments suggest that this is the case.”

Karma, I could just as easily say that you have a worrying lack of understanding of what I’ve read (regarding both scholarly and empirical work), practiced (regarding mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and meditation in general), and experienced. (In my opinion, none of that matters regarding my arguments in these articles.)

“… I urge you to be cautious when putting yourself forward as an expert of something you know very little about – that is what Anon’s so-called therapist did!”

Read my disclaimer.

“To say that the true nature of our mind is an unsettled state , as you are suggesting, would mean that our motivation in mindfulness is to move into an unsettled mind state – this is very wrong and potentially harmful.”

I was saying that the mind naturally shifts from state to state, in that sense it’s never “settled”/”constant.”

According to Buddha (as we can put together from his *oral* teachings) there is no “essence” of the mind — or “essence” of anything for that matter — which means that there is no “true nature” of the mind to “discover.” (It’s interesting to me how most Buddhists I’ve read/spoke to don’t acknowledge this.)

And even if there were a true nature of the mind, Buddha would most likely say that we cannot definitively “know” or “grasp” this for certain. Because all we can “know” is our sensory experience. And even then, we don’t “know” it, we just experience it.

“Are you saying that there is a practice of mindfulness called ‘dissociative mindfulness’”

Yes, and like I responded to your previous comment in another thread, it’s explained here: http://mindfulconstruct.com/2010/01/11/the-contradiction-of-mindfulness/

“Mindfulness is very good for “letting go” and for anger and for that matter for addressing almost any emotion.”

I’m glad you used this wording.

“Letting go” of anger, is dissociating, or trying to discontinue the experience of anger during its immediate experience.

“The Buddha taught acceptance of things as they are – if we suffer from anger – we need to accept the causes of that anger to relieve ourselves from the suffering it causes and thereby break the cycle.”

If we want to be accepting of anger, then why call it poison? Why not strip away that judgmental, or anti-accepting value-statement and simply refer to anger as an evolutionary part of the human design, and thus not of complete uselessness? Why not accept the experience of anger (and focus instead on the problems that give it cause) instead of referring to *it* (anger, the messenger) as the “bad guy?”

Anon August 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Yes, I am THE Anon being referenced in these last comments. And I agree with Melissa.

“Mindfulness is very good for “letting go” and for anger and for that matter for addressing almost any emotion.”

Baloney. THAT was the exact attitude of my old therapist which harmed me so much. He wanted to use mindfulness to teach ‘letting go’. If something has been processed enough to TRULY be let go, then no technique or teaching is necessary – it just goes on its own and is no longer front and center. When emotions are ‘addressed’ with some formula, then they are not allowed to be fully experienced and the contradiction is there no matter what semantics are applied to it. It is in this way that mindfulness is dissociative.

Melissa Karnaze August 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm

“If something has been processed enough to TRULY be let go, then no technique or teaching is necessary – it just goes on its own and is no longer front and center.”

Exactly.

(And the same thing goes for “not taking something personally.”)

Anon August 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm

To heck with being Anon. I am here:

http://www.etherealhighway.blogspot.com

Check out my sidebar, Karma. Mindfulness hurts a lot of people due to its sneaky dissociative underpinnings. Some peope figure it out and some others can’t quite put their finger on what is wrong with it, but they still know that something is. I have found that most people who figure it out are those who are not beholden to some ‘teacher’ and somehow have the power to rise up and be honest even when it is unpopular and frightening to do so.

p.s. The old harmful therapist adopted a dog and named it ‘Karma’. It creeped me out when he told me that because the notion of Karma sounds quite toxic to me when I really think about the motivation for such beliefs. The construct of Karma would be a very handy instrument to forward the agenda of a caste system and I don’t think that is a coincidence. ‘Karma’ is also a form of victim blaming, which is the ULTIMATE in dissociation. No one is going to complain of an injustice if said injustice is automatically somehow their own fault. Can’t complain and have someone understand and not blame you for the actions of others? No problem. “Let go of it” instead. Don’t hold on to it. You don’t HAVE to really live and experience, you can detach and simply ‘observe’ (dissociate by depersonalization) instead. ‘Mindfulness’ at its finest. I am better off than I have been for a long time since getting away from the poison of this double-bind.

nathan September 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Agree completely with this article. Allow the mind to process emotions normally, be brave in your willingness to feel and express your emotions, and DO NOT adapt any framework for how you are to “handle” your emotions that doesn’t support full feeling and expression. Mindfullness IS dissociative and caused me mega problems.

David September 25, 2011 at 4:27 am

I happened to stumble upon this blog by doing a Google search on living with depression. My whole life I’ve been seeking some sort of meaning and truth to this whole experience so I’ve been through quite a few depression spells since I was really young. I’m 21 now (22 next month) and the only reason I’m alive now is because I’m absolutely terrified of death and what comes next.

There are a lot of valid points from both sides of the table here and I think that an answer has already presented itself amongst the squabbling. It’s all about finding a happy balance and knowing how to use meditation. There is no right or wrong answer to any of this really, is there? There is no guide book to life. We’re all learning how to deal with what’s happening through our own experience.

Being that I believe in living as simply and naturally as possible, I’ve always felt that being with your emotions and experiencing them as they’re happening has always been the best approach to moving through trauma or suffering. It’s like the story of the moth in the cocoon and how it struggles to make it’s way out strengthening itself in the process, but if you were to cut it free and help it it would be too weak to survive. We have to ride out the hard times if we want this to mean anything.

Everything that we do in terms of spirituality in the western world is superficial and never fully understood. Everyone thinks they can derive meaning from books by “spiritual leaders”, but the last thing they ever really consider is stopping to just be with who they are right then and experience what’s happening right then. No one wants to put in the hard work to really better themselves. They want the negative emotions to cease and they want to be happy and positive all day everyday so they can feel inspired to get things done. Such is the American mentality anyway.

As I’ve said, I’m only 21 and I’m sure I can’t keep up with any of the intellect that’s rampant in this thread but sometimes things are simple. I’ve been out of high school 3.5 years now and I’ve just started college. I don’t know many things but what I have learned is solely from my first hand experience and inward thought. Funny enough a lot of my friends call me the guru. The guy who appears happy and full of truth but is actually a complete mess and hypocrite, as we all are.

Funny story. I met a guy in Hawaii a few months back while I was volunteering and he was this 60 year old guy who had just discovered spirituality. He was talking about chakras and energy psychology and he did Yoga and read books on Hinduism, but he kept preaching how we need to dissociate from the material world and ego because it was the cause of all suffering. He wouldn’t ever take my point of view into consideration because I had derived most of my meaning on my own and who’s he going to believe? Eckhart Tolle or me? Mind you this man was very bitter and had a rough upbringing. He also was all for polyamory and thought it’d be possible if we all dissociated. He also believed in this concept of evolutionary consciousness that we’d have to be reincarnated a few times before we could connect to something, yet he was constantly proselytizing and being aggressive with people who would believe. What?!

We can have our beliefs but at the end of the day be open to the fact that no one really has the answers when it comes to this experience. There are things scientists may never be able to comprehend in this life. I tried the Buddhist thing and stayed with Buddhists for a while. There is good in every religion. Take whatever meshes with you and create something honest for yourself.

Meditation calms me down. That’s how I use it. Generally I’m pretty mindful without it and I’m already a calm and collected individual. I don’t expect much. Life doesn’t owe me anything.

Shit… I think I’m off topic… I suck at collecting my thoughts. Fuck it. I’ll leave it there for anyone interested.

David September 25, 2011 at 4:32 am

Who “wouldn’t” believe.** End of sixth paragraph.

JOhn October 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Either way you could always wait for the nest meditation fad. Trust me! It will appear in the future.

Jon October 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I think there are some valid points on both sides but i also think there is a misrepresentation of mindfulness and what it is.

I can fully understand why Anon is very angry at how mindfulness was used in her case. Some things that happen in life cannot simply be dealt with by any technique and i agree that they must be processed fully.

But as a more mundane example. A person always gets angry when people do not agree. It seems that the arguments against mindfulness seems to be saying you just allow it and then allow the mind to move on to it’s next state. But you don’t learn anything. The next time someone disagrees you get angry again. Mindfulness doesn’t simply say let it go. It says accept you are angry, see the thoughts associated with the feeling, try rather than simply be at the mercy of your emotion to see the whole picture. And you may come to see the underlying feelings/thoughts that give rise to this anger.

There is absolutely nothing dissociative about this and this is the hardest part of the article/comments to understand. You are simply trying to give yourself a space where you can see beyond the surface emotion. If you cannot give yourself this space then you are simply at the mercy of your emotions and you never learn.

I think the term “letting go” is misleading in this context. I think that has been interpreted as an emotion arises and you acknowledge it and then let it go. And if that was what you did then i would wholeheartedly agree that Mindfuless is indeed dissasociative. But it misses out a critical step. An emotion arises, you accept it, you acknowledge it’s presence but if you simply then move on again you learn nothing. If you are mindful of your thoughts as well as your emotions then you may well start to see patterns in your behaviour, reasons for your reactions.

Every book i have read on mindfulness states quites clearly that emotions are very real. And nothing i have read suggests we should treat negative emotions any differently than positive emotions. They are to be treated the same. They are not to be ignored, you are not to disassociate yourself from them, they are to be investigated with the same interest you do your thoughts and your sensations.

Of the 17 points in the list, i agree with them all. But the problem is they are all based on a false premise of what minfulness is. So if you start by saying that Mindfulness is about suppressing and avoiding negative emotions then the rest follows naturally.

So i do agree with Melissa and the other comments that say, yes if you use mindfulness to suppress or avoid negative emotions it is dangerous. But it seems to go from there to say that means mindfulness is dangerous and wrong.

It’s not minfulness that’s dangerous, it’s how you interpret it and use it that can be dangerous. It can also be very beneficial as Melissa herself point outs if used correctly.

jon October 23, 2011 at 8:51 am

Melissa

As a follow up i have been reading some your other articles and i find the site very interesting. Some really good and thought provoking articles especially about emotions.

One thing i mean to mention in my last post was the whole concept of “non-judging” and i’d like to get your take on it as i am genuinely interested.

From my understanding of mindfulness non-judging does not mean not being involved and certainly does not mean telling yourself your emotions are not real. But as you pointed out in other articles a lot of adults suppress negative emotions because we have been brought up to believe it is not right to show/display these emotions.

So an example, a person gets angry, but then tells themself they shouldn’t be showing this anger and so suppress. The causes don’t go away but instead simply fester. You arguments seems to be you must let that emotion run it’s course to fully deal with it although of course, as you again say, this must be done in an intelligent way ie. you can’t simply go around punching people who annoy you !

I totally agree with that but this is exactly what non-judgemental means to me in mindfulness so i am not sure where you and mindfulness differ on this point. Non-judgement is not about denying the emotion, pretending it’s not real, it’s about dealing with it intelligently just as you advocate ie. don’t try to suppress, don’t push it away, rather look at it for what it is and try to see what thoughts/sensations go with that emotion.

If you push that emotion away, suppress it or try to detach yourself from it then you are indeed judging that emotion as something undesirable. But this isn’t what i understand mindfulness to be about. It teaches you to treat all emotions equally ie good and bad emotions, to be with them and to see below the surface of them.

How is that very different from what you yourself propose ?

Melissa Karnaze October 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

Hi Jon,

It might be helpful to think of mindfulness as a somewhat loose term, it’s not exactly concrete, for a few reasons. There are subtle nuances in how it’s defined and used, and I usually refer to what I perceive as the mainstream use; you may not disagree with what’s written.

The article I’ve commented on here is an example of how non-judgment can be defined in such a way that it actually *is* a judgment of emotion.

“If you push that emotion away, suppress it or try to detach yourself from it then you are indeed judging that emotion as something undesirable.”

Indeed, which begs the question, when is “defusion” or “detached observation” *not* a form of “pushing” an emotion “away” by “interrupting” it? In an upcoming newsletter and article I’ll be writing about this more.

Willy October 23, 2011 at 9:40 am

I am still learning so do not purport to be an expert but here is my take. The notion of Mindfulness of emotions v. Witnessing of emotions needs to be reconceptualized. In my opionion, it’s not really an either/or proposition. Mindfulness of emotions could include many things including Witnessing of emotions if that serves a purpose. Mindfulness of emotions is about take respons ability (responding to what you are feeling). If one form of the response is distancing then fine if that is what you need to do to let what is troubling you sit (assuming it’s something you can sit on) as you mindfully construct perhaps a self-narrative of what it was that made you feel so angry. When you review that story you may find there are some distortions in it and will make appropriate revisions or take action to right-size the narrative. Given the new version, two things could happen. Maybe the anger will go away (for the right reasons) or you’ll have a better understanding of why you’re angry. In either case, a good and healthy way of being more present and constructively engaging with all sorts of stuff that is part of our daily lives from one moment to the next.

Neil Mc Mahon November 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Hi,

Thanks for taking the time to write this blog post that generated so much discussion.
For me mindfulness meditation allows a quietening to take place. With this silence we can observe thoughts and emotions with greater clarity. (Imagine trying to listen to your best friends problems with the tv constantly turned up – pretty tricky right?)
The title of the article reveals the way many people view external events as having power over us by directly inflicting harm upon our mental / emotional state. This is because most of us are (me included) are victims of circumstances outside our control. Something bad happens and we then “feel” bad. This is of course the nature of things – you burn your hand and feel pain, a loved one passes away and you will never see them again so you feel loss and sadness.

I see my thoughts as a great, great gift and I am thankful for the emotional sensitivity I have to positive and negative situations. These are necessary tools for a human existence. But also I am thankful for the meditative tools required to be able to calm these thoughts and and change them where necessary.

Is the mind in control of me? Is it fixed and hardwired? Or is it malleable, pliable and capable of change? Are emotions as the engine room of my thoughts? Do thoughts create emotions? Or both create each other? Am I just a passive victim of my emotions or do I really have some input into them? Who or what is the source of thought and emotion? Me? If it is something that I call “me” and at the same time I can’t control the thoughts that arrive in my head then who am I?

These are non-trivial questions! Meditation is a method to approach these types of questions.

Meditation helps because our minds output more thoughts than we can cope with. Unchecked this can cause a constant stream of negative thoughts and noise. This can overwhelm a person and cause them to despair and lose touch with any sense of joy in living. (Note that you could feasibly have a constant stream of positive / neutral thoughts, which would also make focused thinking or calm an impossibility – this would likewise be an exhausting state to live in.)

So it is preferable to have a choice.

Do you harm? Probably not – I would think that if it were doing you harm you would probably stop doing it. Even for those who find it beneficial it is a practice that demands some discipline over longer periods in order to realize its effects. (Also if you feel it is doing you harm, join a group of mediators near you for some feedback / tuition on what your’re doing.)

Peace within gives peace without.

Rocío November 17, 2011 at 2:15 am

Hello,
In your text you say amongst other things ‘The common prescription of mindfulness meditation prevents you from being mindful of unwanted thoughts and feelings’.
This is bizarre and certainly not my experience, which is the opposite. Meditation makes me more aware and mindful of whatever I am feeling, be it positive or negative, and at the same time it makes me feel more balanced and better equiped to deal with the emotions, situations etc., in a healthier way. Things still affect me but they don’t throw me off balance like before. Could it be that you have meditated with people who don’t really know what they are doing? Because if yes, then that could only aggravate the way you react to things.
Just trying to help.

Bruce December 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm

You’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve written a similar article here:
http://theprimalmind.com/?p=261

I wish more people would recognize that mindfulness mediation, especially in therapy, usually entails dissociation from feeling. And you’re right, mindfulness CAN be used to work through emotions, but few promote that view. Here’s someone who does, Sam Turton:
http://www.primalworks.com/primalzen1.html

Melissa December 10, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Wow! Way too much thinking going on here. Get yourself in a chair and breath. Seriously! Slow down and enjoy the sounds of nature as opposed to the sound of yourself typing the chatter of your restless mind.

Melissa Karnaze December 11, 2011 at 10:48 am

Hi Bruce, it’s great to see other discussions on the contradiction of mindfulness meditation.

I wish more people would recognize that mindfulness mediation, especially in therapy, usually entails dissociation from feeling.

What I’ve noticed through comments on mindfulness articles here, is that there’s a range of openness. On the extreme end of resistance, commenters personally attack me in “defense” of mindfulness. On the less extreme end, there’s somewhat of an exchange, which usually ends in some passive aggressive and/or personal attack to me before a dramatic “exit” of the thread. And then there are those who really are open to hearing a differing or challenging opinion, and who do want to explore how to better take care of their emotional health.

From my observations, it’s those who cling to mindfulness itself who do not want to acknowledge emotional dissociation. Which reflects their own normalcy of dissociation (and can be traced even in anonymous internet comments). We can’t make people not want to dissociate. But we can get through to those who want to develop a healthier relationship with their emotions.

The problem is, dissociation is the norm, and societal institutions only proliferate it. That’s where mindfulness *of dissociation* comes into play.

Rocio December 12, 2011 at 6:09 am

Hi,
I have to say, Melissa has a point indeed. I don’t really know the difference between types of meditation, the one I’ve done being actually in a buddhist centre (where I find people to be pretty kind and loving in general). However, I have happened to come across people in other settings who claim to meditate and I have found them to be rather indifferent to those around them and uncompassionate, which I have found confusing too.

Isaac December 24, 2011 at 6:37 am

So I really like this article it makes sense to me and puts things back into perspective for me. I feel reborn as i let my emotions and thoughts do their natural thing. Some parts messed me up lol, but I see the point where u r stating this will generally make you feel worse. This technique has actually given me many of the generally stated points and made me feel this way. Thankful for the advice.

Pythagoras January 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Forgive me if anybody’s already mentioned this. Also, I may have misunderstood you. But couldn’t it be that mindfulness is about dissolving negative emotions rather than suppressing them? Clearly the emotions don’t actually exist. So wouldn’t it be helpful to concider them an illusion? If anything, fixating on negative emotions intensifies those emotions, which itself seems unnatural.
And I hate to say this, but unless you’ve tried mindfulness yourself (and you’ve made a habit out of it, so that you’ve been able to see its effects yourself) your’re in no position to comment on the practice. Have you?

Anon January 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Pythagoras,

I don’t know about Melissa’s personal experience, but I am in a position to comment on the practice. I tried ‘mindfulness’ exactly as you describe it. I tried it for many, many years. What I found was that my emotions were not illusions. They were actually REAL and they refused to be ‘dissolved’ (same as suppressed by the definition you imply). If I had not stopped being ‘mindful’ (as per your implied definition), I would no longer be alive today. By now I would be dead at least seven years and left my spouse a widow and my children orphans.

Melissa Karnaze January 17, 2012 at 9:46 am

“And I hate to say this, but unless you’ve tried mindfulness yourself (and you’ve made a habit out of it, so that you’ve been able to see its effects yourself) your’re in no position to comment on the practice. Have you?”

Yes, I have done mindfulness meditation. I practice mindfulness daily, though you’ll have to explore the rest of this article series to see how I define “mindfulness.”

“Clearly the emotions don’t actually exist.”

As Anon’s comment speaks to, this is exactly the line of thinking that this article is about.

Pythagoras January 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Ok I got through half of the article this time ;). Also, if you don’t want to dispute this with me I totally understand, obviously just don’t respond. I apologize beforehand for being an asshole. You’re getting me concerned though, because I want to start this practice myself.

First off, what’s the status of the emotions? They exist like other objects of the mind, which are clearly not so real. Am I right? I understand that for the person that’s actually experiencing them, there is nothing more real than joy or suffering. But there’s a type of therapy that tries to do away with the notion of the emotions as being dictated by what’s happening around us. People have a direct control over their emotions, and they’re entirely responsible for them. That means that when people are suffering, they’re architects of their own misery. Patients that commit to the practice know that this is true because they’ve undergone a radical inner-work to entirely shape their way of seeing things, which apperently (I’ve obviously never tried) leads to a never before seen inner-peace. If this was true, wouldn’t it be enough to show that the emotions are an illusion?

Also, I think you’re assuming that suppressing the emotions is a negative thing. But couldn’t it be that they eventually dissolve? That’s my reading of Buddhism.

Anyways, I clearly have no idea what I’m taking about, because I don’t do mindfulness ;). Have a good one!

Melissa Karnaze January 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm

“First off, what’s the status of the emotions? They exist like other objects of the mind, which are clearly not so real.”

What’s the status of any psychological phenomenon? We experience “reality,” but what does that really mean? To say that any object of the mind isn’t real is to say that all objects of the mind aren’t real, but since we experience reality “through the mind”… the definitions of both “real” and “unreal” would lose meaning.

“Patients that commit to the practice know that this is true because they’ve undergone a radical inner-work to entirely shape their way of seeing things, which apperently (I’ve obviously never tried) leads to a never before seen inner-peace.”

Is inner peace an emotion, or something else? Is it “real?”

“Also, I think you’re assuming that suppressing the emotions is a negative thing. But couldn’t it be that they eventually dissolve?”

How do you draw the line between dissolving an emotion and suppressing it? If it dissolves “on its own,” then why the effort to dissolve it?

“You’re getting me concerned though, because I want to start this practice myself.”

Glad to get you thinking, I think more people need to be mindful of why they want to practice mindfulness meditation.

Pythagoras January 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I’m going to stop. But I do find all this a little disonest though. I read a little about your commentary on the death of the ego. Again, this is not something you can comment on either way until you’ve actually had the experience, right? There are limits to the things you can know? The death of the ego sounds ominous but I haven’t had it happen to me so I suspend judgement. And I think you might be misrepresenting the traditions and schools that promote this.

Anon January 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Pythagoras, I find *you* to be a little dishonest in your attempts to invalidate those who have had negative exeriences with mainstream mindfulness. The death of the ego as a good thing? I am a survivor of exteme childhood abuse. I barely had a fucking ego to start with and killing the tiny little ego I had was what got me retraumatized as an adult. And there are plenty more out in the world just like me being instructed to kill their egos and ‘transcend’. Just FYI. It’s better to deal for real — even if it sucks.

Dar January 30, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Quit bashing on the one thing this world needs damnit. Seeking escape is a problem on it’s own, and meditation is not directly intended to do that. It’s good that you’re acknowledging that people can use it like a drug, but don’t go assuming everyone does this. People that read this will get the wrong idea.

Abc February 8, 2012 at 8:46 am

17 Ways to counter your arguments. Each number is in direct response to the number you’ve put as a reason meditation can cause emotional harm.

1.Seeing everything from an objective point of view is not the same a judging everything. Uncomfortable thoughts are included in everything

2.Anger is not stuffed away. It is observed and and seen for what it is, an illusion of the mind. (A hurt ego)

3.When something “tragic” happens the grieving process is cut dangerously short because the event is accepted as a part of life.

4.The “tragic” memory will only resurface if one thinks about it. You imply that one has no control over associative thought. Meditation is about awareness of the moment. When one’s senses are affected, one will associate that with some event from the past and begin to judge it. Meditation teaches one to observe this process and stop it from hindering focus.

5.Meditation does make one happy. It’s hard work. Constantly pulling one’s attention back to focus is quite troublesome in the beginning. Goals are pointless. One will reach that point of skill if they concentrate on something long enough so what’s the purpose of writing down what one knows is going to happen?
Ex: I have a goal of becoming more muscular. However, I enjoy exercise already, so what’s the point of setting this goal when I know that if I continue on this path that I will become more muscular anyway?
Setting goals sounds like reassuring the ego to me.

