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Mindfulness is loaded with (troubling) metaphysical assumptions - Sahanika Ratnayake | Aeon Essays

Mindfulness is unsuited for self-understanding

Mindfulness is grounded in the Buddhist doctrine. It is a metaphysical denial of the self - there is no soul, spirit or any ongoing individual basis for identity. There is no 'self' or 'me', and consequently, no thoughts that are 'mine'.se

Western metaphysics holds that there is some entity to whom all these experiences are happening. We refer to this entity as 'I' or 'me'.

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Mindfulness is loaded with (troubling) metaphysical assumptions - Sahanika Ratnayake | Aeon Essays

Mindfulness is loaded with (troubling) metaphysical assumptions - Sahanika Ratnayake | Aeon Essays

https://aeon.co/essays/mindfulness-is-loaded-with-troubling-metaphysical-assumptions

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Key Ideas

Contemporary mindfulness

Research findings conclude that regular mindfulness meditation reduces stress and builds resilience. 

Yet, those who practice contemporary mindfulness find, instead of engaging in careful thought about oneself, that they are encouraged to be nonjudgemental of your thoughts - to disregard the content or your own thoughts. Mindfulness oversimplifies the complexity of understanding oneself.

Mindfulness critics

  • Mindfulness does not demonstrate the truth of key Buddhist doctrines. The nonjudgmental aspects are at odds with Buddhist meditation, where people are supposed to actively evaluate and engage with their experiences.
  • The goals of mindfulness attempt to reduce suffering, but Buddhism aims to escape the miserable cycle of rebirth altogether.
  • Mindfulness has moved from therapy to commodification, and a corrupted version results from it.

Mindfulness is not value-neutral

Contemporary mindfulness stresses the qualities of impermanence and impersonality (no real self). Thoughts are encouraged to 'arise and cease', or to 'drift away in the sky'. We are encouraged to detach ourselves from our own experience with mantras like, 'you are not your pain.'

Mindfulness thus disconnects us from our thoughts and feelings and makes it harder to understand why we think and feel the way we do.

Mindfulness in context

Mindfulness can be useful to gain some distance from your own experiences from time to time. But as a whole, it sets aside personal responsibility and disregards the conditions that gave rise to the distress in the first place.

To find out why you think and feel the way you do, you need to see yourself as a distinct individual. You need to carefully examine your thoughts, feelings and the specific context in which they arose.

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The message of the mindfulness

The message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause is in our mind - a "thinking disease" or a kind of attention deficit disorder. 

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Modern Mindfulness
Mindfulness as a practice today is loosely based on the Buddhist concept of Sati, as described in the Buddhist text the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. But there isn’t a single word in the text that translates to “now” or “present,” which is central to its modern application.

What has remained consistent is the use of meditation in pursuit of greater self-awareness, coupled with a rejection of the egocentric mode of existence. 

Harms of Mindfulness

The lack of empirical studies on how mindfulness is practiced may lead consumers to be harmed, mislead, or disappointed in the lack of results.

For example, the idea that you should just reject your whole core and all your impulses, may be seen as a formula for depression and anxiety.

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What mindfulness is
What mindfulness is

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

What meditation is

Meditation is exploring. When we meditate we venture into the workings of our minds: sensations, emotions and thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation asks us to suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness, to ourselves and others.

Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”

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