Mindfulness, Ashrams, Trauma and Other Side-Effects

Response to my friend who sent me a great article on mindfulness and it’s possible side-effects. See there original email and linked article. They inspired this response. I agree with them:

My friend and me predicted McMindfulness a few years ago. Check out: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3519289

Every new therapy (mindfulness was new to the west in most ways) is always seen as a panacea. Eventually people realise no one method is better than any other. Google Dodo Bird Verdict for more on this. This applies to CBT, and historically to almost all new therapeutic modalities.

Yoga was the same. When it went mainstream loads of cowboys who had attended a weekend workshop were teaching it in gyms. I met people on my one year mindfulness course who were teaching it, who really shouldn’t have been doing so.

I’ve also had a lot of people on Twitter tell me how mindfulness is bad. When I enquire further someone has taught them something that isn’t mindfulness!

When I taught beginners meditation I always warned my students about side effects. I’m the only meditation teacher I’ve ever known to be aware of that!

I had a lot of trauma rise on a weekend mindfulness workshop once and the teacher didn’t help. I got no support. It’s shocking.

I’m reminded of a story my friend (who attended a Mind Life Institute conference where they did mindful walking. There were a few Lamas there who have practised almost every waking hour of their lives. The didn’t understand the mindful walking we learn on mindfulness courses in the West. He didn’t understand the jerky, slow, controlled walking. Real mindful walking is just ordinary walking but with gentle awareness. It’s that simple.

I also attended a mindfulness conference last year. Everyone there allegedly practised mindfulness and a lot taught it. Everyone was chatting waiting for the talk to start. The lady went to the front waiting to speak and people mindlessly kept talking. I noticed straight away and focused my attention on her. It was embarrassing. When I visited an ashram years ago the Swami told people to forget high level spiritual attainment for now, that’s all ego. He said we can start on remembering to switch off lights we aren’t using. He spoke of down to earth / day to day mindfulness. I call it ‘buying bog rolls in Tesco’ mindfulness. It isn’t all about sequined cushions, incense and wearing robes, it’s about the absolute basics.

Anyway I have a lot of mixed thoughts on the mindfulness in the West. There is some good stuff out there. The Mindfulness Association is good, accept their lack of awareness of side-effects. But then no-one else I know admits it. It is another reason why I say we should all be careful not to fall in love with our favoured treatments or cooing strategies.

I had a passionate love affair with mindfulness and then woke up to a more reasoned understanding, including side-effects and limitations. I also realise it doesn’t work for everyone. If only most CBT practitioners were mature in this way!

Keep the dialogue going. Your friend is on the right wavelength. Feel free to forward this email.

Note a silent retreat at an ashram once triggered a high release of highly traumatic emotions in me. It was millions of times more painful than the death of a loved one or any physical pain like severe toothache. I used to use the word Auschwitz to describe those days it happened because it was off the scale suffering. The ashram weren’t supportive. A couple of years later I felt angry about this and told them about it. I said they were negligent and they could seriously harm people. I said other people could take legal action. They changed their policy after that! And ask people about previous mental health issues and they don’t push people’s spiritual progress too far too soon.

Take care 

From: (removed)
Date: Thu, May 21, 2015
Subject: Mindfulness – not without thinking first

Really good article here discusses the possible over-application, and certain dumbing down of the [noble] Buddhist practice of meditation, to offer a supposed drug free ‘harmless’ alternative to drug therapies.   It’s a short piece in the guardian, very readable and a good one to mull over with a coffee.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *