‘Mindfulness’ has become the latest trend in personal development, and its popularity has begun to cross over into the corporate world. Mindfulness is about being in the present in the moment, more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and generally getting into a ‘better place’ mentally and emotionally. The benefits are clear and relevant to today’s overstimulated, busy-minded lifestyles. It can be an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and enhance emotional intelligence, and therefore all the good stuff that produces. So it’s great to see this eastern Buddhist understanding being adopted into western psychological practice.
There are 2 issues with ‘mindfulness’ that will always limit its effectiveness.
1. How it is being used:
From my observation of the way mindfulness is being taught and understood (and apologies for the generalisation), all too often it can be seen as a great state to aim for which you arrive at via technique, ritual and proscription. So mindfulness becomes a destination - something you need to do or be on a daily basis, something you need to make time for. It requires you to think mindfully or perhaps meditate. One of my new clients said recently ‘I’m really struggling with my goal to up my mindfulness practices to 2 hours a day.’ NEWSFLASH! That approach will only ever get you so far. And, with a deeper understanding of the way your mind really works, you won’t need to do or be mindful at all.
2. Solving a problem that isn’t really there:
We treat it as an antidote for the modern pace of life without realising we are using it as a treatment for the symptoms, while completely misunderstanding the cause. Why do you need a technique to become what, at a default innate level, a human already is? My two year needs no help in being mindful. There is a common misunderstanding that is normalised and sits behind many of today’s psychology interventions, and the common usage of mindfulness (while is does get much closer to the truth than many) still perpetuates that misunderstanding. That mis-understanding is that the outside world creates our experience, our stress and our woes. It doesn’t. 100% of our feelings come from 100% of our thoughts, and the nature of thought is such that the more we mess with it, the more we get in the way of innate wellbeing and resourcefulness
So what is the alternative?
We can be in a mindful state through understanding alone, we don’t need to practice it. We just need to equip (or actually re-equip, as it is innate) ourselves with a fresh understanding of what is creating our mindsets in any moment. This understanding, at a realisation level, reveals and reverses the illusion and misunderstanding about what is creating our experience of the world. It shows us the principles1 about how we are all creating our experience in any moment.
To put it simply, we don’t need to ‘do mindfulness techniques’ if we understand how the human psychological system actually works, and by solely enabling an insightful understanding (there is no doing.) we can see the world very differently. The understanding is the intervention.
So, mindfulness is a wonderful thing to value, however seeing mindfulness as another set of outside-in tools or techniques to enhance well-being or productivity is a huge waste - why not understand the principles behind it? Using mindfulness as a band-aid to fix the normalised misunderstanding that most of us have on how we create our experience, is a step further in the wrong direction.
This misunderstanding, plus the self-help world’s attempt to distill, bitesize and sheep dip any understanding into a technique or proscription, means people accidentally end up with a shallow and misunderstood understanding of what is behind the mindful state. Resulting in mindfulness initiatives at best becoming a useful activity to mitigate a misunderstanding of how human experience is created and at worst another thing to contribute to someone’s busy mind.
1 This understanding is based on the implication that leads from the realisation of Three Fundamental Principles of human experience as discovered by Sydney Banks