Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is mindfulness making us ill?

I guess the title of the article is a click bait, where journalist Dawn Foster makes the piece controversial on purpose in order to get more readership. She started by describing her personal experience with meditation for the first time.  In the passage below, she described something I have also experienced myself:

"We’re told to close our eyes and think about our bodies in relation to the chair, the floor, the room: how each limb touches the arms, the back, the legs of the seat, while breathing slowly. But there’s one small catch: I can’t breathe. No matter how fast, slow, deep or shallow my breaths are, it feels as though my lungs are sealed. My instincts tell me to run, but I can’t move my arms or legs. I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing. Then we’re told to open our eyes and the feeling dissipates. I look around. No one else appears to have felt they were facing imminent death. What just happened?
For days afterwards, I feel on edge. I have a permanent tension headache and I jump at the slightest unexpected noise. The fact that something seemingly benign, positive and hugely popular had such a profound effect has taken me by surprise."

Instead of having a conversation with the meditation teacher about this experience, Foster went on to list a whole bunch more examples of negative cases that others have experienced, including a case as extreme as having to see a therapist for the next 15 years for psychotic depression. She ended the piece by saying that "there are alternative relaxation methods that can keep you grounded: reading, carving out more time to spend with friends, and simply knowing when to take a break from the frenetic pace of life."

Hmm.. I guess this is equivalent to trying out a "ballet for workout" class without anticipating how how intensity the class could be, getting a foot cramp from all the toe pointing, goes on to interview a bunch of other beginners whose experiences of the class also deviated from their expectations, and then concluding that there are alternative methods of exercises that could provide a good workout. Except reading, spending time with friends etc. do not quite achieve the same results as meditation. I suppose she was strictly talking about methods of relaxation.

The cases where people needed to go see a therapist... my guess is that they needed to see a therapist to begin with, but they had hoped that a session of a mass meditation class would magically make their inner problems go away. I would say meditation exposed the existing problems rather than causing them. How sad would it be, if the very simple act of concentrating on observing your breathing would make you depressed and go crazy?

As for the anxiety experienced from the first sessions, well, common sense should tell us that we shouldn't be able to hurt ourselves simply by sitting and having our eyes closed. This restlessness can be experienced when we wait too long for the traffic light, when airplane delay happens and we really need to get to our destination, and other situations in our life when our mind cannot anticipate what's going to happen next, or when our mind feels like the situation is not under its control. Hopefully the teacher will be understanding enough to let the student get up or at least shift positions.

So what the journalist main legitimate concern is that the meditation teacher isn't "qualified" enough to offer the class. Perhaps before one signs up for a meditation class, one should be given a short description of what mindfulness meditation involves, what mindfulness meditation is and isn't, and one should answer a medical questionnaire and sign a waiver just like the kind of forms they give out before you sign up for a gym. Um, I guess for legal reasons meditation teachers should have such a procedure to protect themselves from people's idiocy.

I would say that the journalist underestimated how powerful mindfulness meditation practice could be, and how erratic our minds are (which is precisely why meditation was invented in the first place, to deal with all our anxiety).

Another point is that if a company is not confident that it offers a great work environment for its workers, it might not be doing itself good by offering mindfulness class to its employees. One byproduct that could happen is that the employees may realize during meditation practice that they actually hate this job and need to make major changes to their lives. On the bright side good companies may use this to weed out employees that are not a good fit with this company. The ones who are left have hopefully decided that they want to grow at this company and can use the meditation classes to help clear their minds, solve their personal relationship issues, and be more focused at work.

I guess I wouldn't say that meditation is for everyone, since I have noticed some people reeeeeeally dislike the idea of examining their inner fears, shame, past traumas, and pent up grudges. They would prefer to stay in control by doing a lot of activities, taking food and other substances, using outer senses in order to suppress the unwanted thoughts and feelings that arise out of nowhere. I personally would prefer to look at my daemons in the eye and become aware of the list of issues that haunt me, figuring out which of my poor behaviours are coping mechanisms and which behaviours come from my authentic being. I would venture to guess that for those who don't want to examine their authentic selves, they are quite comfortable with their coping mechanisms and do not want to change their ways. To each their own, I say.

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