6.Conflict is a two person process. Meditation allows one to observe emotion and thought, so one can observe these ego reactions for what they are; illusions. Once one realizes these observations one can walk away and allow the other individual to stew in his/her folly. Emotions don’t signal problems, they cause them (when we can’t understand them). All wars are the result of poor human relations. Hurt ego.

7.If one has chosen a partner based off of understanding and not emotion this problem will not occur. Emotions come and go at will. Understanding someone is a solid foundation for acceptance. Picking a partner based off of how they think and not how they make you feel will result in a much more balanced relationship and not egocentric give and take. Ex: You give me a compliment that I could do without (stating the obvious) so I feel obligated to do the same to you because if I don’t your feelings(ego) will be hurt and the relationship will be in trouble. <—- This will occur if the relationship is based on emotions alone.
Ex2: You give me a compliment that I could do without and I don't not feel obligated to give you one back. You understand that I don't care for your opinion, but love you all the same. emotion. We cannot change the past. We cannot predict the future. We can only live in the moment and accept it. We cannot control anyone else’s destiny. That’s his/her life to live. Just look at nature. If we all left the planet then nature wouldn’t care. The animals would keep on living. The seasons would keep changing. The sun will continue to set and rise. We are no better or worse than anything on the planet. Just live and do the right thing. Stop trying to control the lives of others and control your own.

This explanation has holes in it and I accept that fact. I know that I have a lot to learn. Sometimes it just makes me emotional because I cannot accept the fact that other people cannot let go of what makes us different, especially when they take foolish action because of it. I get emotional when I am judged. I don’t care if it’s a compliment or not. I get emotional when I feel good from getting a compliment because I know that it will not change anything. My ego is being stroked and that’s all that’s happening. I get emotional when I realize how shallow our society is. But, it’s just my ego, which cannot accept the way things are. My emotions clearly have not died. I don’t suppress them. I have a better understanding of them. Emotions do in fact pass. They come and go like the thoughts in our minds (perhaps they are related). How else would we know that there are different emotions?

Abc February 8, 2012 at 8:50 am

8. Meditation is not avoidance of emotion. It’s observation of emotion. I personally find it much easier to understand my emotions, thus I can express them easier. Your comment implies that meditation is detachment of something then ignoring of it when in fact it is detachment of something then observation of it. This allows understanding not isolation.

9.Relationships come into a clearer perspective because those who mind are not worth it and those who understand will not mind.

10.With the assistance of meditation, one can truly understand why anyone feels his/her pain from objective observation and understanding of the thoughts and events that would lead to such “pain”. This leads to a better connection to the individual going through the “pain” because meditation allows one to put his/her-self in the individual’s shoes.

11. These emotions are an illusion of the mind based of off an upset ego. Ex: What I expected to happen didn’t so I’m sad.
What I wanted I didn’t get so I’m angry.
What this person is doing is not how I’d live his/her life so I’m concerned.
(Ego)
It’s not wrong to experience these emotions or express them. It’s just ego. Of course the emotional reaction varies because there are many different types of ego.

12.Why do you assume that any emotion is negative or positive? The way that one deals with emotions is affected by how one views them in his/her mind. Perhaps you associate negative events (to you) with negative emotions (your response to these events).

13.Passion and drive are associated with some sort of end. A personal status quo. Ex: I won’t be happy until I do this and that…. What’s going on here is that this persons ego is not satisfied with what they have. Being grateful for the breath in your lungs and enjoying life for the moment of living is what meditation has also taught me. Once I realized how selfish I was thinking in terms of the above example I became satisfied with anything that happened to me because I was still alive to experience it. Anything that doesn’t kill you only makes you better because you can learn from your mistake or triumph. Having a grateful mindset to live is a lasting happiness until death. Placing high value in things that constantly change will lead to frequent emotional reactions related to the changes. You only live once and die once.

14.Refer to number 13 in counter argument to your 14th claim.

15.How can one become fixated and attached to doing nothing? Meditation is not the practice of being lazy, it’s the practice of awareness. If meditation teaches detachment then how can one become obsessed with becoming non obsessed?

16.If one has his/her-self as a master they are a fool. One has to learn from someone or somewhere. If not a teacher in person then a book or the internet. If the teacher does not practice what he/she teaches then leave him/her to his/her confusion and seek a valid source of knowledge. The advise the teacher would gives (if they practice what they teach) is still only advise. Observe the advise with what you know and if you don’t agree with valid cause then don’t do it, but don’t let skepticism with no valid cause (fear-ego) hinder you from experiencing something different.

17.Perfection is a construct of the ego. Nothing is perfect because judgement can always find flaws. Judgement is the ego expressing itself (an opinion). Is imperfection negative? If so then why? Once one accepts that everything and everyone is different, but the same, judgement and perfection will die with ego. (Brain twister XD)

Leila February 14, 2012 at 12:24 am

I think there’s some difference in interpretation. You see, I admit I’m very interested in mindfulness and have explored different literature on it. Some, like you said, indeed focus on the idea that negative feeling is not real, it is not what your true nature is. And therefore, you need to acknowledge their false nature for what they are, and let them go. Your true nature is that of joy and happiness. While this at first seems to be an optimistic and positive idea, I find it too anecdotal and arbitrary, and do not connect to it much. This type of teaching seems to be common in literature that have religious or spiritual connotation.

Melissa, I think this is the type of mindfulness you and some other people here are against, if I’m understanding correctly.

On the other hand, I also find many literature that focuses on that concept of being mindful of your feelings and thoughts, feel them, acknowledge them for what they are, and decide what to do about it. Their main concept is to feel your emotion fully, and not trying to get away from them. This one makes more sense to me and is also the one that I practice and find helpful. I know my emotion is very much real, and to deny it does not contribute anything to my well-being. By not pushing it away or judging it, I can fully feel and acknowledge the extend that emotion has on me, and thus become more aware of what matters to me and how I can go about working on it.

The way I see mindfulness is basically boiling down to self-awareness. And I think most of here would agree there’re benefits for being aware of your emotions and know how it affects you and your judgment. If anyone here is familiar with the concept of emotional intelligent, the first very important skill is to be self-aware. I find mindfulness the perfect tool for this.

Therefore, I think it would be more fair to advise people AGAINST being “mindful” by telling themselves their emotions are not real ( a form of denial and suppressing), rather than making claim about how harmful mindfulness in general is.

Mr. John Smith February 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Hello Melissa,

Very good article about the harms of mindfulness meditation. I think what the main issue here is addressing how mindfulness is used like you stated. I am not aware of what mindfulness doctrine you have studied, but I have learned quite differently from the way you describe using mindfulness in your article. In reality, it’s an issue of how to properly apply mindful living for a contructive life. Lack of proper guidance can be attributed to mindfulness used for the wrong reasons. In this sense, it is quite important to seek counsel from a spiritual teacher with proper training in mindfulness and meditation.
For example, using mindfulness to supress negative emotions is incorrent. You also mentioned something yourself that is incorrent. You write that by observing negative emotions you supress them. This is not true. Supressing them is forcing yourself not to think about them. This can be very harmful as you have said, but by observing them you build insight, thus being able to discern them for what they really are. You develop an ability to grasp the root of your problem lets say, so that you understand yourself and your emotions. Through understanding, you cease to feel these negative emotions and slowly begin to have different perspectives on that specific problem. Although none of us will probably become “enlightened”, emotional pains tend to occur less and a more centered, harmonious life is rendered by being mindful like this.
Now, with that said, I will offer solutions to the 17 harmful ways stated for people that are practicing incorrectly:

1.You start to judge uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as inferior, unreal, or bad. Which gets in your way of actually learning from them, experiencing and healing them, growing from them, and integrating them.

(This is incorrent right off the bat, to judge your thoughts is already an act of nonmindfulness, objectively, you should observe your negative thoughts so that you heal them and grow from them as you said. Just by the mere thought of them you are already experiencing them.)

2.You get good at stuffing anger and other negative emotions. Which might make them go away — temporarily. But hasn’t shown to be very effective.

(To stuff them would be in reality supressing them, observe your thoughts like watching a movie, but do not become overtaken by them, like all things, they come and go, understanding springs forth the more mindful you are.)

3.If and when a traumatic or emotionally painful experience occurs, you don’t fully process it, and cut your grieving process dangerously short.

(To greive and feel pain is natural, I have never heard of any credible teachers of mindfulness teaching you to cut your grieving short and not allowing yourself to process any of your pain, pain is inevitable, being mindful of it will only help it pass, not supress it.)

4.You have low tolerance for processing old grief. So if a repressed traumatic memory starts to surface, you stuff it down, re-traumatizing yourself.

(In reality, old grief tends to naturally spring forth the further you delve into your meditation and mindfulness practices. This is so because as you begin to understand yourself and your emotions, you realize that in reality many of your lifes woes are attributed to older griefs, though the majority of times subconsciously. This realization in fact serves to be very constructive as you begin to understand you complex self.)

5.You expect meditation to fix your problems for you, resolve your relationship conflicts, and make you happy. Each of those things requires hard work, commitment, and realistically, some discomfort. When you look to meditation to save you, you stop putting in the hard work and commitment, and evade the discomfort. Which makes it harder to effectively work toward your goals.

(Only one taught the wrong way would see it this way. Meditation is not practiced primarily to fix your problems, it is to understand reality and consciousness for what it is. The fact that your problems may cease is apparent, but incidental.)

6.You detach yourself from conflicts in your life, expecting that meditation will get rid of the negative emotions — and fix the problem altogether. The emotions just signal the problem. Even if you ignore the emotions, the problem is still there.

(To detach is good in terms of mindfully observing. Expecting that meditation fix the problem altogether is ignorant. You must fix it or suffer the consequences, but again, be mindful while doing so.)

7.You detach from your partner or loved one when they’re upset or experiencing an emotion you see as undesirable. You wish they’d just meditate it away, calm down, take a walk, get a grip — do whatever it takes to get rid of the emotion. When you invalidate your partner’s negative emotions, you cause serious wounds to both of you, harming trust and intimacy.

(Compassion arises naturally from the right kinds of meditation. To detach yourself from your partner and wish they meditate their problems away indicates to the practitioner that either they have not evolved much yet spiritually, or that they have been taught the wrong way.)

8.You find it difficult to connect to your feelings when you want to be emotionally honest with yourself and others. Because you’ve trained yourself to avoid them. This impairs your ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.

(Again, never avoid, observe and understand.)

9.Your relationships deteriorate, because you lose touch with what interpersonal conflict really means. After all, no one is really experiencing hurt feelings, right? Those feelings aren’t really real; just dissociate from them. Or, “observe” them.

(Conflict should always be settled, there is nothing wrong with obeserving what’s happening. To be honest, I don’t quite understand what 9 is trying to say.)

10.You struggle to empathize with others, or understand their pain. If you don’t feel your own pain — you can’t expect to have compassion for another’s pain.

(If you dont feel your own pain you are already a buddha among this earth. To not understand another person’s pain indicates that you do not understand your own. Through self understanding much love for yourself is cultivated, other people will naturally be a beneficiary to your love and understanding as compassion will naturally arise.)

11.You lose your ability to naturally feel upset, sad, or concerned when there’s an issue in your life that you need to address. This puts a damper on healthy discernment.

(The fact that you do not feel upset about something does not suggest that you should not address it if it’s a negative force in your life that needs to be taken care of. If there is an issue worth addressing then address it. If it is not addressed and causes a burden to your life this will only interfere in your practices anyway.)

12.Your ability to feel positive emotions is also affected. Because you don’t allow experience of the negative. The positive cannot exist without the negative. Get rid of the negative, the positive has no meaning.

(Both positive and negative emotions should be observed as what they are. To be swept by the current of these emotions would not be wise in order to have a mindful life. There is a harmonious joy that transcends both emotions perceived as good or bad, and this can always be found in your center. There are many ways to describe such phenomenon.)

13.Your passion and drive in life start to fade, or shift away from those things that are truly special to you. Which may be a good thing, if you don’t want to cling to such things. But a bad thing if you give up pursuits that once gave you meaning and reward.

(Passion and suffering go hand in hand. Be mindful of what you really want in life and choose liberation of mind, or clinging and suffering. If it is not your intent to become “awakened” as some might call it, why not have a happy medium between your passions and your mindfulness training. This is a difficult challenge, but if by chance you eventually lean more towards being mindful, you will discover that the rewards of this are more fruitful than the rewards your passions have ever brought you. This is a difficult attainment and only realized through few disciplined practitioners.)

14. You start to feel dissatisfied with your life, and alone. But because of the nature of mindfulness meditation, you compound the problem by meditating, dissociating, and numbing even more.

(This is incorrect. Through proper mindful training you do not feel alone or dissatisfied. To the novice this may be so, but only because of improper technique. It is important to again, be mindful of how you are feeling if this is the case, and eventually it will cease and you will come to realization. Nothing comes easy. Especially in training your mind.)

15.You become fixated, obsessed, attached to abstract, man-made, escapist concepts like enlightenment and transcendence. This distracts you from attending to your actual life, here on Earth, as a mortal human being.

(This actually is correct. The practitioner should always be wary of becoming attached to meditation and the fruits of meditation. It happens often. If you have already reached a stage that you are actually attached so much to the joys of meditation you in fact have progressed quite well. It is up to you now to be mindful of yourself and your clinginess to your meditation and attain higher stages. To do this you are already on your way to becoming a more perfect being.)

16. You subconsciously seek a guru or teacher to show you the way to “better” enlightenment and transcendence. You have no idea how this person deals with their interpersonal relationships, not to mention conflict. You have no idea if this person could manage the mundane responsibilities you struggle to balance in life. Yet you put this person on a pedestal, and potentially take a advice that’s really not suited for your lifestyle.

(This is a difficult one. There are many phony gurus out there. It is hard to choose one if you are actively searching for one. My advice would be to listen to youself. All of us inherently have an inner guru. I have heard of meditations where you seek out your guru mentally and he will eventually come to you somehow by chance. It’s up to you to believe that one or not. A guru should point you in the right direction and that’s all. Use your good judgement on this one.)

17.You get it in your head that humans are so imperfect. This may come from the spiritual beliefs surrounding the practice, or just hanging around others who practice. (“Perfect” is a human construct by the way.) You then judge your human-ness. And seek to quiet (or kill) your ego, or self concept. Which puts you in ultimate conflict with yourself.

(Perfect is indeed a human contruct as everything else we have defined in our history of being. Ego is man’s ultimate illusion. To completely dissolve your ego is impossible for most of us. Jesus and Buddha are two good examples of human beings that did. They manifested this in their selflessness. It is safe to say that almost none of us will ever achieve this state of being. With that said I would not concentrate too much on killing the ego, but again living a mindful life so that this illusion will naturally be dismantled.)

..speaking of ego, I wrote this little exerpt awhile ago for anyone interested.

Like a cancer men work against each other instead of with each other. Our cells work collectively to maintain the integrity of our bodies. To not do so would mean illness, then death. Like a fool, we are quick to strike upon when stricken, to hurt others when hurt ourselves. In the society we live in, strength is defined by context such as this. Survival of the fittest, with no consideration of the ones we trample over in the process. What an ignorant paradigm. It is quick to delude us because it is manifested all around us. True strength lies in the individual who selflessly breaks this cycle of pain and affliction. It is easy to beat and batter your fellow brother because you feel that you have been affronted, yet it is difficult to hold your tongue, or to unclench your fist because your pride has been wounded. Withdraw your ego. Like a mirage it will slowly bring you closer to the death of your true essence.

Thanks Melissa!
And goodluck on your mindfulness everyone!

Katie L. February 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm

A recovering OCD sufferer here, for whom mindfulness meditation has been a critical tool in my healing process…

I can see Melissa’s point that if mindfulness is being used to *disassociate* from emotions, that is not useful.

However, my understanding of mindfulness, and how I practiced it (per the strategies outlined in The Mindful Way through Depression and Jeffry Schwartz’s 4-step process for reframing obsessive-compulsive thoughts and urges in Brain Lock), was the opposite of what Melissa is describing here.

Mindfulness allowed me, for the first time, to feel what there was to be felt in my OCD experience…to acknowledge my pain and anxiety fully (something I had never done before)…and THEN to make constructive, healthy choices about what to do with my feelings, understanding that they were not rational, once I had mindfully observed them.

The non-judgmental aspect was critical. Before, I greeted OCD thoughts with judgments such as, “you’re crazy!”, “you’re so weak to be obsessing again!”, “you’re broken and bad!”, and so on. Mindfulness taught me that I didn’t need to do that. I could love and have compassion for myself and my feelings, even the least rational and most unpleasant ones. Only AFTER I had felt what was there — had acknowledged and witnessed my feelings to myself — did I experience the ability to STOP acting on compulsive urges.

I went from someone who could barely function, due to OCD anxiety, to being able to function at high levels, and having more emotional stability in my mind and relationships than ever. I attribute much of this to mindfulness.

I do not doubt that there are lazy mental health practitioners who use mindfulness in the diassociative, improper, and unhealthy ways that you are describing here. That is wrong, and deserves to be condemned.

Perhaps what concerns me is that your article seems to lack nuance. You seem to decry all mindfulness practice, when it seems to me that your argument might more accurately be phrased, “Some mental health practitioners are unequipped to teach effective mindfulness meditation, and instead use it as a crutch to numb or shove pain away.” I think all of us can agree that this is NOT going to be healthy for anyone.

If I’m understanding the comments correctly, though, it seems that those of us who have benefited from mindfulness practice simply don’t agree with your characterization that the practice itself always requires a disassociative approach, as this has not been my experience, at least. I think a bit more nuance and clarity in your post would be helpful.

bob March 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Wow, the dude who wrote this article is doing it wrong. I know this because I can relate to doing it wrong and ‘observing’ instead of living and all that. It’s so hard to explain, I’ve read tons of books and articles for years and sometimes it’s been a real battle with myself. It’s so difficult to get mindfulness because it’s so easy, this article mentions observing but just take it one more step inward and observe the observer. I’m sure you’ve all heard it said that thinking about not thinking is still thinking and that seems, essentially, to be the problem you’re all having.

So just relax, you don’t know anything yet, you aren’t buddha yet and as soon as you understand that you don’t know what you’re doing and you should just keep calm, you’ll be well on your way.

By the way, it’s okay to cry, smile and think whatever you want, just accept your thoughts and all that jazz. If you’re straining you’re doing it wrong!

Matthew O'Connell March 13, 2012 at 2:30 am

Hi,
Nice article. The comments are abundant and I didn’t read them all so will apologize if I repeat what has been said. You’re observation of disassociation are spot on and are obviously not limited to Mindfulness practice, but most spiritual practice really, especially if it’s new age, where escapism is a central theme. The great challenge of all spiritual practice is the seeming duality it builds between the mundane and the profound, the earthly and the spiritual. I would say it’s an issue of maturity and evolution. Humans are limited beings and it appears that we need to move through phases most of the time in our growth, development and maturation. Many get stuck, many give up, many don’t bother.
Much of what you described from the perspective of a long-term meditative practice, are simply stages of learning, which provide ample opportunity to release beliefs, and progress to more authentic, open and richer sitting and practice off cushion.
In my experience there are key central issues to be applied to any form of spirituality to ensure that it is not leading us down dead ends. I have personally found them life-saving;
1. It must be deeply human: separating us from our humanity is a sure sign of escapism. Can you relate to others? If not, you got a problem. Does your practice exist behind closed doors only?
2. It must encompass and integrate all human experience; including the emotional, intellectual, sexual, physical, as well as work, politics, health, relationships, and so on. Don’t forget that meditation can be used to suppress feelings and emotions, but also active inquiry, intellectual engagement, questioning, skeptical doubt. This leads to naive adherence to dogma, gurus and so on. It’s usually a search for certainty, solidity and certainty in the world. Meditation as a security blanket anyone?
3. It must be practiced in conjunction with others; i.e. the world around us. If your practice is too special, there’s a problem. If you don’t relate to other practitioners, it’s likely you’ll get stuck in one of the many learning curves that flavour ongoing mindfulness practice.
4. We must have access to appropriate guidance, whether from peers, a teacher; a lot of teachers are confused too. Opening up our curiosity to wider dialogues in the Mindfulness/Buddhist community can help. A teacher should be able to go beyond spouting classic Buddhist doctrine and relate it directly to human experience, if not they are probably lost and confused too.
5. It must be carried out long-term and brought into the different arenas of our lives; some of the confusion you’ve described above is due to a very limited experience of meditating. This is an issue that can emerge in particular in the use of mindfulness for stress management and depression. It’s not all bad though. We need to be aware of our limits and for many the path to a reduction in suffering is through distancing and detachment. This may eventually lead to a healthier re-engagement with the challenging emotion/feeling, but not always. This leads to the next essential point that’s perhaps missing from your article.
6. The key is your intent and motive for practice. In reality some of the problems you described may be advantageous to certain people. As adults we can also make the decision to disassociate, right. For long-term practitioners this ceases to be an option if the person is genuinely engaging with developing insight and understanding of what it means to be fully human and awake as one.
It’s important we don’t idealize the potential results and desired results of meditation practice, but pointing out pitfalls and myths of practice is one of my own favorite blogging activities, so good for you, and keep up the good work.
You might like to check out my blog too as I am slap bang in the middle of writing about Mindfulness. I speak of dissatisfaction too in the post on Mindfulness of the body:
http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.com/2012/03/mindfulness-of-body.html

Ben March 24, 2012 at 1:20 am

Interesting post,. and I’ll add in my 2 cents worth – please forgive me if I repeat what others have already said..

I’m an MBSR teacher so have some experience in mindfulness practice and in teaching others how to cultivate mindfulness.

I think you’re heading off on the wrong tangent when you say that you’re supposed to get rid of “Because when it comes to stress, physical pain, emotional pain, discomfort, or any other undesirable sensations. You’re supposed to get rid of them (or “defuse” them) by: ….” Nothing could be further from the truth and if you think that what you’re saying is true, then I would encourage you to read more widely and to talk to a broader group of people.

From my own experience in working with grief and chronic illness, it was when I “made friends” with these things that transformation happened, and mindfulness was the tool/process that enabled the transformation.

I would appreciate it if you could point me to any credible materials that support your view. I offer this reply to contribute to the discussion and out of the hope that others get to *really* understand what mindfulness is.

Thanks,
Ben

Mike March 29, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Willy and Gyatso speak the truth. This seems like a Westernized approach to meditating and mindfulness. If you take the time to search deeper inside yourself you will see that there is no mind and that you are the pure awareness behind this. You are much too focused on the stresses of the Western life which is understandable why.. living in the West myself. Although you are helping many people grow…… it would be wise to search inside yourself some more before trying to show the “way” like so many people have tried and done before. Focusing on statistics and form too much is no good =) You will learn and make better :D

Tim Brownson March 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

I just stumbled across this whilst researching for an ebook.

Holy crap, after reading a number books on meditation over the last 5 years and studying with Buddhist teacher, Bodhipaksa for the last 7 months, I have no idea what the author is talking about.

It seems to me like she’s trying to stir the pot and rank on Google (hence all the hyperlinks) for a popular topic because this is in direct contradiction to almost everything I have ever read.

