By now most of us have heard about mindfulness training. Along with those touting the myriad benefits of mindfulness come those who give accounts of negative experiences. So, what’s the truth, can mindfulness hurt me?
Let me start out by saying that mindfulness isn’t a fad or some new panacea. Mindfulness has been popularized with a new secular presentation of the practice, but mindfulness meditation has existed since before the Buddha.
Which really leads to the question “what exactly is mindfulness?”
Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness training is conditioning our minds to stay present. There are numerous methods to increase mindful awareness, but the most prominent is meditation.
People do have negative experiences with meditation
To many, sitting still can be quite uncomfortable. People who tend to rush around, filling each moment of their day with some activity or those who are constantly lost in thought tend to have the most difficulty adjusting to meditation. But even these folks rarely report serious negative impact from meditation.
Awareness is a mindstate
If we think of awareness as a mindstate rather than some magical mental phenomenon that occurs as a result of hocus pocus, we can start to see where the blame for negative mindfulness experiences truly lies. It isn’t that during meditation we’ve created some monster that will change our psyche forever, rather it’s that we have been living in denial and now we see our ghosts, ghosts of trauma, guilt, repressed emotions, shame, etc.
Through meditation, we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to work with these issues because now we see them. Of course, we can always put the genie back in the bottle so to speak if we still refuse to address our issues, but we really can’t place the blame on meditation. The blame lies with our denial. When we deny our emotions we create future pain, perhaps pain that we will experience again and again.
Mindfulness meditation isn’t the culprit here, it’s a potential friend, even to those who have had negative experiences. With a little courage and perhaps therapy to deal with latent issues the outcome can still ultimately be positive.