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Has Mindfulness Gone Too Far?

meditator high resThe rise of mindfulness has been incredible.

In part it seems like many of us are responding to a radical fast pace of living where we’re in a constant state of doing, doing and doing some more and longing for something to help us create balance in our lives. The answer has been a variety of mindfulness programs that place a heavy emphasis of  “being” to balance out the “doing.”

Mindfulness is a fundamental skill for anyone in this day and age and yet at the same time it can go too far.

In the formal practices of mindfulness we do meditative exercises like breathing meditation, the body scan, or an open awareness practice. All of these focus on training the brain to “be with” experience. We need this training because the alternative is the brain’s default to try and fix our stress by kicking into auto-pilot and constantly planning in the future or looking to the past to figure out the present.

This juggle between the past and future only adds stress to our mind and body. Learning how to “be with” helps turn the volume down on all this thinking and can often bring us into a state of balance.

Sometimes this state of balance teaches us important lessons, like in life all things come and go, otherwise known as the law of impermanence.

But in an effort to teach people how to “be with” experience, a message has been conveyed that “doing” is somehow bad and if you just learned how to be with things as they are, you’ll be at peace with yourself (aka happiness).

But the reality, “being with” something isn’t often enough or even the best response. If you’re having high anxiety for example, it’s really difficult to “be with” that or if you’re depressed, “being with” the feeling can slip quickly into dwelling on negative thoughts which only sinks you deeper into what I call in Uncovering Happiness – “the depression loop.”

On top of that, while learning how to “be with” life as it is fundamental, it also opens us up to “choice points” to do things that are adaptive and healthy for us.

For example, mindfulness helps us be aware that we’re suffering without getting pulled into it and opens up the perspective to intentionally “do” self-compassion. This is the act of knowing that we’re suffering and inclining to support ourselves with it.

So we may intentionally choose “to do” soothing practices like playing with an animal, going on a jog or engaging in a lovingkindness practice. As we practice and repeat this self-compassion it becomes more available to us, shifting from a state of mind into something that it more trait-like.

At the end of the day, the relationship between “doing” and “being” is what makes the greatest impact.

If you’re struggling, mindfulness can create the awareness for the need to self-soothe. If you bring mindful awareness to self-soothing it will enhance the memory of it, making it more retrievable in the future. What we notice is better automatic recall of self-compassion. When this recall improves and keeps getting better it just begins to feel like it’s a part of who we are and how we act in the world.

The key here is that when it comes to lasting happiness, cultivate the integration of “being” and “doing” on a daily basis is optimal. Just like a garden, the practice will eventually bear fruit for you and the people around you.

May it be so.

Warmly,

Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Author of Uncovering Happiness and co-author of MBSR Every Day.

 

Has Mindfulness Gone Too Far?

A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.


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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2015). Has Mindfulness Gone Too Far?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 17, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2015/09/has-mindfulness-gone-too-far/

 

Last updated: 29 Sep 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Sep 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.