Melissa Karnaze March 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

Tim, did you really “just stumble” across this site? Before referring to me in the third-person, you directly “spoke” to me about the title here: http://www.adaringadventure.com/business-coaching/the-single-biggest-mistake-small-businesses-make/#comment-15226

Hunt April 6, 2012 at 2:30 am

I just finished all the comments, which in total are extremely interesting and informative. I think I’m another in the agree and disagree with this article. Caveat/disclaimer is that even though I’ve been familiar with mindfulness/meditation for a number of years, I have not been an avid practitioner. The general gist of the article strikes a cord with me, although I can’t accurately judge to what extent it addresses correct mindfulness or a mischaracterization and/or caricature of mindfulness that corresponds to a frequent way it is mistaught. Since you don’t seem prone to budge off your original position, it’s hard for a person like me to draw a conclusion from my limited experience. There seem to be two camps that are not going to reconcile, even though I sense that there is a reconciliation to be made here.

I too am very suspicious of the “enlightened” individual who seems utterly detached from and immune to emotion. But is that really an accurate characterization of the end-goal of meditation/mindfulness? The last thing I want to do is turn myself into a zombie. At the same time, I find some of the testimonies above very compelling, particularly the one about OCD, and also the one mentioning panic attacks. Is “fully experiencing” panic with hopes of “processing” it actually the correct way to deal with unfounded panic? (And I speak as a person who has experienced panic disorder.) Is unfounded and seemingly spontaneous panic even a valid emotion that should be fully experienced? Note that these are actually rhetorical questions, and I’m actually willing to convince myself either way. I have myself attempted the “fully experiencing” panic technique with a certain amount of, but not total, success.

My apologies for a rather disconnected comment.

No matter what proportion of this article turns out to be accurate, it prompts questions that need to be asked, and I thank you for writing it.

David April 7, 2012 at 11:45 am

I’m meditating and a bit wary of spacing out, and its hard not to be harsh on myself when noticing I’m drifting off. However, I feel there is something very healthy to be found in some type of meditation/relaxation. Maybe just taking 20 minutes without outer distractions to be with yourself and your thoughts?

Andy April 8, 2012 at 8:19 am

I have been spending the past 8-10 months now searching for a way to deal with both my thoughts and feelings. I over-think and I am very erratic with my emotions. I know I need to open up to my feelings but I think thinking too much about opening up to my feelings defeats the whole purpose of opening up. I think instead of watching the feelings dissolve with meditation it should be watching the thoughts which already come from the feelings and just observe (since nothing can really be dissolved, only delayed or deferred until the thoughts/feelings come up again).

Every thought comes with an underlying feeling. I don’t think you can fake a feeling and the worst part is that things get lost in translation once you use words to explain your emotions/feelings. So what I am trying to do now is dig deep into my subconsciousness to open up to my feelings, understand what my feelings are communicating to me and then draw them out through words/thoughts again. I have been so stuck in my head wanting and desiring to open up that I have placed myself in my own trap.

There was a time when I would obsessively read your site and the Emotional Intelligence website (www.eqi.org) you recommended for your readers. Your sites have helped me open up in words, I am not afraid to express myself with words. But somehow I feel I still cannot openly express my feelings. Once I try to explain how I feel the words don’t seem to do justice to what my actual feelings in the moment actually are. I am a few steps short of being mindful of my feelings but I am not sure if I have hit my limitations or not. I do thank you for providing wonderful resources that help us out, when I felt like I had a lot of heavy, suffocating pressure in my chest area coming to your site helped make the suffocating feelings go away.

But in my case, I also looked elsewhere. Eventually I stumbled upon a meditation website that doesn’t focus too strongly on the philosophical/religious aspects of meditation but more on the hedonistic/practical/scientific aspects of it. I was wondering from your perspective what do you think about it? It doesn’t seem to push some kind of ego thrashing/”we are one” agenda down your throat. I think this website digs much deeper than the surface that is uncommonly seen in discussions about mindfulness or the usefulness of meditation.

I want you to have a look at the links below and the forum as a whole and tell me what do you think. I haven’t seen such discussions about meditation or mindfulness seen in the forum I am mentioning below that I have seen here and I thought it could enhance the discussions and topics of mindfulness and meditation.

http://www.personalpowermeditation.com/forum/meditation/the-passive-active-axis-of-emotion/msg4107/#msg4107
http://www.personalpowermeditation.com/forum/meditation/the-logical-and-emotional-models-in-brief/

Please check out the forum when you have time. Your website has been a big help in helping me open up but I still have a very long way to go.

Andy

benjamin thomas April 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm

hello i came to this web page hoping to accurate information! There is no such thing as practicing mindulfulness because your always present whether you practice it or not. And all the practices i have read dont involve repressing emotions or denying in fact they say to accept the emotions and being mindful of how each emotion feels within you. One practice actually says “anger is within me and i am anger” Please correct this inappropriate info =]

max April 24, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I just skimmed a couple of books. Mainly Tolle stuff. I think the main message is just to rid of the autopilot nature we all seem to establish due to habit. But consciousness is a paradox in itself. The mind creates consciousness. The problem with mindfulness is that the brain is part of the material world. Think about it. Consciousness (awareness/mindfulness) can bet distorted through drugs and hallucinogens so it must obviously be part of the material world. The physical world is just based off of it and associations we as a society have established through history. you can’t escape it because you live in it. As a songwriter, one of the most important things is silence, to be able to hear your inner thoughts and write flowingly without stopping to get all those subconscious ideas out unedited by our judgmental critical self. people love music and feeling. It offers a zillion combinations of words and music in perfect harmony that lead to some higher sense. I think “harmony” should be in place of “mindfulness”. Harmony is love. . I don’t understand how you can pursue anything in no regards to an end or outcome because existence is in itself a causality. I don’t ever write a song hoping no one will ever hear it. I want to play it with my friends and share it. Mindfulness seems like rather lonely endeavor and how purposeful would life be without others. It’s also important to know that you can’t fully understand the extent of happiness without first knowing sadness. It’s the same as saying if there was only light in the world and no darkness, what would you compare it too. The world would lack contrast and we all know that makes for a dull song. Mindfulness in the sense of not accepting the bad with the good is false. You are ignoring your very nature. My grandmother has cancer now and when she goes I’m not going to observe it from afar. I’m going to let it out and then be on my way because it’s part of life. I think it’s more important to just recognize the energy of it all. ITs’ all about where you manifest energy, where you distill it, and who you share it with. It think it’s better to understand it through the lens of a sense of mystery. The world is a complex place. Marvel at the beautifulness in which everything works in its accord. Not having to have all the answers is important. Discovery and exploration is the name of the game and the now is a big part of it. “A songbird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, he sings because he has a song.” It’s innate. Sounds like harmony to me. If you are mindful you are aware period. Aware of everything. I consider me being mindful at work, actually making the best of it and having positive feeling of connecting with people and not focus on the fact that I’m at my boring, tiring job. This mindfulness thing is coming off to me as a tool as well. Then again people use pot or booze as a tool to runaway from problems too. Just as christianity or any religion is a tool to point to spirituality, mindfulness seems to be doing the same thing. It’s equivalent to a sign that says “thisa way, come all ye that are curious/seeking answers.” I mean you bought the book didnt you? so you are seeking something from it. I advise you to be curious and keep searching the vast mysteriousness. Only I think it’s very easily done through the material world. Its like a plug and energy is every. My socket just happens to be songwriting and music. Find your plug, and live in the process of discovery, creativity, exploration, and process. That’s Why I value science a little more. Always curious. Check out Austin Kleon’s book “Steal Like An Artist” Its a good reference for me.

Eala Duhb April 24, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I agree there are distortions regarding emotional health that can be propogated through unwise mindulness practice or teachings. Simply put, instead of chasing the American dream of being happy all the time, people caught in these traps switch happiness for peacefulness as their goal. This is accentuated by other social phenomenon and beliefs too; namely, the idea that if you aren’t 100% optimistic and extroverted all the time, you are mentally unwell.

There are teachers and paths that work with all emotions, encouraging people to stay with whatever comes up without judging it. One teacher in this regard in Thorn Coyle; another set of teachings I find valuable is the Tibetan Shambhala Buddist work, because it was adapted for Westerners to alleviate the deep self-hatred we are conditioned from birth onwards with. I also really find the work of Tsultrim Allione in re-viving Chod valuable.

Mindfulness is not supposed to be exorcism – but rather, “in-presencing”, being with whatever actually is in the moment. Thanks for shedding some light on the benefits and pitfalls.

All the best to everyone on their journey!

Gega May 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I rarely post on these types of this but for the sake of others I will.

The Idea that Mindfullness meditation and practice having negative side effects is more basised on lack of understanding, which I have also gone through myself.

First of all, Mindfullness is not a brief period such as a half hour to 2 hours or longer. Mindfullness Meditation is a 24/7 process. It is both a means AND a end. The idea that you have to mediate again to get the ‘high’ is only true if you only do though short meditation periods.

Second, Detachment is a relationship is in fact VERY healthy. Detachment doesn’t mean “I don’t care about you”. The “I don’t care about you” attitude is acually an ‘Attached’ attitude. because when we at ‘attached’ we only care when we are rewarded and don’t care when we want to hurt another.

While detachment might “seem” the ignorant, and by that term I simply mean those who have not learned this yet, that detachment is “I dont Care” is the opposite. There is a story told in manly different origins but they are always the same in the tale. A man loses a horse, everyone says “Thats horrible” the man replies, “we will see”. The Horse then returns with another horse, everyone says “how wonderful” again the Man says, “We will see” The Son of the Man tries to ride the new horse, falls off and breaks his leg. Every one says “How Horrible” the man says “we will see”. War breaks out, young men are being called to fight for the country, yet the Son of the Man cannot go because of his broken leg. and on and on the story goes.

This is a example of a person who is “detached”. He doesn’t get angery or upset that his son’s leg is broken, after all that will not mend his son’s leg. He still lvoes his son very much, but realizes that a greater work is happening. Think of the Phrase “a blessing in disguise”.

Third, this is something that I myself sometiems forget. Mindfulness is NOT about being and emotionless/thoughtless stiff. Meditators tell you, or they should if they know what they are talking about, Meditation is not about surpressing thought or feelings. it’s about accepting thoughts and feelings.

Think of it like this, say two people are watching a movie, one person is getting very emotionally involved, while the other is just watching. Your Feelings are your bodies reaction to your thoughts. and your thoughts ofen play out in your head like a movie.

The Idea is to watch to movie, with out becoming identified with it. in other words, “FEEL” your negative emotions, but don’t get caught up in them. “THINK” your thoughts, but dont get absorbed in them.

This really came together for me when I read the Book “Inner game to tennis” it talks about being present/focused/mindfull (Same thing pretty much) during a match. This causes skill to increase, talent to expand, and time to seem to slow down.

Martial arts, such and Kung Fu/ Tai Chi/ Yoga etc are all about ‘movement meditation’ Meditation isn’t about shutting yourself out of the world, like a hermit.

Last, Have you ever seen those Yogis who drive sharp into thier skin? this ability does not ‘surpress’ pain. Pain, the pain we feel in life, comes from our resistance to pain. We can see this when we are stressed. When we resist the stress we feel, our bodies lock up in knots.

I’m a Martial Artist and I leanr to embrace the “pain” and I feel vertually nothing with being struck.

Check out some videos of Iron Shirt or Iron Body. This is the power of heightened and well developed minds.

Cory May 22, 2012 at 9:05 am

Gega,

I feel that detachment is never healthy no matter how much one tries to justify it. You said:

“Detachment doesn’t mean “I don’t care about you”. The “I don’t care about you” attitude is actually an ‘Attached’ attitude.”

and

“when we are ‘attached’ we only care when we are rewarded and don’t care when we want to hurt another.”

This is a twisting of definitions similar to Orwellian Newspeak such as, “War is Peace” and “Freedom is Slavery.” Just because you believe the words you’re saying, doesn’t make them true.

Also, life is not comparable to a movie. Or tennis. Or martial arts. Life is all these things and much much more. In a relationship, it’s not the greatest idea to think of it like a competition or a piece of entertainment. This the worst of the worst detachment and apathy that we are currently experiencing as a culture.

My philosophy: Care about everything you possibly can. Remain attached to pain, pleasure, and every emotion.

No one can live their philosophy perfectly, but we can’t fall into the trap of mislabeling things as they are. Things are confusing enough as is.

Willy May 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hello Cory,

So right or wrong, Gega’s opinion may not hold true for you but wouldn’t you say is nevertheless valid (and true for him) given that how he’s tried to define and apply what he is calling an attitude of “detachment” is something that seems to be working well for him without it hurting anyone?

As far as labelling goes, I believe whether a label is appropriate (fits) or not will vary depending on circumstances and context. I think it largely depends on how it’s used. In which case a label could hold several different meanings; one definition possibly the polar opposite of the other. Both are right (and wrong). When there is a lack of one universally accepted absolute or even when opposing parties jointly consent to agree to disagree adds nothing to making (my) life less confusing.

Cory May 23, 2012 at 10:46 am

If I thought what Gega wrote was valid, I wouldn’t have responded. And yes his belief system does hurt me. Why? Because ideas spread. I am personally affected by detached people on a daily basis, and it bothers me.

I am well aware of the existence of paradox. Some paradoxes are true, and some are false. You can’t stretch everything into a paradox or a double-meaning. Right is not wrong and wrong is not right.

You have to stand for something or else you’ll fall for anything. And detachment, no matter how you wanna brand it, is not something I will ever subscribe to. It’s nihilism.

Pythagoras May 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm

The actual problem here is that nobody has practiced or made a habit out of mindfulness, and yet you would absolutely need to do this in order to say anything for or against mindfulness. People who have never practiced have to be agnostics on this matter unfortunately. The subject matter actually REQUIRES personal experience for us to have any knowledge whatsoever, we cannot simply observe the practice from the outside and make sweeping generalizations about it on that basis.

Besides that, there is much confusion about how SPECIFICALLY to practice mindfulness, and I know from experience that one could easily lead themselves astray ‘internally’ by trying new things, for example. My point is that there is much ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding the practice, and my intuition tells me even the author of this web agrees at this point ;)

Allan McKenna June 1, 2012 at 6:03 am

This is the first ‘negative’ comment I’ve read about mindfulness. I’ve always had provisos in my head but for other reasons. If being in the ‘present’ frees us from ‘harmful’ thoughts (whatever) why do we have a cerebrum? Why as Jesus suggested we must have the minds of little children to enter the kingdom etc (which I always assumed meant something like living in the present anyway) do we differ from kids and animals who know how to be happy? Isn’t that what set cro-magnon man (and woman) on the path to where we are today? There’s a paradox here that needs exploring. That said what little ‘mindfulness’ I’ve practised has done me big favours – although you need to keep on top of it. You get nowt for nowt (as they say in Yorkshire). Also and on another rather oblique point, I suddenly (like a revelation) became aware that there is no past or future, just the continuum of ‘now’. Yeah I know the zen bods have been banging on about that for years but I never listened. Anyway now I ‘know’ what they mean.

Cath June 3, 2012 at 12:53 am

I found your article on google by accident, and I am amazed! Almost every word that is written is like taken from my mind. I actually stopped every now and then and nodded my head with a smile.

I’ve had these ideas in my mind for a long time. I used to be interested in Buddism a while ago, because I thought it was the only ‘religion’ that affirmated humans instead of gods, but I saw really quickly that it still deals with the same in the same way (dissociation).

I went through a really traumatic experience in my life some time ago, and have been struggling through ever since. I am a really strong and independent person, and others see me as such, so it was even harder for me to find help. There were times when I tried to commit suicide. It was just too much to handle for me, and I learned that being strong and independent really is nothing when it comes to human psyche, which is fragile in every one of us. I was in therapy, but of course no one wanted and could really help. When I was told to calm down or let go it just made me so incredibly angry! Not even because I knew it wouldnt help in a long run, but because I saw how indifferent and hopeless people acted. Hell, it was because of people’s neglection and avoidance that I ended up in a situation like that (and many still do)! It really pissed me of.

But I somehow survived, and it took one person to save me (I really doubt Id still be here – I would most definetely have killed myself). All it took was to sit, listen, and tell me I was right, and the ones who hurt me were wrong. It was ALL it took. I had to work through all my feelings alone, but I need to just hear – your feelings, are totally accurate. There is nothing wrong with feeling wrong!

I am a very happy person now, and I feel I have grown 10-20 years of experience in the past 2 years. I have learned so much – and much of that from my emotions. The most important thing I’ve learned though – is that life is hard because there are those ‘bad’ emotions. And I know there are many more to come. And now, they do not cause a discomfort. On the contrary – they are my secret agent, and I treat them with most respect.
In some weird way, they are MORE IMPORTANT than the good ones. Sure good emotions make you happy, and tell you what you like or that you are in a good place. But the bad ones actually save you from what is bad for you. They are your instinct – that tells you who not to trust, what not to do. I have realized that by suppresing these emotions I have always gotten myself in trouble eventually. Now, anytime I feel any bad emotion – I am glad its there – because it informs me that something is wrong. And letting go – should really address the cause of these emotions and not the emotions itself! If you feel anxiety let go of the thing that causes it. If you feel anger – let go of the person who causes it (people are different and many time you just wont get along with someone, so why waste your time and kill your anger towards them, damn, they piss you off! Get away and be happy:).

So yeah, eastern philosophy on meditaion practices is just another bullshit for people who CANNOT work their problems. You dont feel happy in your life? well let us help you – just let it go!

Life is hard, sometimes extremely hard. But avoiding it is stupid. It doesnt make you happy. Going through life’s hard experiences that make you stronger – growing up and learning to love life – thats what makes you happy.

Jackie June 3, 2012 at 10:43 am

I saw your other posts on the right hand side of this post and you seem to have the wrong attitude towards a lot of things and you come across as quite negative. Maybe if you had the right attitude and you were more positive, meditation would work for you. So far, you are the only person on the web who has these kind of articles while everyone else who meditates has discussed only upbeat and inspirational articles and posted them online. Several mental health experts have done research on Holistic Health and anything that has to do with it and the only talk about how rejuvenating and motivational meditation is. Nothing personal, but I am just telling you my perspective about your outlook on this and on life in general.

himelator June 6, 2012 at 11:34 pm

I practice samatha and vipanassa meditations myself. I am amazed how threatened people are by any potential pitfalls toward quests for enlightenment. I really enjoy my meditations, and I really enjoy the benefits. That being said I have experienced relationship breakdown where I have been abandoned emotionally by someone using mindfulness as a tool to avoid. I also have a very close friend who experienced a similar event with the end of her marriage. Guru’s, emotional suppression, lack of empathy, avoidance all lead to quite a lot of pain for the reciever. Ultimately…unless one plans to live under a rock, this is some very difficult dogma. I think that many people seeking extreme mindfulness come from hurt. Rather then building outward the meditation itself becomes a way of avoiding and imbalance results. I think this is one of the most important posts I have seen regarding potential pitfalls, and the criticism in the commentary is unwarranted.

himelator June 6, 2012 at 11:35 pm

lol vipassana…lol its late…no glasses and no speel check

Sheila June 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm

You obviously had a VERY bad teacher. Mindfulness is the opposite. I hope you have a good teacher sometime and can learn what it is all supposed to be about. It is about accepting it all in the present. It is not for everyone, but instead of criticizing something you don’t understand why not let people use the scientifically based practices that help them. I wish you the best.

himelator June 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm

quite the opposite…like all practices…nothing is without potential criticisms….certainly there are great benefits to practice…i for one do not believe in enlightenment….and negation, this does not mean I dont practice well or properly. Ive certainly seen many missuse the methods to advantage or deney important relationships and emotions. I would say that the blind support of any practice or ideal is always a good indicator that their are inhearant flaws as self criticism becomes impossible with the moral voracity and cannon with which practice is applied. I am sure there are many very serious practioners and teachers that would be the first to line up and say that the practice is often used for denial, moral or emotional indifference etc….just because you can watch yourself watching does not necessarily mean you are no longer subject to the human factor so to speak

Allan McKenna June 7, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Melissa – you give the impression of coming from the venerable and ‘reasonable’ American tradition of Freudian based thinking. If we suppress hurtful emotions et al they will fester and express themselves in a myriad of unwanted and ‘unconscious’ ways. This appeals to ‘commom sense’ but – and remembering Francis Galton’s dictum ‘count whenever possible’ – when we measure such approaches they appear extremely lengthy, extremely expensive and appear not to work – certainly as well as they should given the reasoning. The problem is partly I feel reasoning by analogy. A problem subconcioously suppressed is NOT a boil, carbuncle or what have you and doesn’t behave like that. The counter to all your arguments – interesting though tney are and ‘healthy’ in the sense that uniform acceptance of anything is dangerous – is that when we ‘count’ we see that mindfulness gets results. Measureable results. Freudianism and all the psychodynamic variants of it, appear not to. This is underlined by the fact that the National Health Service of the UK. (a perennially cash-strapped org. if ever there was one) funds mindfulness especially for treatment of depression, but not any of the Freudian based theories. It seems to work Melissa – reasoning notwithstanding. This is uncomfortable I agree but you should take it on board.

Nick June 22, 2012 at 11:29 am

hi

i browsed the article. it certainly has many valid points. the word ‘mindfulness’ (sati), in the Buddhist senses, actually means ‘to remember’ or ‘recollection’. the role of mindfulness is to ‘recollect’ or bring WISDOM & UNDERSTANDING to an experience. thus, in Buddhism, sati is always co-joined with the term ‘sampajanna’, to mean ‘mindfulness-&-clear comprehension’ or ‘mindfulness-&-ready wisdom’.

if we study the original Buddhist texts, in relation to freeing the mind of disturbing emotions, it was generally taught, to UNDERSTAND WITH WISDOM, the respective skilfulness & unskilfulness of various thoughts.

so yes, the Buddhist way is not merely trying to observe emotions & thought devoid of understanding. my personal view is your article, Melissa Karnaze, is very good

regards

Allan McKenna June 23, 2012 at 3:26 am

This sounds suspiciously like someone coming from – for instance – a psychodynamic or Freudian based theoretical viewpoint. This seems predicated on the idea – a persuasive idea admitted – that to suppress unpleasant memories or emotions may cause them to fester and force themselves into our conscious lives uninvited and subsequently to cause possible mayhem. This is more persuasive in common sense terms than in science. And as we all know – or should – common sense can lead you down the garden path. Sometimes disastrously.

Without going into too much detail all the objections (admittedly I haven’t studied all 17 in detail ) seem predicated on this idea. And to repeat it is a persuasive one and one that indeed appeals to common sense.

Two things here i) it ignores Francis Galton’s famous/infamous dictum ‘count whenever possible’ and ii) turns away – or appears to – from the uncomfortable fact that the empirical data in favour of the ‘present time’ emphasis of mindfulness is impressive – ‘common sense’ or psychodynamic theories notwithstanding. I would prefer to see some of the raw data referred to but the assertion – as yet for me unproved – is that equal groups of, say, depressives will respond significantly (statisticians word) better when treated with the ‘present time’ emphasis of mindfulness than those treated with other forms of therapy including the various psychodymic types. The measurement of same is of course crucial but if valid gives our objecting friends a serious problem. Analogous to Occam’s razor to a Christian. Ignore it he may. Contradict it he will struggle.

A further thought occurs. To compare suppressed thoughts/emotions to ‘boils’ ‘infections’ whatever is to compare like with unlike. They are not boils etc. They are suppressed emotions and as such need to be considered in their own light, not as analogous to something else. A classic example of this was Mussolini’s Italian fascists of the ’20s who likened Communist cells to warts on the body politic which of course had to be cut off and discarded. They of course were not warts, they were groups of people guided/misguided according to opinion.

