Top 5 Dangers of Mindfulness
5. Balancing Benjamins:
Capitalism is undoubtedly a strong economic model. Unfortunately, the philosophy of capitalism has a tendency to spill over the borders of the economic world into the rest of our lives. Capitalism creates an unreasonable expectation that all activities can be weighed by their monetary value. We are taught at a young age that we must “Balance the Benjamins” to determine if the payoff of an activity is worth the investment of our time. When viewed through the capitalist lens, time becomes a commodity that can be bought and sold.
Mindfulness undoubtedly produces results (see “Benefits?” post) but they are far subtler than the smell of a crisp one hundred dollar bill. Instead of a new car, a mindful game show might give a contestant a coupon for fifteen extra seconds of patience with his boss three months down the road (keep in mind these coupons do add up despite their seemingly small nature).
There are many ups and downs inherent to mindfulness practice. Our meditations may stagnate, and we may perceive an absence of forward momentum in our practice. We may be tempted to forego our morning meditation for an extra hour of sleep or scrap the entire discipline all together.
If we can persevere in spite of these doubts, the true value of mindfulness can be realized. The benefits of mindfulness are paradoxical in that they only appear once we stop looking for them. In waking up morning after morning and sitting down to meditate, we establish our own value system with our Self at the center.
Mindfulness could be classified as worthless or priceless depending on how one looks at it. My experience has been the latter.
If our minds were a stage, the Ego would be the director. Thoughts would be the actors and Emotions the stagehands, fiddling with the lighting behind the scenes. The Ego directs our Thoughts to deliver their lines while Emotions color the stage with their light. As audience members, we are so engaged by the vibrant drama on stage that we forget we are at the theater.
Mindfulness teaches us to wake from this hypnosis and realize that the “I” who watches is separate from the performance of Thought and Emotion in the scene before us. This subtle realization reveals Thought and Emotion to be transient beings that play their roles and then exit the stage. We learn compassion for the Ego when we see how scared it is to lose control over the production. These realizations have the power to completely redefine one’s life. But we must never mistake this deep personal revolution for evidence that mindfulness is the one and only road to salvation.
Mankind has been plagued by the Need-to-be-Right (NTBR) compulsion since the dawn of time. Despite the conflicting opinions contained in history books, nearly every conflict in human history can be boiled down to the NTBR compulsion.
When seen for what it is, the NTBR compulsion is a form of projective self-soothing rather than an altruistic need to spread the “right” beliefs. We create the NTBR compulsion when we deny that we harbor doubts about our own belief system. We fool ourselves into thinking we are trying to convince another person when in fact we are trying to convince ourselves. However, if our personal conviction is strong, then there is no internal threat that forces us to convert others to our point of view. If we really believed something, it would not bother us to learn the rest of the world believed the exact opposite.
Belief contains the power to establish the foundation of a holistic life; unfortunately, it can also be an unquenchable flame that consumes all it touches, never satisfied with any number of converts. If a belief is so fragile that the dissent of one individual threatens its existence, no amount of externalization will ease the doubts that have curdled our faith.
3. Paroxysmal Perfectionism:
In the first six months of establishing a meditation, routine frustration abounds. We are excited at first to sit and “clear our minds” only to find that our minds are closet hoarders and there are thoughts stacked to the ceiling in every corner of our brain (see “When Mindfulness Meets Life”). Before long, instead of resting in the tranquil waters of our mind we find ourselves drowning under a pile of long discarded thoughts.
If we willfully attempt to suppress these thoughts during meditation, we produce a cyclical process of recrimination. A thought arises, we blame ourselves for thinking, and in the act of blaming we produce an additional thought. Then we scold ourselves for this additional thought, creating another thought, and so on and so forth. Before long we’ve generated a dizzying cycle of recrimination that yields an infinite number of thoughts.
Having a healthy sense of humor and a lot of self-compassion in the beginning of our practice can help alleviate Paroxysmal Perfectionism. Like the candy commercial says: there’s no wrong way to meditate. If we sit down and then stand back up fifteen minutes later, we’re successful — the rest is just details.
Mindfulness exercises are like the dining car on a fast moving locomotive: they offer a respite from our journey but we shouldn’t mistake them for the destination. We may think that to embrace a mindful life we must disengage from our current life. We might think that we have to meditate all day, shun our emotions, and resist our humanity. Mindfulness practice is more about fully inhabiting one’s current life than creating a new “mindful” life to fit our new conceptions. Mindfulness accepts what is instead of trying to create what isn’t.
There are certain unavoidable realities in life. To maintain employment one has to show up, complete assignments, and play “the game” to a certain degree. These realities are not bad in and of themselves; it is only when we lose identification with our Self and become our job or title that we begin to suffer. If my car, my bank account, or my performance evaluation defines me, I lose the meaning of my Self. Remember, the Self is beyond these externalizations and is invulnerable to their charms.
When we disengage from life we survive; when we engage we thrive.
The line between Mindful and Mind-Fool is subtle, and the prideful Ego is a master at blurring the distinction. It is easy to be seduced by the siren song of Better-Than syndrome at any point in our mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness teaches us that money, achievement, and power are temporary clouds of smoke in a high wind. So when colleagues suffer at the hand of one of these vices the Mind-Fool can mistakenly see himself as Better-Than them. The Mind-Fool believes he is immune to the seduction of vice and pities the unenlightened. In fact, the Mind-Fool is so much Better-Than that he feels obligated to point out the fallacy of the unenlightened life to anyone who will listen.
Be very careful not to mistake condescension for compassion, it is far too easy to do. True mindfulness accepts others where they are today and is not distracted by Better-Than syndrome. True mindfulness is content Here and Now.
True seekers keep riding straight through, whereas big, lazy, self-worshipping geese unload their pack animals in a farmyard and say, “This is far enough.”
Rūmī, Jalāl Al-Dīn, and Coleman Barks. The Essential Rumi. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1995. Print.