Jacque July 11, 2012 at 8:16 am

I remember something about Abraham-Hicks teachings & somehow misunderstood it & thus ends up with a lot problem due to suppressing negative thoughts & not facing them. After a few studies from different mentors, I began to realize what it means to go with the flow. Negative feelings are not bad. They are action signals. Still learning to do something about these signals tho. :-)

Julie Schaefer July 14, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Before I “googled” to this site I read an article by Mary Gardner and I think she agrees with you Melissa. I was a bit amazed the defensiveness of the responses given the nature of meditation. I have come to both web sites by asking in a google search engine “Can meditation cause depression?” and have learned the answer is basically, yes. And found a poem:

Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,
and meditate to know if the world’s true or lies,
may do so. It’s their choice. But I meanwhile
with hungry eyes that can’t be satisfied
shall take a look at the world in broad daylight. (1896)

“Against Meditative Knowledge” Rabindranath Tagore

Abraham July 25, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Hello. I have read this entire thread and was fascinated with it.

Abraham July 25, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Hello all. After reading this thread in its entirety, the following two simple thoughts came to mind (along with many others not quite as simple):
1) Zen consistently warns against confusing the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. Many ideas of what mindfulness does/is. All fingers pointing. Meditation/mindfulness reveals the moon.

2) I have heard, “If you overhear a Christian Priest and a Catholic Priest converse, they will DISagree on just about everything. If you listen to a Christian and Catholic monk converse, they’ll agree on just about everything”. One is experience, the other beliefs. This is part of what the mind does.

I have studied psychology through the Master’s Level and read voraciously. I have come across (too late) statements about mindfulness and one’s ability to tolerate difficult emotions that come up. Those need to be sured up for certain prior to embarking (or, in mine and many others I’ll assume, after) upon mediation/mindfulness.

I say DO IT (or don’t), but to theorize more about it…well, that won’t be it.

Namaste!

Abraham July 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm

And, yes. I would highly recommend a teacher/master from the very get-go, because it’s all very subtle and they have seen many mindfulness practicioners and many meditators and are generally able to hear what’s happening for you-in your observations of yourself and the world around you and to integrate it and alter practices when practical.

For all…and for you Melissa, I would highly recommend “Mindfulness in Plain English” (exact title..forgot author). It explains mindfulness in a way that is so logical that it blew the doors off ALL of my ideas about psychology. Even the CBT approach assumed that thoughts or beliefs leading to feelings could be identified and experienced. Well they can…but ONLY if we’re mindful. Since I know that you wouldn’t disagree with a shadow, or unconscious processes ongoing, it is quite likely that CBT has added mindfulness (MCBT) because it has become obvious that the ability to observe one’s thoughts and experiences require attention that a 5-minute meditation clarifies is largely unavailable for something as benign as the act of breathing. Clearly, shadow characters and the real thoughts that underly emotions and behavior are going to be very difficult to attend to- and they are. We must learn. To learn we must be present. In mindfulness, just the awareness of non-presence is itself awareness. We either, it seems to me, open to the “more of us”, or shrink ourselves into narrow conceptions of ourselves. Mindfulness, along with meditation is about creating a strong witness that doesn’t preclude experience, or repress or dissociate (which we all do), but shows us that the “I”, that is witnessing is not the thought, the emotion, nor sensations. This non-identification is even important in the language. “There is a tightness in “the stomach””. “Thoughts about how boring this is”, etc. If we can keep watching…the watcher changes.

These are my thoughts along with my experiences and I hope that they represent a helpful finger….

Namaste

Hunt July 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Abraham,
Thanks, those comments were very helpful.

Nick July 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Abraham is confused. Zen is a very weak school of Buddhism. Mindfulness in Plain English is a confused work of literature. Mindfulness in the Buddhist sense means to ‘remember’; ‘to recollect’. it does not mean to ‘witness’.

Abraham July 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Hunt, I’m glad that you found the comments helpful.

Nick, Yes, Abraham often experiences confusion. While I don’t understand your statement that Zen is weak (which school) but hear your opinion. Might you explain what you mean and what it is that makes you feel that way?
I am sorry you didn’t find “Mindfulness in Plain English” comprehendable, or sensible. As to the definition of Mindfulness, I wasn’t intending to provide a dictionary-definition, but to state what it is “in plain English”; and while I don’t see where I said that it meant to witness, witnessing is the skill required to be mindful, because the alternative is to be identified with the passing phenomena of thoughts, sensations, emotions, fantasies, etc. I would define mindfulness, perhaps more accurately as awareness. It is quite possible and helpful to be a witness and thus be aware, rather than to be identified, and thus engulfed and unaware. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

Nick July 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Abraham. “Mindfulness” in Buddhism means “to remember”; “to recollect”. It does not mean “awareness”. In means to remember to practise the principles of Buddhism.

Pythagoras July 31, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I would like to add a couple things.

Have to be already well-grounded to meditate. People that don’t have solid emotional health/have neurosis/don’t understand anything about their own psychology should not be meditating. The Buddha went through a period of asceticism before he started meditating. He also went through a nasty period where he was forced to experience how much fear there was in his unconscious. He found this a very important initiation and he made it the bedrock of his teaching (the first noble truth – life is suffering). Realizing that ‘life is suffering’ clears some emotional blockages and lays the ground for meditation. Tibetan Buddhists have a similar initiation – before people start meditating they need to realize fully that death is inevitable. They work themselves into a state of terror – this motivates them to put a heroic effort into becoming virtuous people! Then they can meditate. lol

Meditation takes great precision. It’s been called ‘the path of the razor’s edge’ because it’s so intense and there’s a lot of risk involved. The mindset is very specific, you can’t just do your own thing lol. Meditation should not take strain – as soon as there’s any strain then that’s a pretty sure sign that you’re not cultivating the right disposition.

And this is the most important thing: you have to have a desire to travel into the unconscious. There are people that try meditation but actually have no desire to travel there and then they wonder why meditation hasn’t worked. This desire can’t be artificial or contrived – it has to spring the depths of your being. Anybody that can isolate their yearning for what the Buddha called the ‘far shore’ will know what I mean.

Anyways – GOOD LUCK FOLKS THIS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. lol

Abraham July 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Okay Nick.
Namaste!

Nick August 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

why do i say Zen is a ‘weak’ Buddhist school? because its wisdom & moral principles are weak. Buddhism has three trainings: 1. moral; 2. concentration (unconditional awareness) and 3. wisdom. Zen focuses strongly meditation, i.e., unconditional awareness but is weak in the other aspects.

as i mentioned, ‘mindfulness’ means to ‘bring to mind’, which includes bringing wisdom & moral principles to mind.

when meditation is practised without a foundation of wisdom & moral principles, the dangers mentioned in this web page can occur

Allan McKenna August 2, 2012 at 12:46 am

It seems to me that Nick/Abraham et al although making many valid points – some of which warrant consideration – they are missing the major – and revolutionary – aspect of ‘mindfulness’ , the aspect that appears to have had such empirical success with treatment of depression in particular and that is the aspect of the emphasis on ‘present time’ awareness. When I practised ‘mindfulness of breathing’ in London in the 80s it was very Buddhist orientated – which I considered then a weakness for reasons not relevant here – and the ‘present time’ effect of the practise was left unsaid. In fact I don’t remember it being mentioned at all. And it is this aspect more than any other that seems to get results. Why? That needs further investigation of a scientific kind i.e. not your methods at all which aren’t necessarily invalid but science they ain’t. We measure, we count, we predict and we measure again. Tedious often but essential. My advice? Stay in the present time. It’s your best chance of ‘happiness’ (whatever that means) and I’m not sure why that should be so. Lots of paradoxes here. Fascinating stuff. Makes you feel glad to be alive!

Nick August 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Depression can heal in mindfulnesss meditation because the mind is placed in an environment to see itself. What heals depression is wisdom, i.e,. the mind seeing itself (rather than mindfulness). Similarly, happiness arises in mindfulness practise because the behaviours & mental states that cause unhappiness are foresaken, i.e., they disengage from reinforcement, similar to ‘cold turkey’.

Mindfulness means ‘to remember’. It means to remember the spiritual path; it means to remember to avoid harmful behaviours & thought patterns; in formal meditation, it means to remember to be aware & observant (rather than thinking & daydreaming). The healing SELF-AWARENESS or INNER AWARENESS occuring in meditation is not mindfulness. it is the CONSCIOUS MIND.

In formal meditation, mindfulness is that function of mind that remembers to keep the mind in a silent conscious aware state (rather than the silent conscious awareness itself). Similarly, when doing your job at work, mindfulness is that function of mind that remembers it is your job to answer your client’s questions (rather than keeping silently consciously aware). Similarly, when you have a relationship problem, mindfulness is that which addresses the problem (rather than keeping silently consciously aware).

Mindfulness means ‘to remember’; ‘to bring to mind’. Therefore, in formal Buddhist practise, there are eight factors of the path (rather than just one factor of the path) that must be brought to mind in accordance to the circumstances.

Allan McKenna August 5, 2012 at 4:27 am

Melissa – either you haven’t read my post or you’ve chosen to ignore it. Which of course is your privilege. My main point – and one I suspect is something like anathema to people like yourself – is that ‘mindfulness’, all objections notwithstanding, WORKS!!!! Or at least the emphasis on living in the present seems to. And this is measureable. Not opinion. Still plenty to argue with agreed, but time you took a different tack I feel. Try putting your ego on the back burner. That sounds didactic but it applies to all of us myself (perhaps especially) included.
Oh and Nick – your contribution – the last point borne in mind – sounds like a rant. As though you’re shouting. This weakens your argument.
One is left with the suspicion that you both have a ‘hidden agenda’ of some sort in the form of a vested interest in arguments counter to mindfulness. And if true that is what Bertrand Russell called the worst of philosophic sins. Searching for conculsions that are agreeable. Mind you he was talking about Socrated when he said that. So what do I know.

Jane August 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

i agree with willy – only if meditation is misused. if you use meditation to automatically fix the problem – then you don’t really get the point of what it is all about. mindfulness doesn’t actually ask you to numb yourself but to be in the moment – whatever you may be feeling. there are some meditations that even involve crying or just staying with the feeling of anger and focusing on it. you basically forget everything for a moment to give yourself time to grieve and to process.

Jawad August 27, 2012 at 1:01 am

Dear Melissa
I guess, the picture potrayed about mindfulness needs to be seen from a different angle. The reason being, meditation was never created in the first place to calm emotions or fight day-to-day life stresses. Mindfullness is just a first step towards the vast goal of englightment. Seeing mindful meditation in an isloated way is truly sad as one misses the big picture. Also compared to other meditation systems, mindfulness neither makes us numb or invites us escape from world. It actually arouses more awareness which even leads to gentle awakening of creative parts of mind and thus empowers meditator to handle difficult situations and worrying emotions more powerfully. I also believe one essentially has not to experience negative emotions to feel the positive emotions as many of the psychiatric problems arise after traumatic conditions or consistently unfavourable environment. If this idea of essentially experiencing bad emotions to experience good emotions is accepted then i believe our world would be free of PTSD, Anxiety disorder, grief, lonliness, bipolar problems, which obviously does not happen. Over the number of years i have seen many people falling into various psychiatric problems because of stress but not even a single person falling to these problems who regularly does mindful meditations. Infact mindfulness creates tremondous strength in us that helps become more resourceful and counter off problems which not only have the power to impact us but also our loved ones as well. If someone is drowning then we can help them better if we are grounded on shore but if we ourselves are drowning then we offcourse cannot prevent others from drowning in water. So i would suggest that one should first get training from a qualified teacher n then embark upon the path of mindful meditation, and trust me, the results would be astounding! blessings and light

Amanda Dobson August 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Great article. I started meditating after a break up about a month ago. At first, I felt amazing, my feelings of need for him, my fears of losing him and my hurt melted away and seemed to be replaced by strength, a knowledge I could move forward without him even though I knew he was my one and I would never be with anyone else again, single and celibate was great. I felt empowered, calm, even happy. My dress sense became more creative, over the first two weeks everyone was gravitating toward me as I was giving off this amazing positive energy. I was confident and meditation for me seemed like the answer to all my prayers. So I started meditating to fix my emotional instability I feel when in the beginning of a new relationship, I started meditating to stop seeking approval from others etc etc….you get the picture.

Into the third week, I started having bad dreams, all my worst fears were playing out in my sleep. I started getting so angry and anxious when around people I ended up yelling at strangers in the street for standing too close or the like. I would yell at cars for driving too slow (not really me, I am more of a sarcastic but positive type). My heart now is constantly racing a month after meditating every day for a few weeks, I have what I am told is panic attacks, I want to cry several times throughout the day (and I am not someone who cries), I feel a mental and emotional mess. I have never felt like this, I was a happy, content person who was just using meditation for self improvement and to help keep calm and strong during an emotionally unstable time. Now I suspect I will likely end up on medication from the Dr before I lose my job and everything in my life because of what a mess I have become.

Jawad August 27, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Dear Ms. Dobson
I would suggest you take an expert help from a qualified meditation teacher or any energy healer / reiki healer as your problem seems to be less connected to meditation and more connected to energy imbalance that originated not from meditation but from some external source. Evil eye possibility cannot be ruled out and so does premature awakening of your own dormant energies! I also suggest that one should start meditation under expert guidance and should always be in touch with the teacher just like patient has to be in touch with the doctor to counter off any side effects and change of medication whenever needed.

I wish you very best of health

blessings and light!

Abraham August 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Amanda:

Feeling ya there with regard to the relative havoc that meditation CAN have upon our lives. “I” was changed by simply watching (and experiencing) the inhalation and exhalation. How was this possible? I know I had stopped biting my nails; this was never a conscious goal of mine, nor was it usually a conscious activity. This encouraged me and led to longer meditations, up to 3 times per day.

I have sought psychiatric treatment, even simultaneously, however in my mind, the wisdom that kept showing up, is that, as has been stated in an earlier blog, is that all of these dis-orders, result from some egoic reaction to that which is more true. Nothing scares the “self”, like the SELF, because the SELF is definitely going to have its way, and its way will require some changes to the “self”- the perceived I.

I hear your fear. Know that as you embrace IT, the fear of “what’s happening?”, “what have i done?”…..etc., it’ll subside because it’s the resistance, as Jung said, that leads to the persistence. In the meawhile, I agree that you (and I) would benefit greatly from a true teacher of mindfulness meditation, and, as was so eloquently put, keep in touch with the doctor to adjust the meditation (there’s a reason that this word is so close to medication). Also, if you decide for Psychiatry, then I certainly can understand this too. All of this can be quite unnerving.

Best Wishes,
Abraham

Luke Carlos September 12, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Completely inaccurate take on how mindfulness meditation is done. Also confuses results with process. If you do mindfulness meditation as described in this article you certainly will end up emotional problems quite possibly worse than the ones you’ve already got.
Correct mindfulness meditation does bring with it issues which are discussed by many meditation teachers, a but they are not the problems described here by the article because the article describes problems which arise from not doing mindfulness meditation correctly.
It’s also worth noting that a decent mindfulness meditation teacher can help avoid many of the incorrect techniques and problems presented in the article.
In short if you do mindfulness meditation correctly, there are known issues which you can work your way through provided your doing the meditation part correctly in the first place.
If any of the problems with mindfulness meditation pop up as described here then the best thing to do is probably get yourself a teacher who can teach you the correct method of meditation. That way you can deal with the actual issues that correct mindfulness meditation tends to dig up. Problems that are not addressed in this article.

Tim September 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Well, I have to say the books on Mindfulness that I’ve read don’t tally with your take on it. As others have pointed out, it is a method of accepting what is happening , here and now…certainly nothing to do with repressing emotions, thoughts etc and trying to get “high”. I suspect however, people who say they feel “great” doing it are using it as a tool to avoid personal issues but because although the final goal may be personal growth, the point of mindfulness is to “be” with whatever you are experiencing at that moment.

Tim September 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Just to reiterate my point about minfulness not being about avoiding ones interior emotional life, here’s a quote taken directly from mindfulness based cognitve therapy web site..

.”Mindfulness takes a different approach. It helps develop your willingness to experience emotions, your capacity to be open to even painful emotions. “……

plaintain1 October 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm

hi
I am considering doing m/meditation using proff Mark Williams’ CD and book as I’m pretty stressful, tense and prone to bouts of anger. I initially started with Yoga Nidra but did not see any changes with this then I was drawn to this. Obviously I want to do something that will be safe, and I will try your own.

Thanks

Tom October 10, 2012 at 1:03 am

I have a dissociative disorder called depersonalization disorder. I tried for the past two years to meditate and calm my mind. I tried guided meditation and mindful meditation. Neither of them had any significant positive effect on me, other than making me more agitated and anxious. Apparently, emotional upheaval during meditation is normal, which is why I continue practicing it. From what I’ve read, this has to do with deeper brain wave states which activate the release of unconscious/subconscious memories and trauma.

I would often think about this very issue, Melissa. That meditation seemed to be a form of detaching from your emotions. The red flag for me was “observing your thoughts.” This didn’t seem to make sense to me, as I felt the same as you. I’m already observing myself (through my disorder), wouldn’t it make sense to really feel and take emotional note of how I was feeling rather than watching myself?

I do therapy on my own, related to recognizing and coming to terms with my past trauma. This has helped me out much more than meditation has. I’m not discrediting meditation yet, as I feel there is a miscommunication in my understanding of the practice. I do feel there is some value in not being so extremely attached to any emotion and feeling that you have. Especially with anxiety, you get a lot of downright irrational, dangerous thoughts/impulses. I just look at them as the natural variance of the human mind and a result of the heightened stress response. In this regard, I can see credence in mindfulness meditation. Still unsure, still discovering. Will be sure to check out more of your posts, though, before coming to a decision. Appreciate the article!

Nick October 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

thanks Tom. but you are not “discrediting” or misrepresenting Buddhist mindfulness meditation. to the contrary, it is the Western mindfulness movement that is misrepresenting Buddhist mindfulness meditation.

true Buddhist mindfulness meditation is not about “watching your thoughts”. instead, in relation to thoughts, true Buddhist mindfulness meditation is about adjusting your thoughts so your thoughts are a vehicle for internal & external peace & wholesomeness.

for example, if you have angry thoughts, true Buddhist mindfulness meditation is about: (1) seeing you have angry thoughts and (2) using wisdom & understanding to modify the angry thought so it becomes a non-angry thought.

true Buddhist mindfulness meditation, in relation to thoughts, is similar to your therapy, where you: (1) acknowledge your thoughts associated with past trauma; and (2) reconcile those thoughts with some kind of understanding so as to change those trauma based throughts to non-trauma based thoughts.

in true Buddhist mindfulness meditation, the mind cannot “watch thoughts”. the respective acts of “watching” and “thinking” are antagonistic. “watching” is an act by its very nature that is free from thinking. so when the mind is in a position to be able to exclusively cultivate positive thoughts, then the mind is in a position to take the next step and cultivate ‘watching’ meditation, which has the purpose to cultivate inner calm & deeper insight into more profound realities.

what i am saying is if you are undergoing therapy for past trauma, it is generally best to avoid what is commercially marketed as “mindfulness meditation”. meditation is best practised once the mind is psychologically whole & stable.

Buddhism instructs the Noble Eightfold Path. Right Mindulness is a factor of this Eightfold Path. Mindfulness means to “keep or maintain in the mind” the other factors of the path, such as Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livehood and Right Effort, which culminate in Right Concentration.

Your therapy is an example of cultivating Right Views in respect to your past trauma experience so it results in wisdom, understanding, reconciliation & healing. Instead of thinking the kinds of thoughts that increase your trauma, you are training to think the kinds of thoughts that reduce your trauma. To keep in your mind Views & Thoughts that reduce your trauma is the true meaning of Buddhist ‘Right Mindulness’.

Regards

David Himel October 12, 2012 at 7:40 am

Nick,
excellent letter. I came to this post trying to understand why so many people I met through mindfulness meditation were so oddly narcissistic and blissfully avoiding…I experienced some very difficult relations with “mindful” persons ….through research I came to understand concepts of “emotional bypass” and that the common misunderstanding of mindfulness and liberation fantasy’s is the notion that trauma will just fall away….disassociation (the minds protection mechanism) can be increased and exacerbated by mindfulness meditation. I agree meditation gives one space to watch…and learn and apply wisdom. …heal the self first then let go of the self to reveal the space……so many damaged people are looking for the panacea of spirituality to cover over the pain of trauma…it just leads to more hurt for themselves and others.

Cya October 18, 2012 at 3:45 am

Hi all.

Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from Thought! So u create your life through your thoughts, this means by thinking/getting caught in bad thoughts you are creating a bad life for your self. So i think mindfulness can help anyone acknowlegde or be aware of what they are thinking which will help them recognise the cause so that they can deal with them. And i personaly think that there things/emotions/thoughts that you must ”let go of” cause really..Does it help to feel bad? If there is a tool that i can use to be aware of my emotions n thoughts i would use that tool so that i can visualize the good things in life rather than being caught in something that happened. The truth of the matter is that we practice mindfulness because we looking for an intelligent way of dealing with the thoughts and emotions that we do not need in our lives. And why wouldi wanna acknowlegde something that i do not need and it seems like most comment here they approve negative thoughts which is wrong. Negativity is bad because it never helps it destroys all the positive things in eveyone life’s. Theres nothing Good will come from negative thinking cause the more you feel bad,you attract only negative things in your life. ”That a man can change himself…and master his own destiny is the conclusion of every mind who is wide-awake to the power of the thought” Christian D. Larson

Sam October 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

Another observation is that the nature of your blog is SUPREMELY negative.

Lets look at the top 7 articles on the side bar….

75 Nice Things People Say to Shut Up Your Feelings
The Dark Side of Mindfulness Meditation
17 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Can Cause You Emotional Harm
Dysfunctional Beliefs of a Jehovah’s Witness Apostate
6 Reasons Why You Never Need to Win an Argument
4 Reasons to Kill Your Ego that Aren’t Very Good
The Dark Side of Personal Development

Everything is negative. This follows a familiar path when “teachers” attempt to discredit others in order to promote their own “teachings”.

I’d suggest that those of you using this blog for any kinda spiritual development would be very careful. Look for where you can find Positive Teachers. By attempting to attack everyone else, Melissa is attempting to disguise her own fears and push the attention elsewhere.

Think about it….. would you seek to improve, say, your culinary/cooking skills by reading a blog with titles like this:

Salt is terrible
Why you should never cook with butter
7 ways in which rice can be harmful
The awful truth about bread
The dark side of vegetables

?

Of course you wouldn’t. Be wise, people. Do you really think that addressing anxiety and depression with endless negativity is helpful?

Austin November 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Interesting discussion. Hmmm in reflection I do think that quite a bit of experiential understanding of mindfulness can only come through practice and most certainly in an appropriate way. As a parent I am very aware that whether or not I get my practice in makes big differences in my ability to be emotionally expansive with my patience with my five year old. For me it’s pretty simple, stay up to date with being in touch with myself via meditation or experience increased harmful emotional reactivity.
Empirically, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy which was almost wholly based on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (Kabat-Zinn) incorporates Cognitive Therapy psycho-education with the MBSR basics. Two studies now show approximately a 50% decrease in Treatment Resistant Depression. (Adapting Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Treatment-Resistant Depression). If a drug had that effect everyone would know about it. Still, 50% is not 100%, so there are assuredly some folks that don’t get/have the same experiences. I will be very curious to see more research discussing the actual mechanisms which based on the current surge in academia on the matter shouldn’t be too long. That could potentially go quite a ways in explaining what doesn’t work for who and why.
In the initial authoring of the MBCT program it became apparent that teachers teaching an 8 week course had to themselves have a consistent mindfulness based practice in order to model and generate a gentle openness that was being asked of the clients. Mindfulness being taught merely by psycho-education and not through modeling falls short. A teacher must demonstrate through direct interaction mindfulness modeling. It is also interesting that MBSR and MBCT which are two of the most cited programs in mindfulness for areas being research across the DSM III-TR are both “group therapies”.
Additionally, as opposed to cognitive therapy alone which addresses distorted thought content, mindfulness based cognitive therapy addresses thought process. Content verse Process. While I can see the how someone who hasn’t practiced could potentially view and interpret this as dissociative, however it can also be viewed as experientially psycho-educational in the same way that an engineer would want to step back from the design of a roller coaster in order to make valuable decisions like “do I want to build more track before I run out”, or “perhaps I don’t wish to do the loop de loop today”. I would counter the process of mindfulness is not dissociative as it is de-centering for the purpose of gaining additional insight into the reality of our thoughts and emotions so as to choose better choices every moment. A common example to metaphor this is chinese fingercuffs. There is a dichotomy here in that you get closer to get away from that which you do not desire in the same breath that you get closer to that which you do desire as well. Decentering is the key aspect of mindfulness in that through practice we learn to see our thoughts and emotions in a different way, and by doing so disengage the motor of feedback loops of autonomic conditioning that pairs with distorted thought patterns. Cognitive Therapy is one of the most empirically based proven therapies for anxiety and depression. It’s cardinal question is “What was just going through my mind” in order to challenge the evidence of the thought. Mindfulness complements this by de-centering, examining the entire process of both potentially distorted thought patterns and the behavioral activities that follow.
I know that one of the first things that happen to new meditators is often they get irritated with say observing their breath or doing a body scan. One of the discoveries here to experientially get past is that the irritation was merely their common state, the inward focus of mindfulness merely assisted them in becoming aware of what was already there. Mindfulness taught the appropriate way builds on little successes like mindfully eating a raisin first and then progresses to body sensations before ever exploring thoughts and emotions. The practice develops nuerophysiological changes in the brain now evidenced by studies with fMRI scans showing increases in areas associated with increased executive function, increased emotional reactivity, increased memory, increased visual acuity etc and is now being researched for everything from irritable bowel syndrome to accompaniment with UV light therapy for psoriasis and in same has evidenced a 4 times faster healing time. We know that depression changes the neuro-plasticity of the brain after 3 or more major episodes, why not have a technique that has the ability to reverse some of that? I challenge someone who claims mindfulness is disassociating one from reality to attend a 10 day silent meditation vipassana retreat (google it) and then go for a walk in nature, have sex, have a great meal, or generally do anything that involves the senses. It’s like the Claritin commercial when they lift the fog from the eyes. Everything is crisper, lighter, intensely more enjoyable. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as sole therapy for major trauma. i think every case is unique. there are many reasons why you would want to start someone on SSRI’s and individualized cognitive therapy before you started them on a group process of any type. Then again for some it is exactly the thing to start on.
The experiential understanding that comes through practice is that psychological suffering is ….well psychological …..and that is something that we can through practice eliminate to some degree. If you label the ability to decrease the suffering involved in specific conditioned mental states because of the experiences one has been through that one does not desire to have any longer as dissociative then…well then you’ve probably missed the experience to be had here…which can be common. At least that is my personal experiential take on it. If you are looking for empirically based peer reviewed information about mindfulness, then I suggest you visit http://www.mindfulexperience.org which publishes a fairly large list of mindfulness based research. The individual that experienced trauma and was taught mindfulness by a therapist, well I haven’t seen it done that way. My sincere condolences for your experience. It is definitely a shame that such an experience was labeled mindfulness. Along the thought process of anger being a poison, showing my geekhood here I would say that the process of mindfulness is much like the Bene Gesserit ability to take in a poison and then to convert it to something that is harmless. Again this is not about running away from the big black dog within our minds, but getting alongside and learning how to walk with it instead of always fighting it. Cheers!

David Himel November 4, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Well researched comment…regardless there are also many courses and studies that show some people are not good candidates for mindfulness practice…especially those that already have dissociative issues…other clinicians have also researched “emotional bypass” where the pleasant effects of M. can be used to circumvent hard psychological work. Mindfulness gets grouped in with non duality and other Buddhist spiritual practice as well. While meditation after much practice can improve recognizing behavioral and emotional reactions…knowing what to do with them, tracking the source of them, slowing down negative reactions and responses are not usually taught as standard to the practice. There seems to be a vast array of meditation teachers and little structure to modern western standards of safety and core requirements…unlike many “pharma” options. Narcissistic reactions to deep meditation are common place and anecdotally many many hurt, damaged and otherwise are often attracted to the “feel good” nature of meditation. I support the benefits of good meditation practice…but unsupervised and without a good course in ethics it can create harm as well.

Gautam November 7, 2012 at 10:37 pm

You should really title your articles correctly. Seems like you are just trying to gather some quick comments. So here’s mine.

It is not Mindfulness meditation that causes harm, it is the incorrect use of it.

rideforever November 10, 2012 at 10:52 am

Correct, however the article is very unhelpful as it just criticises and provides no solutions.

It is true that in many meditation centres people are trying to escape. In fact Buddhism by focussing on “The End of Suffering” rather than “What is the Totality of What We Can We Know ?” … is ignoring parts of experience.

However the difference between a person who practices mindfulness in order to be more real, and one who is looking to escape … is a sense of aliveness that is difficult to induce in others. That’s why a person like Osho or Gurdjieff used many many techniques to break through.

Doing nothing is not a good option.

Nick November 10, 2012 at 11:15 am

In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is a mind that is free from suffering. However, the Buddhist teachings, themselves, cover the totality of life. I would suggest to actually study the Buddhist teachings rather than make unlearned comments that do not reflect the totality of Buddhism.

Steve November 12, 2012 at 1:07 am

Wow, what a can of worms.. But challenging something that “everyone knows” is a positive and harmless practice is a not a popular thing todo, thank you Melissa.

Below are a couple of interesting articles that I came across and which I agree with after I decided that my own personal negative experiences with meditating ranging from spacey ness, co-ordination\spacial issues, tension headache that lasted 3 weeks (this happened during a meditation) general dullness of mind, needed an answer.. However it took quite while to overcome my preconceptions that the practice is harmless and without issues (in other words it is not the practice that can be at fault because it is the “way” and therefore is perfect).
So, was I doing something wrong? Apparently you can’t meditate wrong… (By the way I learnt meditation in the beginning on my own and then from Buddhist monks.) And I kept going through all these issues because “everyone knows” its harmless and it’s a path to self improvement and enlightenment and I was at a loss.. I was told things get worse before they get better, well that last time I took antibiotics it got better not worse.

So in finishing I’d just like to say I think it’s better to have faith in yourself and those around you and to learn to engage with the world and the people in it. There isn’t any magic bullet and there’s no getting out, no matter what anyone thinks, and besides what are you getting out of and where would you go? It takes more courage to live in the world then out of it. Truth, honesty, humbleness and humility are all learned through life’s lessons, not from closing your eyes…

http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/MaryGarden.html
http://stats.org/stories/2003/why_meditat_bad_feb18_03.htm
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2003/02/buddhist_retreat.html

Amanda November 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

Okay,

I posted about the awful mental state I got myself into through meditation a couple of months ago. I realise now there was reason for that as now I have changed completely in how I view things, how calm I am, how I don’t judge and my general state. When you meditate it brings your hidden forward, without barriers. For me I was living with a whole lot of pain… Yes that time it came out was dangerous, I had thoughts of ending my own life (but was sensible to know it wasn’t real or me). Now I truly am at peace and have control of the mind and thd thoughts with little effort. I maintain a state of connected day to day. A scary time yes, but now my meditations are incredibly intense and connected and much more powerful as I don’t have the hidden nasty lurking.

Have a great day

Amanda

Joanne November 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I read this blog – it’s very interesting! I just wanted to say that I have done the MBSR course and found it EXTREMELY helpful!!
I have suffered depression since losing a child 30 years ago. I went into the course after hearing all the new information about brain plasticity, and the physical proof they now have that meditation helps to heal a brain that has been traumatised through prolonged stress.
Yes, some of my painful feelings that I was spending a great deal of energy on suppressing did raise up their heads, but it was good to be able to allow that to happen even if painful. I feel alive again!
I have been meditating for almost a year now and I think I am living proof that it does heal your brain. I am no longer on antidepressants, I can think clearly, I am not depressed day in and day out.
I feel like I’ve gotten my life back! I would encourage anyone who’s interested to try it!
Just saying…..

K.... December 6, 2012 at 10:59 am

Melissa…
My Fiancee has what she refers to as clearly defined boundary issues. She sees a therapist on a regular basis and claims she is suffering from PTSD from a previous traumatic relationship…and perhaps childhood issues. She hasn’t shared the specifics with me.
She practices mediation once a week. I just read your article about the 17 pitfalls of Mindful Meditation and couldn’t believe what I was reading. I found it because I suspected meditation is harming our relationship. I have no training in mediation but my impression based on my interaction with her is that she is insensitive, angry and short tempered AFTER meditation.
I was under the impression it should improve our relationship… We have some of our worst arguments on the nights she meditates.

alicia December 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I disagree with this entire article, and frankly it appears you’re either uneducated or misinformed in therapeutic models using Mindful-Based Stress Reduction. I agree that Mindfulness-Based therapy may be damaging to a client in the way you’ve described; however, your description of Mindfulness is incorrect. Mindfulness teaches you to EXPERIENCE your thoughts emotions as they occur in the moment, but allowing you to depersonalize these thoughts and emotions by observing them with a rational mind. You are not avoiding, suppressing, or judging anything when in a true mindful state of awareness. Hit the books Melissa, because everything you describe is Passive Communication, not Mindfulness Meditation

Larry December 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I just started meditating and find that it helps. I guess everything in moderation is okay. I’d rather see an article that explains how to meditate in a way that doesn’t lead to emotional harm.Do you have an article that deals with the flipside?

Aitch December 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm

The mindfulness you describe doesn’t fit the mindfulness I’ve been learning and practicing for the last 10 or so years. I’ve learnt from books, teachers, practitioners, podcasts, videos – and have never heard any recommendation to practise it in the way you describe. Since there have been so many different sources to my learning, and the only element I have found to be left wanting was me, I’d offer the same insight the Buddha did – ‘do it yourself and make your own judgement’.

The practise itself is very basic in essence and is not designed to suppress whatever is the object of meditation, be it thought, physical feeling or emotion. That’s not to say it’s not challenging, but for me at least it offers an insight into the reality of the mind. It doesn’t negate the value of emotion, or thought, but it puts them in context, which can give more depth to understanding the origins of these emotions and thoughts than unconsciously reacting to them. As another poster pointed out, to have compassion for oneself, one’s feelings, is a necessary part of developing spiritually and I’ve found a true awareness of how my mind gives rise to thought and feeling brings a natural compassion and understanding.

In short, my findings have been the opposite of the escapist practise you describe. It’s an immersive experience.

Would you agree that mindfulness practise in the Buddhist tradition, where it originated, is not what you describe?

Kinga December 23, 2012 at 11:09 am

In my personal opinion this article shows mindfulness meditation from a really bad site. I don’t think it’s fair as it can be extremely healing. To be precise: I don’t think that mediatation can’t be harmful at all. I discovered two sides of it and my conclusion is that it’s not for everyone and it’s greatest danger is when it’s misunderstand. For example… I’ve done the Vipassana 10-day reatreat by Goenka. It was on the beggining of my meditation practice and I surely wasn’t prepared. It completely broke my mental stability. I didn’t consult with a therapist but I believe I had a mild mania followed by a massive depression. I had some mental problems before but intensive meditation brought me to an extreme and painful states. I believe that I tried too hard and I completely misunderstand the technique. What I tried was to “observe” my body, feelings and mind and disconnect with it. After that reatreat and some more time of practice (I came back to meditation but I’ve never done Vipassana again) I understand that “observing” doesn’t mean to cut from your experience. It rather means to feel it completely, to open to it just as it is but be aware of the nature of it. That’s why I think it’s so important to have some background for understanding the whole process (i.e. Buddhist philosophy) and a guide (teacher). Meditation CAN be dangerous and one have to be really carefull and gentle with one’s mind.

In the end I have to say that after all meditation changed my life. For the better!

Anyways, thank you for the article, I think it can be helpful for some people.

Andrew Schneidee January 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

It has to get worse before it gets better

BJ January 23, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Look, do we believe you, or David Bohm? Bohm was the 2nd most brilliant professor of physics, Einstein groomed him as his successor. Bohm because a huge fan of Jiddu Krishnamurti- the great spiritual teacher who practically invented mindfulness as we know it. Bohm was inspired and went on to write one of the most life-changing books i have ever read: “Thought as A System”. If you need any scientific reason for the conceptual basis behind mindfulness and why we should/ must become mindful, go and read that book. In short- our minds are a madhouse of accumulating, conditioning, randomly generating thinking machines that serve wondefully for practical purposes but are mostly highly detrimental to us in the psychological realm. This self-administering system crats massive obbsession on the past and the future. Merely knowing this simple fact has made my life a lot easier. It is amazing that the most profound psychological insight of the 20th century came from a physicist who as inspired by an Indian spiritualist!

Reuben Frank January 24, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Melissa,

I have not heard such suggestions when reading any kind of literature on mindfulness. I have read a great deal of these types of articles, and I see no connection to “removing” your emotions. The goal (a very counterintuitive way of pointing to the practice) of mindfulness is to be aware of whatever the present moment contains, regardless of any content (examples: thoughts, physical sensations, emotions). This process does not entail altering your perception consciously, but rather accepting whatever comes without exception, including any doubts about the practice or repressed fears that may arise as a result of truly observing not only your physical surroundings but also your inner perceptions as well. It is so simple and yet very difficult as most humans have a great deal of mental conditioning that serves as a barrier from not only bringing more mindfulness, or prescence, or awareness, or whatever term you prefer to use into your life (as you may feel anger or an aversion to attempting to practice mindfulness), but also from participating in many activities that could bring added dimensions into the life of a said human being. I also would like to add that meditation, while helpful, is not necessesarily a requirement in order to practice mindfulness. With mindfulness, your whole life becomes part of the practice, and setting a time aside to simply monitor your mind, and utilize whichever meditation method suits you, eventually becomes relatively unecessesary for many experienced practicioners.

Reuben Frank January 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Melissa

To add to my previous comment, however, I do appreciate how you cover some misconceptions that many individuals can internalize, so I have to say that the article can be helpful to many people.

Ginette February 14, 2013 at 7:39 am

Hi Melissa and all the others,
Thanks for the original post and all the contributions; it was exactly the discussion I was looking for. There is just one thing that is missing, though I studied the whole thing here for two hours: the right understanding of ‘emotion’. As I see it, we have troubles caused by the primary instincts of the brain – the FFF-response – causing anger, fear and freezing/powerlessness (in turn giving feelings of guilt, shame, depression). And we have troubles by attitudes of the mind, being the ‘emotions’ in Buddhistic context: pride, jealousy, desire, greed, arrogance, ignorance. So, as I understand the Buddha’s teachings, it is about recognizing those mental attitudes and transforming them into something worthy. As to the impulses from the brains, that is something completely different. A person not troubled by trauma or other mental disorders will have a healthy working system, that is when we are in real danger, those feelings are activated (which is healthy) and when we (plan to) do something wrong, these feelings are also activated. Which is also healthy.
Therefore, I agree wholeheartedly where you see the danger of dissociation where is comes to the warnings from the brain: It can make people into obedient, complying, numb sheep, with whom no healthy exchange of ideas is possible. Besides, they loose their ethics. But I do see a point in working on the destructive mental attitudes as mentioned above. Western interpretation of mindfullness is not suitable for that though. In my opinion, it is being self-occupied and a lack of imagination – being able to put ourselves in the others position – that causes a lack of ethical principles and destructive minds; and so, western interpretation of mindfullness can make things worse. It stimulates individualism while the only way out of suffering is genuine friendship: ‘It is through this line of reasoning that one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life’ Upaddha Sutta, the Buddha.
Like some here said, and I myself have experienced too, what is truly healing is compassionate empathy, acceptance and respect.

Sally February 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Melissa, you are so brave and articulate. I’m 66 years old and remember in vivid detail the beginning of the slow, then gradual, then merchandising momentum, then landslide acceptance of Buddhistic thinking and the embrace of meditation to achieve freedom from desire. As usual, the West gets on some exotic bandwagon , usually from some 3rd world country we have colonized, massacred, deracinated, nationalized, enslaved, used for its natural resources, including its religion, its philosophy, its approach to life’s little problems . There seems to be a lot of warriors in the name of their attachment to definitions and their favorite brand of how to live your life. Some of the most passive-aggressive, combative, creepy-to-be-around, non-compassionate people I’ve met in the last 42 years happen to meditate. I’ve met a handful of truly loving people who don’t sell meditation, don’t join groups of people who do, don’t foist their love of private time with their brain on others, don’t change the birth names. don’t earn their living in anything that promotes being meditative and don’t tell me how spiritual they are AND they meditate but rarely mention it. Me, I meditate while walking, looking at nature and/or other people.

Sharron February 18, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Hi Melissa. I read your thoughts on mindfulness. I also shared this point of view for many years. It wasn’t until I took another peek at Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, with a view to studying it that I noticed things I missed. Try listening to Tara Brach. What she says is to pay attention to our feelings, to our body. She doesn’t tell people to ignore feelings. I used to think that by learning to notice feelings and stay with them, I would be somehow diminishing them or ridding myself of them, but it doesn’t mean that, it means pay attention, use that attention to experience fully any emotion and from a centred place, decide what needs to happen. You could check out Dan Seigal and Stephen Porges also. I’m amazed by their grasp on emotions, health + their ability to use science , emotional wisdom + spiritual wisdom together. I’m relieved that I noticed my errors in judgment, because I get benefits from paying attention to feelings, body, moods and being able to respond to them. Cheers Sharron

Joanne February 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Hmm It’s true that some people get the whole meditation thing all wrong – just like anything else, it’s a skill you have to learn and understand to use it properly.
But for anyone out there who’s curious, I would definitely encourage you to try it! I was a person who was pretty locked up inside of herself. Depression was a way of life for me. Now I see how lucky I am to be here, I really notice the beauty of nature, I really appreciate the people who mean a lot to me – I know what’s important and what’s not now.
After only a bit over a year of meditating i feel like I’ve gained so much. The biggest thing I’ve gained is a way out of the rat on a wheel syndrome I’ve been locked in all my life. It doesn’t make you more selfish – quite the opposite! The aim is to achieve mindfulness, which in its essence means living in the present moment. That means you are also more mindful of others, not less!
I do agree it can be rocky though. The journey to accepting your own feelings has been a pretty rough one for me. And I’m sure it will probably continue to be, but it’s worth it! It’s definitely NOT about ignoring your feelings, it’s about accepting them. Somehow that frees you up, even if it’s painful
Bye now (-:

Laproch February 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I stumbled upon this thread/blog and read 75% of it. There are a lot of interesting comments; however, after a point it becomes rather evident that people are comparing apples to oranges. I can see the point of each post whether it is agreeing or disagreeing with the original post of 17 Ways… Each person has a different interpretation of what “mindfulness meditation” is and of the definitions of the words/phrases used by the method. It’s kind of like buying an exercise video/dvd, doing it every day, but getting no results or at worse, injuring yourself. Is it then fair to say the exercises/program is no good if in fact you got poor results or injuries because you didn’t use proper form when doing the exercises? The comments clearly are coming from people with a variety of experiences and interpretations of mindfulness and how to use it. People who use it properly get good results, people who don’t understand it and use it improperly find themselves in a state of denial.

This can be the only explanation for the opposing views, all of which make sense in their own way given each person’s different interpretation of the “directions”, so to speak, for the practice. One person says its an exercise in denial and another says it is the exact opposite that allows them to delve further into things.

Obviously, people are using it in different ways so I don’t see why everyone doesn’t just acknowledge that rather than arguing about it. It’s rather silly to dispute one’s ability and claim to gain enlightenment from the way they practice “mindful meditation”. Or does someone here have the “power” to declare another a liar?

Ginette February 24, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Ah come on Laproch. It is clear what the difference is between western interpretation of mindfulness meditation and the Buddhist meaning of ‘mindfulness’ and their range of practices. Nobody here disputes Buddhists masters. We are disputing the very poor western interpretation.

Ginette February 24, 2013 at 10:03 pm

… and Laproch, ‘enlightenment’ is not something individual, like the christian heaven. It is not some personal reward you get from meditating. If you think so, you misunderstood those masters you talked about. They have had a teacher, and years and years of study and analyzing. Enlightenment comes from the sincere wish to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings; this wish is so strong, it makes it possible to transform jealousy, pride, greed etc, and to overcome ignorance. While Western interpretation of mindfulness meditation is for personal wellbeing only, completely disregards the role of the teacher and involves no study.

Jon Wilde March 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

“Western interpretation of mindfulness meditation is for personal wellbeing only, completely disregards the role of the teacher and involves no study.”

Could anyone be more specific about where this idea comes from? Because in all my readings about mindfulness and in all I’ve been taught, I’ve never come across the concept that mindfulness mediation is for personal wellbeing only.
In Coming To Our Senses, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about the foundation for mindfulness practice in the following way: “Generosity, trustworthiness, kindness, empathy, compassion, gratitude, joy in the good fortune of others, inclusiveness, acceptance and equanimity are qualities of mind and heart that further the possibilities of well-being and clarity within oneself, to say nothing of the beneficial effects they have in the world. They form the foundation for an ethical and moral life.”
Everything I’ve read about mindfulness and all that I’ve been taught refers to that very same foundation.

Ginette March 11, 2013 at 5:42 am

Jon, I said ‘western interpretation of mindfulness meditation’. If only it were like you describe it.

Tracy March 12, 2013 at 11:24 am

I have been practicing vipassana (Insight) meditation for over 15 years and teaching for eight. “Mindfulness meditation” comes out of that tradition. I have to disagree with most of your dangers. Mindfulness meditation challenges to look our painful emotions in the face and fully experience them. The practice does not involve pushing away from anything. We feel grief, sadness, panic, low self worth, depression, etc. We name the emotion, we notice where it resides in our bodies, we explore its characteristics, and so on. We may have a particular emotion regularly return over the course of many months. Eventually, we come to a place of compassion for ourselves which helps beyond any words I can supply in experiencing that emotion. Over several years, we “purify” our emotions. They are still there but our relation to them has changes. Stuffing our emotions or using the practice to mask emotions does occur in a minority of people. We call that “spiritual bypass”–using the practice in a way that puses emotions away so they are not dealt with. A good teacher can tell when a student is engaged in bypass.

And we do not dissociate from our emotions. We see that the do not define the whole of us. I am a lot more than grief, though I may sometimes be a person who is experiencing grief.

Jon Wilde March 17, 2013 at 12:39 am

“Jon, I said ‘western interpretation of mindfulness meditation’. If only it were like you describe it.”

I know what you said. It is like I describe, for myself and for everyone I know who practices mindfulness meditation. Try reading Kabat-Zinn or any of the other masters in their field rather than basing your conclusions on rumour and conjecture.

Ginette March 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm

If that’s ‘everything I read’ then you didn’t read enough Jon.

If people have benefit from it, then it’s fine. I protest, when this self-help technique is seen as an alternative for therapy: It isn’t, at most it might be helpful within the context of a regular therapy, in some phase in the therapy, for some people. But even that, in my homecountry, is considered questionable. Therefore, it has not been added as an established element in therapy.

Maria March 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

Hello there,

I found this blog today and I must say I simply feel good reading it. It helps in a way. Almost three months ago I ended an dependent relationship in a not healthy way according to an article out here. The reason was that my best friend, who later turned to be my lover also, gave me the biggest scare in my life so far by saying basically that because I am not only focusing on her she did not want to live anymore…or had been going through a phase of that. I was devastated and so very scared for myself and also of myself because suddenly I realized that our relationship that had seemed so “perfect” was not perfect at all and was bearing inherently a great potential of destruction. My sudden need to protect myself resulted in me cutting myself out of her life in a very abrupt way that left us both hurting. I am not blaming myself anymore for this because that second, that night, I could not react differently. It was the only reaction I had left.

She did not kill herself. She is alive. But for me the situation is still tough. During that horrid time I thought about trying meditation to find a way to find my real self, to find a way to calm myself, to be happy. But boy…..I can say meditation was not good for me at that time. I read books by yongey mingur rinpoche and while I like the guy per se and can understand the philosophy it was probably simply too much for somebody in a crisis like I was. It did not help me to forget about my ego (although yongey does not say you should), it did not help me to think too much about that the mind is separate from the body in a way because that triggered a panicky fear of death for me. That might not make sense for many people but for me it was horrid and still is sometimes. I do think meditation can work and I do not think that it does want to make us to not feel but rather to be more aware of our feelings and also take responsibilty but man…it was just too much information for me to handle at a point where I already thought I am “losing my mind”.

Mia

Jon Wilde April 7, 2013 at 12:41 am

In response to Mia:
Sorry to hear you endured such a tough time.
I would say that, if one is going through a crisis, it’s unwise to take up any healing practice without expert guidance. If you are having an absolutely horrid time, it’s not advisable to simply start meditating after reading a couple of books and expecting your life to be transformed.

Frances April 22, 2013 at 11:04 am

Like many others, I stumbled onto this post and have found it interesting. The comments are fascinating, and the discussion, like the article seems to raise a whole bunch of stuff, including the world of either/or… the barefaced cultural biases and realities of East and West and varieties of belief systems at play in our world.

As some commenters have suggested, a tool can be used for good and it can be used for less than good, and sometimes, it isn’t needed at all. There are also times that the wrong tool gets used. To our Western mind and consciousness, mindfulness meditation, and in that context, as a tool it can be helpful, but perhaps only sometimes and only for some people. But more than a tool, mindfulness mediation is a practice that implies a process and a discipline and a worldview of middle way and equanimity — all of which takes time. Our culture is not so good with that, and our culture is not steeped in equanimity so much as it is eye for an eye and justice. (We have forgotten about turn the other cheek and forgiveness as healing modalities, particularly in light of Freud et al). Bringing Mindfulness Mediation down from the mountains, disconnecting it from its warrior history, disconnecting it from the culture in which it was formed and throwing it into package that says it cures everything from trauma to obesity is a huge leap. Sadly, there IS a lot of hype around what is now being called a Mindfulness Movement. There’s a magazine dedicated to it and if you want, you can even plaster a sticker on your website that say’s “I’m Mindful”. None of these reflect the values of Mindfulness Meditation. None of these reflect the discipline of being ready to face yourself, of coming to know the truth of your mind and your experience and your response moment by moment — which is not about dissociating (a Western psychological construct). The movement of mindfulness that’s suddenly exploded is more about Western Culture, capitalism and marketing and competitiveness — albeit seeded by people who truly wanted to offer something good.

The points in the post regarding the notion that this practice involves denial, or avoiding feelings and dissociating from them has no root in any form of Buddhist or Yoga mindful meditation practice that I’m aware of, unless a uniquely American version has cropped up. Being with all of your feelings as they arise, not pushing them away is crucial to being authentic in a meditation practice. The trick is seeing the emotions for what they are, and like many other psychological processes, to move through them, and with them to the point where their influence is diminished if not dissolved. My understanding is that Mindful Meditation is a practice that helps us exercise what Viktor Frankl (Holocaust survivor) says is our greatest freedom: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Mindfulness mediation helps to train the brain (and mind) and create that space. That’s not dissociation.

We haven’t quite figured out how and when or why to use mindfulness meditation in our culture, but our language seems to suggest that some people use it as a way to set up a modern cave in order to retreat from the stresses of life rather than dealing with them: toxic work situation? Mindful Meditation on compassion. Tough relationship? Mindful Meditation. Addictions? Mindful meditation.

There is value in what Mindfulness Meditation can do for people, but I am not convinced it’s easily transferrable to our culture or for every one. However, the techniques of the practice have pointed to some findings that bear more study, and perhaps the only meangingful finding will be that when people feel cared for and able to self-regulate, that they start to feel better and in more control of how they function in their lives.

I am all for the scientific method, particularly since own science is showing there’s no such thing as objective anything when it comes to a human being. MBSR and MBCT are proving to be useful modalities for some people in some situations, but I am uneasy at the bandwagon and some of the hucksterism around Mindfulness Meditation. From my perspective, it is not the tool per se but the promoters and users and short-cut hawkers selling it as a miracle cure. Perhaps for the Western world, we need to reframe mindfulness meditation and come up with a fancy name for quietly witnessing our thoughts, our metacognitions, the ebb and flow of emotions, stuff that gets stuck, our urges and cravings and the ability to sit with what arises to see what’s true and what we have warped to feed our own internal view of the world and us in it, while at the same time acknowledge our somatic and sensory responses, all a contemplative, calm and accepting manner (not judging). Despite primitive brain’s impulse to judge and categorize, we can learn to delay judging, and over time, not judge at all… (let he who has not sinned throw the first stone…)

Like all ‘isms’ Buddhism continues to evolve. I have read that the Dalai Lama has now further refined the position on anger. Anger and hatred have been separated and made distinct. Tibetan Buddhism (the Dalai Lama’s lineage at least) now holds that anger when used in a non harmful way can be a positive motivation for good, for change. while hatred is the poison and has no positive contribution.

Thank you for the post. There needs to be more thoughtful discussion such issues.

Deborah April 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm

I love mindful.construct.com! Years ago I belonged to what I now see as a cult, where we were advised to “just observe” and “separate” from negative emotions. Reservations about the group and its beliefs were generally dismissed as reflecting insufficient understanding or as stemming from “false personality.” Expression of negative emotions – no matter how mild – meant that “false personality” was in control.

Move to the present: I now work in neuroscience research, surrounded by people who seem to worship at the altar of mindfulness. Some of this may just be career-minded opportunism but many of the researchers around me seem genuinely convinced that there is no downside to the mindfulness movement. What bothers me the most is that I have met no one in our research group who seems even remotely interested in discussing the possible harm that can be result from buying into the mindfulness ideology (believe me, I have tried several times to initiate such discussions).

Knowing how intimating, dismissive, and punishing fellow scientists can be, I am especially impressed that you (Melissa) have taken up this cause so publicly.

mike April 29, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Your article should be retitled to 17 Ways How Not Meditating in the Correct Way Can be Harmful

mike April 29, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Meditation should be used as a way to experience life, our emotions past and present, as a way of purifying the mind, promoting emotional balance thus allowing one the positivity to be compassionate to others, and live in greater harmony with others and the world around us. I hope you can experience the truth. I just returned from a ten day retreat at a Vipassana Meditation Center. Vipassana is a meditation technique that is ove by the r 2,500 years old. The word Vipassana means “to see things as they really are,” and was taught by Gautama Buddha as a way of liberating people from their own suffering. To learn more about this amazing technique tha
changed not only my life, but also the lives of millions of people, go to http://www.dhamma.org

Karsten May 16, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Melissa,

I’m doing a research around mindfulness and i had the same thought sometimes. People use mindfulness differently though. I think that mindfulness ain’t always the right way for everyone. But i do believe that there is a right kind of meditation for everyone. The core of mindfulness is NOT distancing from your feelings BUT accepting them and fully experiencing them in stead of distracting yourself with all kinds of stuff. Truly feeling it makes you embrace the moment better and visa versa.

Greetings, Karsten

David May 22, 2013 at 10:09 pm

You have some strong views on mindfulness meditation. I’m interested as to whether thes views have been formed following a commitment to practicing meditation on your part during which you established that your point of view was indeed correct – or have you simply read a lot if research and formed opinions based on this?
Simply put, do you have only a theoretical understanding of this topic, or have you applied some serious time and effort to meditating to alow you to gain the necessary practical experience required to really ‘know’ this subject matter?

Nina May 27, 2013 at 12:07 am

Dave, those that invented this western interpretation of mindfulness do not have theoretical understanding of the topic; therefore, they do not benefit from any of the results. They show no ethics in selling their product; they are not willing to discuss; it is all about expanding the market for their product, using the pain and suffering of veterans with PTSD for advertisement, experimenting on them without the slightest idea about the risks. Trying to have schools force children to meditate….all to sell, sell, sell. They are their own evidence, western interpretation of mindfulness meditation creates greedy, ignorant, arrogant heads. Under cover of what they call ‘science’ (meaning trial and error without any logic in advance) they try to force their product down peoples throats. It’s disgusting.

Sally May 27, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Since the last time I posted here, I have been diagnosed with breast cancer, gone through biopsy, MRI, etc., had outpatient surgery, 7 weeks of radiation, and visited my husband at Sloan-Kettering Hospital while he slowly died of metastisized cancer and then died in my son’s arms on Mother’s Day.

Wake up, people. We are animals, we have pre-frontal cortex that has taken eons to evolve in order to cheat death and survive. There is no such thing as mindfulness, there is no such thing as enlightenment, there is life, there is death. Shame, shame, shame on you for wasting your precious time thinking there are answers to life’s unavoidable certainties.

As for the all the brands of mindfulness or philosophy or how many meditators can dance on the head of a pin, mind-numbing linguistic meta-analysis of OTHER people’s meta-analysis is silly. If you have a need, emotional, physical, intellectual, sexual, or anything else, do it, fill it.

I voluntereed at Tibet House for 6 months as an art director and did some beautiful stuff for free with the Thurmans. Hello????? Nothing remotely special about mindfulness. Have meditated for 46 years. So what?

I was watching a Youtube vid of men who leave their families (talk about self-centered spoiled brats) to smoke gange, live on ashy death piles, play with skulls. So metal, so childish, so NOT spooky. Siddartha abandoned his wife and son. That’s a deadbeat dad from a spoiled family.

Sai May 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Sally:
IF you really have spent the time you say meditating, then you have made a very dedicated effort. But, I think that if you have difficulty in achieving what you want with your life and have a lot of unhappiness, then maybe the current approach you have been employing is not best for you. If you have difficulties after 6 months of employing a certain practice, then you should re-evaluate. After 42 years, this type of a mindset is usually what one needs to be able to really get results.

So take a break. If you feel life is bad, then step away from it and return later if you feel better or more ready for it. Trying too hard is generally not helpful: if you get frustrated when doing anything, then you are probably trying too hard.

All of that said, know that any emotion you feel other than happiness and joy is a manifestation of a deeper level of discomfort. You have a tough situation right now, but be strong. This is simply a test for you, that you can learn and grow from. These rough situations have caused you to uncover a lot of distress within yourself. Just know that you are not alone in this, and most everyone trying to better themselves in life on a “spiritual” path usually goes through a tough spot in their lives that is meant to help them grow. I can relate to your pain.

Anyway, know that all of these stories are as valuable to you as you make them. Was Siddartha a deadbeat dad? Could be. It could also be that he had a bigger mission to give a teaching of love to all of humanity and abandoning his family was a painful step in his life that he had to experience in order for him to grow. We cannot objectively know the truth: Siddartha died thousands of years ago. Even if we had known him personally, we probably would have difficulty in discerning his deeper motivation in life.

In Buddhism, some teachers talk of negative (feel-bad) emotions as mud, or soil. They say that the mud is necessary to make a beautiful flower grow. Another analogy is of a diamond: in order to craft a diamond, a great amount of stress and pressure is needed. Just know that life is like that: first pressure is needed, and then a diamond will be born. If you can find it in your heart to face your fears and truly pursue your life with abandon, you will find a greater peace than that that will arise from filling up emotional, sexual, or other “needs”.

There are many celebrities who have committed suicide or experienced great depression; they all thought that they would one day be content because of material objects, but after reaching the goals they had, they realized that they were not happy and never could be happy based on material objects, and committed suicide or experienced severe depression.

Know that you are but one human of billions. Your life is but one sentence in the history of the universe. Know that consciousness does exist. You exist.

Any negative emotion you have, any sadness, any regret, anything other than joy or happiness is a product of your fear.

This website is good in several respects. It shows how turning away from emotions is not growing and dealing with your fears, but running from them.

This does not mean that mindfulness is bad.

Mindfulness means to let go of your fears, beliefs, and ego motivations, and simply and contentedly watch anything that passes into your awareness like a calm, steady observer: not judging or labeling, but accepting each emotion, each thought, each sensation, as an expression of yourself.

Mindfulness is only one of billions of approaches to growing up; that is, to become love. To accept and deal with everything that arises in your life with an abandon that is really love, and running towards life with a greater drive and motivation that will break old paradigms and will enrich your life in limitless ways.

However, I do not intend to claim that the creator of the site intends to bash mindfulness. I understand that the focus is on the attitude of doing rather than being, of trying to aggrandize yourself through meditation, which is a contradiction that will inevitably lead to distress and unhappiness.

So live your life. Be happy. Be strong. It is not easy. But you are not alone. Just be strong and press on, and the solution will come in time. Be brave. Know that love will approach you when you least expect it. When you let go of your life and trying to make it the way you want it to be, you will experience a great deal of synchronicity in your life.

For a great source that I have learned much from, you could check out some great works by Tom Campbell. He has a TOE, a Theory of Everything, that you may find as helpful to you as it was to me.

His youtube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/twcjr44

A forum online all about his books:
http://www.my-big-toe.com/forums/

You do not have to buy the books, the videos on youtube are a great starting point.

On evolution: Yes, we are an evolved system. But modern science is incomplete, and is based upon a mystical assumption: the big bang. Where did it come from? What is the placebo effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo)? Why does the research at PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research)(http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/) labs work? These questions, and pretty much any mystery of the modern world can be answered by Tom Cambell’s Theory.

You may be asking yourself; why isn’t it taking off yet as a mainstream topic then?

Reason 1: Science does not like new ideas that break old paradigms. Albert Einstein had the difficulties when he tried to shift the paradigms towards relativity.

Reason 2: Scientists are busy. Tom Campbell has a lot of material, but most scientists do not have the patience nor time to review such a comprehensive theory because they think that it is too unlikely that such a theory exists or even could exist.

Reason 3: The theory has only been around for a decade or so. It takes time for old scientific paradigms to change; especially when new paradigms are considered to include information only researched by the fringe of accepted science.

And the benefit of this theory is that this will clear up any contradictions, mysteries, and uncertainties in your life if you truly understand it. If you have any questions about it you can leave a comment asking for my email and I will give it to you.

I wish you luck.

Nina May 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Sai, did Sally ask for your advice? I don’t think so. On the contrary. I see it so many times, people coming up with their personal beliefsystem as THE way to overcome all suffering. Full of commands, like ‘Be this..’ and ‘do that….’ and you’ll be ok. Why not just share your personal story in turn? And tell us, what worked for you and why it worked for you? We might be the same, basically, but we all have our personal conditions greatly determining what works for us. Your path doesn’t necessarily have to be my path. That doesn’t mean I am lost.

As to the links you provided: if it is not possible to explain a certain theory very shortly and in simple words, then there is something wrong with it. Einstein didn’t have problems explaining relativity; where do you get that from? He had problems explaining the interdependence of systems in the context of the quantum mechanics discussion.

jigeesha June 3, 2013 at 2:46 am

this article has put into words what i trully felt… after meditation of mindfullness for about 4 years i was totally out of touch with my feelings. infact i had forgot how to cry even at the most difficult situation. i had started going agitated with everyone around me.but now after i stoped practicing that type of meditation and started socializing and understanding my feelings again , have improved but not recovered completely. The part i miss the most is the drive i had before in my life.any adea how i can get that drive back?

Joanne June 4, 2013 at 12:38 am

I think everybody here is meaning something different when they’re talking about mindfulness! I never thought of it as any kind of cure, or as an end to painful emotions. For me it was a way to accept the things I was feeling, rather than drinking myself to death – and it worked! I am ever grateful that I found it, and ever grateful to all I’ve learned from Buddhism. I don’t know if I’d be here now if I hadn’t found both Buddhism and mindfulness. Western society doesn’t really help us when we are really suffering – just tells you to “think positively”. That didn’t work for me.
To Sally: I am so so sorry for all the loss in your life right now. I came to mindfulness through grief – the loss of my child 30 years ago, and the loss of my partner 4 years ago in horrible circumstances. I was angry. I didn’t really want to be here any more. I don’t know about enlightenment or any kind of cure to the pain of life – I don’t know if either exist. But it does help to feel connected to whatever it is that’s out there, or it’s helped me anyway. It helps me really notice the beauty of the natural world that’s always there no matter how much pain we may be in. It worked for me, maybe it doesn’t for everyone, but for some of us it’s really a lot better than some of the alternatives. It’s not a waste of time. I was never told it was any kind of cure for emotional pain – a lot of people seem to say that here. I was told it was a way of allowing yourself to really feel what you feel fully, and for me that was a relief, painful though it really can be some times

matthew June 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm

good advice. if a person is doing too much mindfulness meditation, and not enough other practices that engage with anger and these other realistic things, it can be harmful. but also, if a person is using mindfulness meditation to ‘make bad emotions go away’, this is not the correct practice. this seems to be some sort of feel-goodery added on top of a practice which is supposed to be difficult and not neccesarily make you feel ‘good’, at least for a long time.

matthew June 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

also, if a person if is feeling loss of ‘life force’ from the practice, then that person should stop immediately because they aren’t practicing correctly. practice will embed the practiontioner with an extreme appreciation of life at every level – every fingertip is the Grand Canyon and so on. if meditation is ‘taking you out of life’, then you’ve let your own preconceived notions of what ‘meditation’ is control your experience and you should stop immediately.

Alvin Spears June 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I studied meditation at the Shambhala Center and we were warned about all of this stuff… detachment is not refusing to feel but permitting one’s self to feel; emotions are not to be stuffed away but worked with.

There are some bad “New Age” gurus who butcher Buddhist concepts into oblivion, but I think you over-exaggerate the problem here. There are also a lot of people teaching genuine mindfulness, both in psychiatry and various kinds of meditation centers. You have to go to a teacher you feel you can trust, with the right credentials, etc. Just like anything else.

Bryan June 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I think the person who wrote this has a gross misunderstanding of the word mindfulness, mindfulness is the the state of just being in the moment without judgement or bias. When you practice mindfulness you learn to experience your true inner self. cultivating a sense of your true inner self leads to a sense of detachment from your ego. Normally when we encounter an event or situation we will internalize the experience thus inflicting unnecessary suffering on ourselves, but when one practices the art of mindfulness he or she experiences a true inner self that transcends the the negative situation.

Sai June 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Nina, I’d agree with your post.

Sally, I apologize for my misconduct, and inability to be empathetic to your life situation in this tough time. I am sorry for responding mechanically and not considering how you would feel based on my word choice. I only meant to give you information that I feel helped me, and I am sorry if I conveyed my thoughts in a way that was too harsh.

Nina, one modification I would make is that the assumptions of a theory need to be concise, based on Occam’s razor. The theory has 2 assumptions; Consciousness exists, and evolution exists. The entire theory is derived from these two assumptions. Now, as for the effects, there are a great deal of implications and results that can be supported/derived by/from the theory. So I don’t think that the effects can be explained very concisely.

And I agree that Einstein could explain it perfectly well, but according to historical record as I know it, he had difficulty in shifting the paradigms to relativity. Quantum mechanics and relativity were a great jump from Newtonian physics and so there was resistance from the scientific community.

This theory is an even greater jump and so it has come up against more resistance, not to mention that the creator (of the theory) does not work in academia, so that is an added factor that will slow down its spread as a widely supported theory.

I personally think that it answers physics and metaphysics better, as it explains the double slit, placebo effect, and any other hard problem in modern physics from those two assumptions, which lead to the notion that our reality is virtual and probabilistic, making it similar to virtual physics, but it explains why our reality should be statistical and probabilistic. At the same time, I understand that it will take some time for it to gain some exposure, and I understand that a lot of people might be very skeptical to the notion that a theory of everything that solves basically all modern problems exists.

And on belief systems: I do not ascribe to any belief system in particular, in the sense that I think you are using it. If some information contradicts the theory, or set of ideas that I customarily try to interpret my life through, I accept and reevaluate the ideas I use. But I use ideas as tools. I don’t identify with them, and I don’t try to criticize people who don’t share the same beliefs as I do. So in that sense, I don’t necessarily believe anything in the sense that I am always open to new information or knowledge. This doesn’t mean that I never try to make a standardized set of laws or ideas that I use customarily, it just means that I don’t get too attached to any particular set of ideas.

Thanks for the reply anyways, I always find my posts to be too long, so I’m impressed that you read it all :D

Matt Sockolov June 19, 2013 at 8:15 am

This article makes me incredibly sad. It is obvious the author of this is not well-versed in mindfulness practice. As a Buddhist of many years, I can say almost every single one of the 17 points made are not only incorrect, but opposite of the teachings. We are taught NOT to judge (not label as negative or bad), we are NEVER supposed to stuff (we are supposed to experience them), we use mindfulness TO CONNECT with trauma, it helps me get in touch with my loved one and feelings. This is sad that such an inaccurate, poorly-informed article is out there bashing something without factual basis. I do believe there are issues (at least that I have faced) with mindfulness meditation. None of these are applicable. I encourage the author to email me or educate him/herself a little better if more knowledge is desired.

Andrew N June 23, 2013 at 11:19 am

I wonder if a lot of this is due to the time Monks have to put into it. They then become very good at it, and don’t need to bother about the circumstances of their life. Their unnecessary emotions really do disolve (as per brain scans). Problem is that most people do not realise that to reach the level of the monks as talked about in the press and psychology magazines – is that they need to meditate 8 hours a day! Most people do 20 minutes!!

Michael June 28, 2013 at 5:38 am

I’m afraid the OP has missed the point of insight/vipassana meditation and her apparent lack of awareness of key aspects of Theravada Buddhist ‘psychology’ (e.g. Abhidhamma) means that she does not understand where it should be leading. For example, Abhidhamma suggests that our emotions are not ‘who we are’ but on the contrary are in fact one or more of the ’5 aggregates’ which are the physical and mental aspects of our experience which fool us into thinking we are separate beings, which are impermanent & ‘synthetic’ in a demonstrable sense, and of which an objective view is required in order to see reality as it actually is. One of the most effective ways for this to happen is some well-suited flavour of Vipassana meditation, which does not urge you to ‘get rid of’ or ‘repress’ these emotions but on the contrary asks you to observe them as carefully as possible in order to see exactly how each of these emotions present themselves. I could write a lot more but I recommend people read some introductions to Theravada teaching and Vipassana meditation before considering this article too seriously as I don’t believe it provides an accurate or helpful contribution to the subject. Sorry to be negative.

Mark Vlach June 30, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Master Thích Nh?t H?nh writes in The Miracle of Mindfulness:
“Meditation is not evasion, it is a serene encounter with reality.”

I think that what you are saying makes sense only if meditation is being used as a means of escape from one’s reality. But to use the term “mindful” in this context does a disservice to it’s true meaning and misses the point entirely. Being truly mindful means being in complete touch with your existence, especially with the most difficult of emotions. This is the basis of Buddhism… acknowledging and looking deeply into suffering through mindfulness in order to extinguish it.

Maybe “pop” New-Age culture has given a different spin to what mindfulness actually means… I will agree that I hear the term often enough in Yoga classes in a way that is completely out of context with this most basic Buddhist teaching. So yes, if one is being “mindful” simply as a tool for denial then this is not a good thing at all. But in this situation the word “mindful” shouldn’t even apply… if anything “un-mindful” would be the more appropriate term.

Please be careful that you do not distort the meaning of a very powerful and constructive concept that will confuse your readers.

Deborah July 28, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I’m more interested in how the construct of mindfulness is being used and applied, among living people and within contemporary institutions, than in trying to decipher the ‘true’ meaning of mindfulness as revealed by sacred texts and revered masters. What I see certainly does have the potential to hurt. Take this seemingly reasonable description of mindfulness from an academic publication (Bishop et al 2004):

“In summary, we see mindfulness as a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of nonelaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, experiential openness, and acceptance. We further see mindfulness as a process of gaining insight into the nature of one’s mind and the adoption of a de-centered perspective (Safran & Segal, 1990) on thoughts and feelings so that they can be experienced in terms of their subjectivity (versus their necessary validity) and transient nature (versus their permanence).”

So mindfulness is said to be about “openness” and “acceptance”, but upon closer reading it becomes obvious that this is not about accepting thoughts and feelings as they are experienced but acceptance as coupled with reframing and devaluing thoughts and feelings as merely subjective and transient. The author also sets up false dichotomies by opposing “subjectivity” to “necessary validity” and “transient” to “permanent”. This either/or way of putting things allows no middle ground, like: some thoughts and feelings may be valid and useful sources of information and we may even benefit from truly listening and following their lead. If that means “elaboration” (another mindfulness bugaboo), so be it.

The type of “acceptance” advocated in the above excerpt is a phony acceptance. It’s like saying accept (and be “open” to, and be “curious” about) the beast but only if you also anesthetize it.

Alex August 5, 2013 at 7:34 am

I do understand why you have written this article. I have approached this issue from both angles, and agree that in some scenarios ‘mindfulness’ can be misused. A while ago, when I first started out, I tried to use mindfulness to make myself feel more connected to my environment, and to ‘observe’ my anxiety disorder out of existence.

However, what I was practising, and what you have also alluded to, isn’t actually what mindfulness is. You don’t put emotion in a perspex box outside of yourself in the hope that it will ultimately dissipate. Rather you simply extend to your emotions care and attention, and acknowledge that it is a significant part of your experience in that moment.

In doing this, you also acknowledge that you are not your emotions. Whilst they are part of your experience, they do not define you. It’s the same with sensation. Only in the English language do we say ‘I am hungry’ – no, you have hunger, you’re experiencing hunger, but you are not hunger itself. The sensation does not define you. Your emotions are a part of you in that moment, but they are not intrinsically you. Moreover, the mindful still respond to hunger in kind: we acknowledge its part of us and go get dinner!

In addition to this, you also see the falsehood in some mental states. Anxiety, for instance, is very frequently born of absolute delusion. Just because my mind tells me that I am about to contract a fatal and incurable disease does not mean that I will. People around you will try to persuade you of that: your doctor will tell you it’s ‘just anxiety’, your CBT practitioner will help to guide you using rationality that the thought is false, your psychiatrist will prescribe you SSRIs to prevent the obsessive reoccurrence of fearful thought, and your psychologist will examine what traits you might have that lead you to this conclusion.

All of this is with eradication of the destructive thoughts and tendencies in mind. Whilst some of these methods do help, the only thing that ever really helped me was when I took a step back and observed myself going through this process – only then did I really see how ridiculous and unhelpful my thoughts were. Now when anxious thoughts arise (because I acknowledge that anxiety is a recurring factor in my life) I can happily reject them or decide to do something about them from a secure and stable place. Here, I do use mindfulness to, in a way, reject something. I do not stop it coming along, but nor do I decide to get on board when it gets here.

I surf along on my experience: riding its crest and knowing it intimately – I do not dissociate from the wave, rejecting its existence, but nor do I drown. Obviously I am human with the same wants and desires as everyone else: sometimes I slip up and get carried away with the wave, other times I just want to float above it or sink down deep into the water where it can’t affect me. But in all, mindfulness has helped me find a better place to be in relation to my experiences.

Again, I do appreciate what you are saying, because I have used mindfulness meditation incorrectly in the past to try to push experience away. However, what I was doing wasn’t really mindfulness meditation. Perhaps your article should be titled ’17 Ways Improper Mindfulness Meditation Can Cause You Emotional Harm’. I think from the way you noted that it is a tool to be used properly you do know this, however I wish you had presented it in a more balanced light.

Ronya Banks August 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Hello:

I like your article in that it pointed out a lot of potential mis-perceptions of what mindfulness meditation is, and mis-applications for how it needs to be practiced. Looking only at the positive aspects to this practice and not addressing the pitfalls you’ve pointed out can be dangerous and based on delusion.

I teach Mindfulness meditation, including mindfulness of emotions. No matter how many times, and in how many ways I explain that this practice is about being fully aware of and accepting of whatever emotions are present in one’s experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, I’ve noticed that many people operate from the belief or bias that negative emotions are “bad” and to be avoided. These folks use mindfulness meditation as a vehicle to avoid the unpleasant emotions and cling to the pleasant emotions. It seems to take these folks a long time to let go of this mind habit pattern.

Also, many folks cannot handle the full scope of difficult emotions all at once, and they need to be taught to open up to difficult emotions, and then bring their mindfulness awareness to something more pleasant when they are in danger of being emotionally overwhelmed. Then, open up to the difficult emotions again when they are stronger, and retreat again….until they gain traction,courage, and the internal strength they need to fully face large scopes of internal pain.

I’ve also witnessed many people being attached to their fearful, negative thinking to the point that they are unwilling to take in the good. These folks become addicted to difficult emotions and actually create them internally to keep themselves occupied to get their fix.

That is why it really is important to work with a skilled meditation teacher. With a teacher’s help and regular training, mindfulness practitioners will eventually break free of these limiting mind habit patterns and start experiencing the many benefits this practice has to offer.

May your practices bear much fruit!
-Ronya

Kelly Martin August 7, 2013 at 12:27 am

I started practising mindfulness 5 weeks and my experience has been nothing like you have stated. Instead of avoidance we are encourage to full feel the feelings, embrace them like family instead of the normal methods of trying to get rid. For the first time I am not afraid of the anxiety I have been experiencing a lot of my life.

Not entirely sure what mindfulness material you have been reading and whether you have been practising mindfulness daily but most I have read are the complete opposite. Its a daily practice brought into every part of life (walking, washing dishes, meditation etc).

I am following the teachings of Thich Nhat Han and Jon Kabat-Zinn

David August 16, 2013 at 4:29 am

The problem I have with mindfulness is that it has emerged from a Buddhist worldview and it being presented to a secular world as though it can be used without reference to that wider worldview. Central to the Buddhist worldview are concepts such as:
1. No-self
2. Karma
3. Reincarnation
4. Vegetarianism
etc;

The first of these notions – no-self – is often misunderstood by Westerners as referring to ‘ego’ and so we get all sorts of nonsense being written about the ego. I’ve seen it referred to as ‘a compulsive liar’ and ‘a cockroach’! People – without your ego, you’re either dead or in jail!! The concept of what is means to be/have a ‘self’ is absolutely central to the philosophy behind mindfulness practice, and any teacher of mindfulness I’ve encountered and asked about this reveals very shoddy/shallow thinking about the philosophy of self. They come out with trite phrases such as ‘finding your true self’ (oh yeah? where is that then?!) or ‘there is no such thing as self – we are all just pure awareness’ (really? so my life is a mirage, the people I relate to are all just figments of my imagination?)
And there is an assumption that deep down, underneath all the ‘ego’, we are basically serene, happy and peaceful. Sigh. If only. It may be true (note: MAY be true) that there is no essence that can be captured and defined as ‘me’ or ‘self’, but without that concept, we are no more than animals. Have you ever visited a home for sufferers of Alzheimers? Now that’s what it looks like when humans have ‘transcended their ego’ – i.e. lost the ability to use a brain-manufactured sense of being an individual who can feel pain, take responsiblity, worry, feel anger… And those people aren’t happy – they don’t even know they exist.

Guys, after trying mindfulness meditation for several years, all I can say is that it is quite relaxing, but that it does NOT lead to the dissolving of the ego – and thank God (or whoever) it doesn’t or society would be full of id-led maniacs.

Of course we now have the obligatory brain scans showing that the minds of meditators are different (read ‘better’) than non-meditators. However, what they don’t show us are how the brains of music players, of gardeners, of gym goers, are also ‘different’. Those brain scans don’t prove anything other than the fact that the brain looks different when we are doing different things. The meaning of those scans is entirely subjective and interpretative.

Mike August 16, 2013 at 7:21 am

I think this article is partially accurate but you have to admit that if everyone in the whole world would practice meditation everything would become more peaceful. I personally prefer peace that happiness or positive thinking because like you said before negative and positive cannot live without each other.

Margaret Mills August 19, 2013 at 8:58 am

Unfortunately you are misinformed and gravely mistaken in your basic assumption about mindfulness meditation. You say that what “they” don’t tell you (who is “they?) is that meditation is about avoiding experiencing emotions and physical sensations including pain. You could not be more wrong. The whole point is to sit WITH those experiences and to experience them to the full so that they can be observed completely.

Read “Teach Us to Sit Still” by Tim Parks. There are countless other texts including those of Jon Kabat Zinn that contradict your false claims here.

You should not misrepresent so willfully.

axel g August 22, 2013 at 5:14 am

Here is my take on mindfulness.

Pure awareness, or mindfulness without thought, is an utterly soothing mental state.

Mindfulness practiced with equanimity is wholehearted acceptance, and is profoundly healing.

Mindfulness cleanses the mind at the finest level…

Nina August 22, 2013 at 8:57 am

I like Davids post.

In fact, I like all the posts of those that come up with arguments; and I don’t like the posts with statements without any proof. It puzzles me, why those that have had bad experiences with mindfulness, are willing to share sometimes in detail what their problem was, what and how they tried, and how mindfulness worked out in this context. While those that practice mindfulness tend to say things that remind me of toothpaste advertisements, and most of them do not tell about their personal context, whether they receive therapy or medication, or whether they practice it as part of Buddhistic religion or secular (which – I agree with David – is very important).

baarg September 4, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Hi,

I just want to say that “ego”, is you, it is a part of yourself that gets angry, sad, whatever, but it’s part of you, and it’s crucial to accept it. What we do when we get angry is at times “argue” with it, get angry ourselves…the many selves that live within us. When I feel angry and I observe why, I actually let it happen, let myself get angry and ask myself, my ego, why is it upset. I stop myself not from feeling angry but to escalate to something I no longer understand and controls my whole being, and all the selves. And ego is not an enemy, anger is protection. We don’t do anything to us on purpose, we do it unconsciously to sooth ourselves and keep it in check. Not sure yet if meditation is the answer, I have to say I don’t particularly agree anymore with thinking “nice things” every time I feel upset, that’s definitely not feeling it, but mindfulness is different, is like listening I think, seeing what the hell is that bother me, frightens me, etc.
But I change constantly in my views because my own experience, my reality is my own and very personal, so I am not sure if this is quite right…what I know is that it’s crucial to know yourself and question what you do, whatever way you do. Always double check and try to prove yourself wrong instead of accepting any theory. That’s not how you discover, you discover by disproving theories, even your own. Quite painful really.

Susie Cue September 21, 2013 at 11:40 pm

The most important thing I believe is good teachers and therapists, then the issues you describe would be very unlikely to cause harm and I acknowledge having a good teacher is of course not possible for everyone. Still, it is in not mindfulness practice that is the problem, as your article suggests, but the misinterpretation of how to use them. I found your article extremely negative about a practice that has absolutely transformed my life in the most positive ways. This a real shame and and I sincerely hope you haven’t turned people off this wonderful practice!

Deborah September 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm

So often it seems that those who defend mindfulness talk about what is the “real” practice and philosophy behind the mindfulness movement. I’m reminded of Clifford Geertz’s description of religion as being about the “really real”, something that usually requires translation services care of shamans, wise men (rarely women) and/or sacred writings for just regular folk to have an inkling of what it’s about. This is not the language of science or reason (evolutionary psychologists don’t search the sacred texts of Darwin to interpret some new research finding). And then there’s this idea that anything critical or which reflects a range of emotions is, well, “negative”. And “negative” like other labels is often used to dismiss or minimize.

Bernie October 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Here’s what I can offer from my past / current experience. As a long time meditator, I have been trained in the two types of meditations (although there are others). One is the Samadhi ( focus and concentration), and the other is Sati or awareness (mindfulness if you will).

Samadhi was introduced to me as a way to increase focus and concentration- so I could do well better in school and ignore all the distraction. It involves focusing on single object- either at the breathing, tip of the nose, or a notch between your eyes, candle. When a person has mastered this type of meditation, he/she can , of course, focus better in any type of condition/ situation. Think of athletes who have to perform under pressure , or soldiers in combat situation- where distraction can cause victory or lives, where it’s important to block all the emotion/ feeling to achieve the goal. Samadhi meditator can achieve what’s called “being in the zone” – very much like Jahana- you can look it up. Now being in this world, nothing is permanent- everything comes and goes in cycle- including this ” being in the zone” or jahana which can be highly addictive. The meditator/athlete will probably want to re-live this feeling again. And when he/she doesn’t get it due to the attachment- anger arises. Just like everything else, simply sitting at the edge of river trying to achieve Jahana, or keep on practising – not wanting to take care of one’s responsibility is not good. Everything must be done in moderation. Now to get out of state- it’s necessary to seek help of capable teacher who can guide a person into Sati meditation.

Sati meditation deals w/ awareness- knowing of what is going on in the present. I need to point out that there’s difference between: knowing that you are doing something VS thinking that you are doing something. Sati doesn’t deal w/ thinking – simply aware of what is going. If you are aware that it is raining- well Sati is not going to stop the rain, you – yourself will have to find the answer based upon what you are experiencing at that very moment. You can cry, curse at God becuse you want a nice weather so you can go out w/ your date, or you can look for some other way to deal w/ the situation- it’s really up to you. Sati/awareness/ mindfulness- unlike Samadhi doesn’t suppress anything- the goal is the really see, really experience what is going on at the present. Which means if I realise that I am less than perfect than I once thought – then that’s me. I can accept it, ignore it, work on it- it’s still me regardless of how I want to deal with it. There’s a saying” what you do- you do it to yourself”, also ” what you do, says a lot about your character or the lack of it”. Sitting/ meditating Sati- I could never able to suppress any emotion, afterall that’s not what Sati is. How can one be aware and yet trying to suppress something? – doesn’t work that way. I want to experience, I want to know, I want to see- although “want” is not a good word- since wanting like craving is the cause of unnecessary suffering. That’s why it’s better to accept and enjoy what’s given to you, plus it’s also important to do good, becuase I know I will re-live that emotion again while sitting/meditating- think of Karma.

I hope this help the author to understand better of what Mindfulness is all about.

KE October 6, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hi Melissa,
Thanks for you article. I wanted to ask, what do you think about how Kabat Zinn and the like try to teach it. Because from what I have read, and seen him say is that you have to accept what is at the moment, and then you can do something about it. But the first step is to accept what is. So for instance, if you are feeling angry or sad, the key is to see that you are feeling this way, not to try and shut it out, and when when you realize that you feel this way, one the things that start happening is that it does not consume you as much, and then you can do something about it eventually. Do you see what I mean? I think that’s along the lines of how you say it should be practiced. Right? (Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood you.)
Thanks.

Beth October 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Where are all of the peer reviewed professional articles that back up these claims? Or have you researched all these effects yourself? Qualitative studies? Quantitative studies? Your claims have no research to back it up, how do I or any one know if these effects are significant? I have noticed that some of your other articles do not have other peer reviewed or supported data in them.

Nikolay Perov October 7, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Hello

What is the basis of this article? Some scientific data, related to the negative meditation effect? Or it is author’s own bad experience? Or it is just theoretical reasoning?

Regarding to my experience and experience of people who meditate, meditation works quite well. It makes people happier, more self-confident, more able to cope with stress, more able to make acuurate desicions, more intelligent, self-disciplined and calm.

It is hard to deny this effect, because it takes place in reality.

This article may be convinsing for the person who never meditated himself or did it in a wrong way, because it is good, well-written, logical but to my mind it is too theorethical.

Today read an interesting descussion related to negative meditation effect.

dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/4048734

I belive that we don’t supress or ignore our emotions when we just observe them. A good quote from discussion:

“Maybe instead of the Freudian repression model, we should consider a modern neurological model. Concentration on the breath, or anything else, is rewiring the brain, weakening the neural pathways associated with your unskillful thinking patterns, and strengthening neural pathways associated with concentration on whatever you want to focus on.”

Nikolay Perov October 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Sorry. Forgot to mention. (Please add it to my previous comment)

This article is good, but it tells only of negative effects of not proper meditation or wrong attitude towards meditation, wrong expectations. Post is good but it should be more balanced and filled with information about positive meditation effect (no doubt it exists), as previous commentators have mentioned.

“Your ability to feel positive emotions is also affected. Because you don’t allow experience of the negative. The positive cannot exist without the negative. Get rid of the negative, the positive has no meaning. ”

No, it’s not true. A statement, convincing only in theory, again. I have been meditating for 3 years. Now I feel MORE positive emotions and LESS negative feelings. Positive is possible without negative. It is not the law of energy conservation.

I don’t put a pink glass on myself, i’m not some kind of hippie with a dumb smile. I am just happy with my life and inner state, now i can manage stress and negative thoughts. Not run away from it, but find a reasonable solution to my problems and not to panic, get angry or whine.

Jim October 10, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I’m a bit surprised by the number of supporters for mindfulness meditation.

I have been meditating off/on over the past 2 years or so…and it is not difficult for me to do fairly well at focusing and observing. I stop doing it because I become numb and depressed. I begin to feel no emotions at all. Initially, there is no anxiety, no depression, no happiness…THEN, I get depressed from that realization. The two main meditations I perform are Mindfulness of breathing or body sensations, and mindfulness of feelings. The method I follow is that outlined by B. Alan Wallace in Genuine Happiness, which is primarily Buddhist in orientation.

I become very relaxed and indifferent. I believe this may be especially so because I attempt to carry these meditations over into my regular life. When I feel anger or nervousness, I quickly observe the feeling by focusing on it inwardly, and try to observe it…when I observe my feelings, they fade within 5-10 seconds [I am not trying to stuff them, they just fade away on their own even when I try to pay close attention to them]. Then I am left being able to simply rationally think about the situation. Sounds great right? : D Well it isn’t. Because I don’t really care about the outcome of the situation because I feel alright, relaxed and at peace. When I am in these states especially the first few hours after meditating, I could do many things without getting upset about it, without feeling guilty. Almost like there is some off switch for my conscience. I just rationalize everything away.

So it’s this constant self monitoring– oh, I am getting nervous, observe it. It’s gone. I’m angry, observe it, it’s gone. Great. Move on. Another tool is the following the breath or diaphragm breathing, which keeps the relaxing parasympathetic nervous system in dominance. Makes it easier to feel less interested in others problems or issues when the sympathetic nervous system is off. Self monitoring and controlling my reaction to everything is completely unnatural. So within a week or two I begin to feel abnormal and unalive. I have contemplated suicide.

Once I accept that I like to have fun, like to be excited or excitable [sympathetic more than parasympathetic] and that I don’t have to be calm and just observe my life, the depression quickly fades and I feel optimistic and less fatalistic/nihlistic.

I’m surprised nobody else has had this experience…I wonder if it is because I try to perform the same concepts when I am NOT meditating, carry over into regular life when not sitting, self monitoring and control causes extreme discontent?

Keep in mind that these Buddhist monks would use meditation to kill off all their desires and feelings so they could conform to a life they may not have chosen. Suppressing sex drive, etc. Seems normal that I would respond this way when taken into every day life.

Any comments are greatly appreciated because I enjoy the mental focus/calm, but I can’t keep to it because I become so detached and depressed that I consider suicide.

And for anyone who says we aren’t supposed to do meditation/mindfulness in daily life, only on cushion…I have read in this book and many others that success only comes when you dilligently apply these principles to your daily life. Not just cushion. Thanks in advance for any insight!

Andrew Norris October 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

I read this for the comments. In many of them there is greater wisdom / info . complete picture.

Andrew Norris October 13, 2013 at 11:44 am

Some people may not be ready for meditation yet, or are doing it incorrectly or it is just not right for them. Clearly many are doing it correctly and are pointing to where it can go wrong. I don’t think they are all telling fibs. From the comments, and my own experience, I have been encouraged to do more meditation.

Andrew Norris October 13, 2013 at 11:47 am

“And seek to quiet (or kill) your ego, or self concept. Which puts you in ultimate conflict with yourself”

only if you have a strong ego. Surely a very strong ego would put up a strong fight?

Nikolay Perov October 14, 2013 at 5:46 am

Hello, Jim

I am not some kind of meditation master, but i have been meditating for 3 years and meditation did a great work for me. It helped me to get rid of depression, panic attacks, laziness, lack of self-discipline, lack of joy, shyness, nervousness, anxiety.

Because of meditation i became happy and aware. So, maybe my opinion will be interesting for you.

So you do right that you carry your meditation experience to your real life. In my opinion meditation doesn’t work in another way. You have to implement knowledge and mental skills which you received from meditation in your daily life, to get all benefits of practice. It is obvious to me.

What are you do wrong

You just trying to get rid of all negative emotions by suppressing it. Feeling bad = wrong = go away. It is not right. Bad feelings are like signals, they tell you about some problem.

Some of these problems can be fixed by sitting and relaxing, some of them need a change in your attitude towards life, some of them need changes in your real life.

Meditation is not a way to run a way from your problems, it is the way to reveal hidden problems and to fix them. When i meditate i observe my inner world, if i feel bad, i ask myself, why am i feeling bad?

Meditation helps to find out why, it shows me the problem, like: “you feel bad, because you ha?? been lazy last months and didn’t fulfill your plans”

Meditation extracts painful thoughts from subconsciousness. As opposed to statements of this article the right use of meditation helps to reveal what’s hidden, but not to suppress your feelings.

Sometimes the solution to some problem comes during meditation. Or i may think of it later like: “i have been lazy, BUT i will bring more order to my life, i will keep schedule to do more, or i will lower my demands and so on. Yes it brings some negative emotions, but i will do my best to fix this problem. From now i will implement my plans in my life. So there is no point in being sad from now.”

And only from this point i can get away from negative feeling (and not to suppress it), because i devoted attention to problem and created a plan of fixing it.

Meditation is not the way of suppressing emotions and desires. It develops love and compassion.

Try to pay attention to your feelings. Why do they arise? What are they telling you about? How can you fix the problem?

And some more tips if it doesn’t work:

1) Meditate less. (For ex. not 20 min twice a day, but 15 min twice a day)
2) Try another meditation technique (mantra meditation, i have been meditating all this time with mantra, but for the last month i have been using mindfulness. The last seems for me more “strong” and first is more easy and “light”. But it is only my opinion)
3) Try not to pay much attention to the way you feel, just live your life.

Yuppie October 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

Mindfulness can observe the coming and going of things and phenomena ranging from a few milliseconds duration to years. It can observe thing which most minds take for granted. Examples are mindfulness are the observation of coming and going of:

- a sneeze ( a few milliseconds)
- a breath ( couple of seconds)
- an orgasm ( milliseconds)
- a happy event (days)
- physical pain (days)
- life (years)

Mindfulness is more powerful than the fastest and most advance camera! Gotta get it.

Dianne October 28, 2013 at 8:41 am

On the contrary many people ignore their reality inside and out trapped in a maze of thinking based on fears, hopes, wishes and willfullness. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is which allows one to take actions based on reality. In sitting, like in any physical discipline one has to work through the uncomfortable posture or ignore a buzzing fly or an itch not by ignoring it but in my experience by practicing paying attention to something more preferable…in this case, my breath. This gives me a discipline to learn to choose where I want my attention to go rather than it being grabbed by something irrelevant. I pay attention to a new pain in my body, emotional or physical or a new feeling, look at it, feel it, decide if it is worthy of greater attention or if it is only fleeting. My mindful meditation has strengthened my ability to pay attention to the important information in my daily life and let the rest go. My humble experience.

Andrew Norris October 29, 2013 at 6:04 am

Action to solve problems is very important. But so is generating a peaceful, calm mind. It is from this place that we can act properly with clarity and wisdom.

The point that some people may focus too much on seeking a calm mind, and not take any action, is a good one. There’s always a balance between the two, you have to get it right.

Most people dissolve the ego slowly over time with the correct meditation. So this article is right, in that we still need to cater to our usual worldly needs.

But if you can find time to practice meditation – while you are still paying attention to and fully living your life – then you will reap great benefits. I think this is what most people do.

Some people with bigger problems may go fully into meditation and forget living their life. You can also (as many do) go full into trying to solve your worldly “real life” problems without giving time to pause, and have a clear mind. This lead to stress and poor decisions, despite the hard work. And poor choices over how to spend any money they earn from this endless hard work / being busy. This is a trap many are in. Some may react by giving up their job and doing nothing but meditation. This is wrong, as this article points out. You need to make some time for it, but continue with the day job. Regular practice over time and sticking with it will reap the rewards.

I would like to see a companion article to this showing what goes right with meditation. The author needs to more clearly state that a lot goes right for people with meditation if done properly in the right context.

Mr Not So Important November 2, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Its funny because ive experienced and am experiencing all of these 17 negative aspects… Im extremely uncomfortable with my Emotions and now I know what i was looking for all the time… I need to harmonize with my Feelings to be finally myself again and so i can experience the World with love instead of fear… I remember being the most confident person ever, but somehow i lost this ability and possibly through using Mindfulness the wrong way I started working against the Emotions or Source inside of me… Thank you so much for your Help, this Article is great! :)

Joanne November 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm

“Keep in mind that these Buddhist monks would use meditation to kill off all their desires and feelings so they could conform to a life they may not have chosen.” – Jim
I am also living a life I have not chosen – most of us are!! I didn’t choose most of the events in my life that have been unbearably painful!
I think it might be Western arrogance to imagine that we can choose our lives! Some of it maybe, but the biggest things we don’t have any choice over really.
A lot of people come to meditation in desperation of how to learn to come to terms with and accept life on its own terms.
I have been one of those people and meditation has helped me a lot.
It’s not all or nothing people! Meditation is helpful for many of us, that doesn’t mean it’s the answer to life!
If only that could be so!

Dee November 8, 2013 at 11:20 am

“I’m extremely uncomfortable with my Emotions”. Yes. But they are the emotions generated by your mind rather than by meditation. That said, meditation is not for everyone. Most people need to exchange love with another person in relationship because there are not genetically designed for meditation.

Jo Stone November 13, 2013 at 4:57 am

Hi
Can I suggest a book by Rob Nairn, that you may find useful in answering lots of your very valid wonderings above. It is called “A Diamond Mind”, and he discusses lots of hidden reefs, looking at suppression and goals amongst many other things. It’s a really good starting point for exploring some of the issues raised above.
Best wishes,
Jo

dave November 20, 2013 at 6:38 am

i think you were taking down a strawman here. the idea of being compassionate towards the scary things that are in our mind is central to mindful meditation. “shoving away the bad” would be more baggage and less compassion. the baggage of pushing away, is hardly about being in the moment. its all about running away from it. i recommend pema chodron’s talk on “maitree” aka being compassionate and loving towards oneself.

jw December 31, 2013 at 7:22 am

I agree with many of these points after seeing a mindfulness based counselor for a few years. I think he avoided his feelings. He would spin the negatives into a positive until nothing was real or true anymore. Although, it sometimes felt good at the time, I often felt like I wasn’t even communicating with him. He considered himself very clear in his thinking but if you’re spinning the truth you can’t be clear. I was actually clearer than he was because I was willing to deal with the bad stuff and the pain of it. He ended up moving but would never talk about my feelings about it and belittled me a little when I tried to talk about it. I felt abandoned emotionally and as a patient. I think meditation can make you detached from the good and bad, which can be a good thing but you end up feeling less. Having no feelings is worse than feeling bad sometimes.

jw January 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I haven’t read this book, but I find the theory really interesting…

http://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/

Jeff Abbott February 26, 2014 at 8:09 am

Melissa,

I started practicing mindfulness to help deal with depression. What I’ve found is that:
1.) My depression hasn’t gone away.
2.) I don’t form any judgements or expectations for my depression to go away.
3.) I’ve learned to better identify when I’m depressed and find ways to carry on with it and still manage to be productive in society. I didn’t suppress my depression, I basically learned to accept it and effectively live with it. If anything I’ve found myself shining the light more on my depressive symptoms, understanding how it manifests in my body, how it’s triggered. There’s no suppression whatsoever. I’m still not perfect, but I’m also okay with that, and not going to judge myself for it. This was all part of mindfulness as I learned it.

That said, in the vein of any practice, it does deserve vetting and trials -so I appreciate your post. Mindfulness is relatively just starting to spread in the west, and people need to understand that this is a regular regimen of exercise and not a magic pill. For me it’s taken time, effort and some real personal reconciliation in order to receive the benefits. But -make no mistake- the benefits for me have been huge.

John March 29, 2014 at 11:48 pm

Mindfulness was never mean’t to avoid , suppress or any other way ‘stuff anger “Quite the contrary it is all about embracing ALL of humanity with complete acceptance .It is a very powerful tool to feel one’s feelings – not dodge them .

Cherie April 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I understand and it is true, although if you learn the techniques first just to quite your mind and then once you quite your mind from negative emotions then your ready to address these emotions rather then them taking over your daily life. You can deal with them at your own pace, I do grief meditation every week or two lol mattering how brave and ready to cry I am then I feel so much better then I still practice the quoting the mind with the intent of facing the problems at my own time because other wise they attack me and make it so I can’t even leave my house because I’m so bummed out from sadness. So yes it is how and what you do with the tools. It’s initially used for building a base of control for your thoughts so you don’t have to be trapped although if you were to suppress them well that would be horrible and it would eventually come out in other ways and yes you would no longer Be able to talk to people because it would be to painful. Although you could to negative iv experiances that part before I think it’s more of a listing problem though lol I tend to block ppl out then over talk. My own issue iv had since a young girl though. So all in all face your problems an fears and this will always be pleasant

Steve May 1, 2014 at 12:38 am

In the article and some of the responses above, do I detect the sound of a number of therapists terrified that the growth and spread of mindfulness practice will impact upon their highly lucrative businesses? After all, if you can heal yourself, why spend thousands on therapy? Just thought I’d ask…

John K. May 3, 2014 at 8:56 am

Mindfulness as taught in MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) is not taught as represented here. It teaches mindfulness of breath, body, thoughts, and emotions and feelings. Detachment from feelings or emotions is not taught in this approach. Rather, in practicing with emotions, the emotion is observed, felt in the body, and experienced in the thoughts that arise with the experiencing of the emotion. This allows us to deeply examine the emotion and be with it with awareness when possible before acting. If I am angry, sometimes I may sit with the anger, not to make it leave, but to know it directly. For a time, I do not act on it but rather observe it to know it directly. Then, I may see its roots and understand its meaning. Action may be needed related to the anger, but in this way, I am more likely to act intelligently relating to the source of the anger. The news is full of people who have simply let then emotions play out “naturally”. Please consider that your article may referring to mindfulness incorrectly at times and may mislead some people regarding potential benefits of mindfulness if practiced well. I agree that if mindfulness taught people to ignore their emotions, it would have the risks you suggested.
Respectfully submitted,

John K.

Deborah May 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Mindfulness is a creation of humans (that is, rather interesting primates). As a product of humans, it is bound to be imperfect and full of contradictions. However, mindfulness is often presented as though it is sacred wisdom and if one finds fault with it, that’s due to insufficient understanding. An example of a contradiction: don’t judge or fight your thoughts and feelings – be with them. However, remember they are “just” thoughts and feelings, so label them and redirect your attention to the moment. The latter is judgmental and can disrupt deeper processing.

Oliver J R Cooper May 6, 2014 at 2:14 am

Hello Melissa,

great article here. I think it is clear that mindfulness meditation means different things to different people, but what you are talking about is when it causes people to live a life of avoidance and to disconnected from the guidance that their emotions give them.

Thanks,

Oliver

Jean Howell May 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm

I am not sure where the author has recieved her training or information , but my personal experience is the opposite of what is written above. This practice has presicely taught me not to run away or reject my emotions or sensations. Mindfulness Meditation is a powerful and positive medicine and I hope that this article does not prevent someone from seeking its positive benifits.

abc May 6, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Allow me to clear up the confusion. The writer simply misunderstood the true concept of mindfulness. Emotions are real. They are also not real. Like dreams. Meditation is like lucid dreaming. It allows us to understand our nightmares and awesome dreams alike. Still following me here? Good.

Understanding leads to a different perspective. Eventually you realize that you control your dreams and nightmares so it’s pointless to label them as one or the other. Just experience them, understand why you did, and the next time you have that same dream or nightmare you will know they merely an indicator of perspective and gain complete control of it.

Get it?

Deborah May 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Many things are said in the name of mindfulness. For instance, in Full Catastrophe Living (Kabat-Zinn), thoughts are often described as “just thoughts” to “let go” and “not be drawn into”. Elsewhere in the same book, we are advised not to try to stop thoughts but to “observe” them. Since thoughts use the same limited attentional resource as “observing”, observing thoughts essentially disrupts them, undermining their progression. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is disingenuous to contrast stopping with observing thoughts, since attempts at both have the same effect of disrupting thoughts. However, as in the case of many religious cults, in the mind of believers, mindfulness is based on higher wisdom and those who note contradictions will be dismissed as lacking in true understanding.

Jean Howell May 6, 2014 at 7:44 pm

I believe Deborah just basically accused me of being in a cult. All I can say is I studied mindfulness through an MBSR course, my instructor was a student under Jon Kabat-Zinn. I personally am a scientific thinker and I can see where many statements made the writings can seem contradictory. however what I can say of the practice itself is that it is the actual practice that is important, and extremely beneficial, I have witnessed it in the anecdotal sense through personal experience and lots of experience with students of mindfulness based stress reduction and I also have reviewed a large body of scientific literature which essentially shows actual objective scientific evidence of its benefits. you cannot gain these benefits from reading the books, just like you do not get in excellent physical shape by reading books on diet and exercise. we can rhetorically attack the writings of whoever we want, that is easy and children at the junior high level can do that as well. however, if we examine objective evidence Mindfulness Based stress reduction is a very positive and healing practice and maybe it is not for everyone. I read Melissa’s article closely and what she reports mindfulness is, is simply different that what MBSR actually stresses. I mean no disrespect to the author but my experience was very different from what she describes. I really hope that some of the silly commends by some of the people above do not prevent someone from gaining the benefit of this practice.

Deborah May 6, 2014 at 8:19 pm

This will be my last comment on this particular thread. I was not accusing anyone of being in a cult, although I do believe that many people who “defend” mindfulness speak in a language that is very similar to that of cult members (e.g., see Robert Jay Lifton). Also, for the record, I have several years experience with mindfulness practice.

Nikolay Perov May 6, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Deborah

“I do believe that many people who “defend” mindfulness speak in a language that is very similar to that of cult members.”

Yes, It’s true. But it doesn’t mean mindfulness IS a cult. Or it doesn’t mean that reviews of many people about benefits of mindfulness are a lie.

I came to meditation as skeptical person to. I am not a scientist, but I am far from esoteric, I am agnostic. I didn’t participate in some meditation organisation, I meditated at home after my friend told me how to do by email. I didn’t have a teacher or something. I didn’t read any books about meditation. I wasn’t in a cult.

Meditation helped me to get rid of my addictions and depression (and also many bad personality traits like nervousness, anger, envy, uncontrolled desires etc.). I became much happier person. So I personally can not deny that it did good thing to me, despite that somebody talking that observing your thoughts is bad and harmful. It was very very beneficial for me. And I believe it became very beneficial for many people too. That is one of the reasons that some people may act like being in the cult, they defend something that changed their life to better and may react in an emotional way towards criticism.

(But I am trying to say that all people who meditate are not in the cult. Some of them are. Meditation teachings can be speculated by gurus. Some religions context can be put there. So people just like being in a cult, like to have a leader in front of them and like to think of themselves as bearers of absolute knowledge. So we get those cults.)

By the way a good lecture about connection of modern psychology and mindfulness meditation.

https://class.coursera.org/psychbuddhism-001

Lecture is led by Princeton teacher Robert Wright.

Dave May 18, 2014 at 10:51 am

if you are using meditation to avoid dealing with emotions, you’re using it wrong. Myself, I think one of the greatest things a person can ever do for themselves is to raise their stress tolerance and make themselves less emotionally labile. But one of the things I find is that its a *bitch* to stay in that way of thinking. I’m manic depressive. I can manage it for a while, but its really tough to stay there. If I’m depressed or manic, my emotional lability is going to be high. if I’m even keeled, I feel and process emotions just fine with no need to “stuff” anything, but I don’t feel any need to jump out a window from agitation.

W/re meds…without my meds I would be detached from objective reality. I’ve never experienced feeling “dead” or “numb” from the meds; I experience feeling dead or numb when I’m depressed. The meds help me process emotions normally, the way a normal person does.

On the flip side, it took many, many years to get to the point where I was getting the right meds at the right time of day in the right dosages (more than 20 years). But at the moment, when I am medicated, I am largely symptom free.

JJR May 28, 2014 at 11:04 am

Pretty spot on. These are more or less the conclusions I came to growing up ext to a Buddhist temple.

& that was before training in neuroscience & psychology. There are negative effects spoken about in the Buddhist texts, just not the popular ones usually translated. ‘Cause love vibration types don’t want that kind of thing. You could even say that what is being taught isn’t ‘meditation’ in any complete sense.

But aside from all that – Honestly, I’ve never understood how someone could both take meditation seriously & not come to these conclusions? Can it change you, or can it not. Yin & Yang, anyone? They’re the same forces. Or not.

Aitch May 29, 2014 at 11:46 am

This is a fascinating discussion

From what I can tell, the blog entry is in favour of experiencing emotion. I don’t know but I’m assuming that the idea being put forward is that experiencing emotion brings about a catharsis and natural progression through whatever issue the emotion represents. Anger, for example, expressed is assumed to identify, embody, empower a person’s issues, value, identity and be a trustworthy source of reference for a person looking to find happiness/enlightenment/self-actualisation, or whatever goal you want to label the purpose of this with.
Mindfulness on the other hand, from what I understand of the blog entry, is dissociative, and is not an experience, but an observation. Implicit in this suggestion is that it is dangerous and does not really take into account natural human design, like a changing mind, the importance of experiencing emotion, the healing power of that etc..

As John K acknowledged, part of mindfulness IS the experiencing of emotion – from your comments it appears that you’re talking about the expression of emotion – although there is nothing in the way of a positive alternative in the article itself.
The expression of emotion can be good or bad for the self and others, depending on the nature of it. We might be angry justifiably, or due to defensiveness – we might regret expressing our anger, or we might express our anger in a way that is supportive of ourselves without being harmful to others. None of that is mindfulness itself.
If I can express the emotion I mindfully experienced reading through the blog and comments, I felt frustrated and angry reading the bloggers replies to people who thoughtfully put together their arguments only to have a dismissive response that failed to address any of the points.
The one prevailing thought and feeling I was aware of was that it felt frustrating that someone would take a platform on the internet to put forward a case against mindfulness and then consistently demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of not only the subject matter but also their own ideas on the subject.
If I can discover in my own mind a tendency to be negative towards myself, and learn mindfully that that tendency becomes a choice when I observe AND experience it, then it is equally a choice to either put forward a shallow critique on a subject or put energy into suggesting an alternative that is superior.

Joanne June 3, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Thank goodness for you, Aitch! I keep reading this discussion and getting confused as to whether my own understanding of mindfulness is the right one – so many different opinions! And I can only speak from my own experience, I don’t have a doctorate in mindfulness, and from my own experience it has helped me a LOT.
Reading you comment reminded me of all the good reasons to practise mindfulness, or attempt to, or to meditate, or attempt to. Too many people these days think it’s ok to “express” themselves with no heed of the damage done to others, or even to themselves. It has become a pretty violent and “mindless” culture in Australia and I don’t think anyone feels all that safe any more, even just walking the streets.
Any attempt any one person puts into trying to understand their own feelings and tend to themselves emotionally is for the benefit of all of us!
I’m all for self expression, especially in an intimate relationship! I don’t think mindfulness negates that – or not in my experience anyway.
It was great to read your comment!

Aitch June 4, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi Joanne,

This debate on here is important and interesting I think because it highlights what I think of as a misplaced faith in the idea that for a person to act out whatever comes up for them is equivalent to living a life of integrity and self respect. It’s good to have anything that triggers a debate around this!
Without an awareness of how the mind works, and how easy it can be to identify with passing experience it’s all too easy for an adversarial relationship to grow between ourselves and the rest of the world. The cultural phenomenon you mention doesn’t seem like a sustainable one as it takes the position that each person is more important than the other – which seems at best set up for social discord.
The unique gift we have as humans is self awareness, setting us apart from a slave-like obedience to our impulses. That’s not the same as dissociating ourselves from our experience – the opposite in fact. It means we have choices and an ability to shape our world collectively and individually.
I think a meditation practise is always going to have challenges, just like any kind of training, mental or physical, but there are benefits if you see it through, as you say not just for yourself but all of us.
I’m glad you’ve experienced benefits from mindfulness. Me too. I’ve also found it difficult and challenging. The theme that runs through it all is to be patient and acceptant of yourself – facing all the things the mind throws up with the knowledge that it is what it is, and in full acceptance there’s a healing and insight that comes from the practise that doesn’t necessarily require you to validate every thought and feeling but understand its significance.
There’s a continuum and holistic nature to the way our experience presents itself to us and becoming familiar with that can bring a lightness and freedom and, in my experience real sanity to our lives. I personally think the awareness brought about by meditation and mindfulness is a far greater gift than a religious drive to assert all the ego’s bias and desire – an awareness that isn’t without action or spontaneity but makes wise choices by understanding the nature of the game it’s playing in.

Thanks for your comment and all the best in your choices :-)

Aitch

Ralph June 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

I recently completed an 8 week mindfulness meditation course. I found some aspects of the course beneficial, such as the body scan, the sitting meditation where one observes the breath and the 45 minute mindful yoga exercises. But overall I found the 8 week course very unpleasant. I found the teacher was talking incessantly and very little of what she said was of value to me. So I found it difficult to sit through a two hour class in which most of the class was consumed by the teacher talking. The other people in the class seemed to be enjoying the class very much based on my observations of the other people. But for myself I felt very relieved when the 8 week course was finished. But I do find the exercises are useful and helpful to me.

Alan June 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

What you describe in your article is what has become the practice among some practicing mindfulness meditation…..it is resistance to ones emotional pain through bypassing a state that is held in mind and body. As one that has practiced emotional release work for many years…..deriving tremendous benefit and healing through this focus….I realize that I prioritized a part of being over everything else. The thoughts and emotion in my body were held stagnant by a story I could not get beyond. Mindfulness meditation…..as I practice it…..is a waking meditation that lives in the awareness that my thoughts….and the chemistry I activate in my brain….that I then feel coarsing through my body…..are my reactions to old habits. Reactions to old pain…..an internal dialogue that replays itself on cue. This is part of my personal history….no denying this…..I have felt it…..painfully so. Apart from this….or growing from this….is the state of being that is no longer a little me…..a self id-entifying with a description based on the past. Mindfulness meditation brings me back to a place that reminds me mentally and physically and spiritually that I am part of something greater. From this place I can make choices that are more in line with a current realization
of who I am now….not choices that re-enforce my old story. Intent and depth of practice can lead to greater freedom.

ruby July 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

I like this article. The word feels overused in every context lately. Unfortunately the people I know who say they practice mindfulness are pretty passive aggressive and come across detached… They go away and think before coming back and saying how they feel. Their stressed in daily lives then retreating for weekends on fields. I get that the article is saying there is so much wisdom in the teachings but we need to feel and not just observe with the mind. I don’t expect a wound to heal without bleeding first, getting the infection out, causing itches and taking time and self care to heal. If there is deep grief I think somebody may need to scream, whale, sob, shake and feel held. Deep healing can occur when people aren’t afraid to feel their deep feelings. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in mindfulness but that its not a wonder fix cure all. Were individual. Like I said unfortunately the people I’ve met who say they practice it seem detached.. I don’t feel their warmth. This is the reason I was given from prisoners who told me why they had stopped practising. However, maybe I’ll meet people who can change my mind. Hats off to the author for airing their view. In society where we can be swept into a accepted way for thinking about current (and remodelled) trends its brave to air an opinion that can be viewed as contreversial, that’s not saying here’s the new answer but questions current beliefs.. Breathe on philosophy!

TomD. July 12, 2014 at 10:20 am

I think part of what you are referring to is the tendency to separate oneself from direct, unified experience by using “detached observation”. I also disagree with conscious breath practices that actually separate us from normal breathing that is naturally regulated by the sympathetic nervous system. These breath practices kind of split us into two parts when we are (and should be) naturally “one”.
For the record, I am coming from a background in formal Japanese Zen practice, which I left because I always felt like the practice and lifestyle seemed to take people away from being normal, regular folk. After a while, I began to miss unenlightened people.
I do feel that there is some usefulness to meditation. The body and mind can be kind of noisy, and simply sitting still is useful as a way to naturally quiet this down. Additionally, people with substance abuse problems often have longstanding problems with impulse control and sitting still can be useful as an impulse control practice that generalizes to other areas of life. I don’t call this mindfulness and don’t actually try to accomplish anything other than sitting still. Sometimes I listen to music when I am sitting because I like music and my attention is drawn to it naturally- I don’t have to try and be mindful of it at all. That sort of touches on the difference (at least to me) between natural mindfulness (which everyone has) and imposed mindfulness.

Kris July 28, 2014 at 9:48 pm

FINALLY someone sees mindfulness for the sham it is!
It is completely self contradicting, and it is mindboggling why
it is so hugely touted as a powerful psychological tool.
It is total ridiculousness.

Thanks again for showing the emperor has no clothes!

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