Overselling the Benefits of Mindfulness
Just a few days ago I realized I was bored with the Internet and my mobile devices.
Together they have contributed to my font of trivial knowledge. But it has been a very long time since I delved deeply enough into a topic to fully understand it, or to contribute to it with original ideas.
And perhaps most important, I have been losing my sense of nuance. All discourse seems to fall on one side or the other. Intellectually, I have been anything but mindful. In fact, the constant barrage of information, updates, and check-ins, and my 24-hour availability (and that of everyone I know) have turned me into a cognitive fight-or-flight machine.
It’s the loss of nuance in me and those around me, as well as in nearly every issue I hear discussed in the media, that bothers me most. Very few things are as black and white as they are when couched in the language of soundbites and 140-character blasts to followers. Following links from the people we follow can actually exacerbate the limiting of intellectual diversity.
So much of what we present ourselves with is self-screened to reinforce, not challenge, our close-held views. And there is damage done by oversimplification. The only way around this is to purposefully counter our assumptions — to seek out points of view we disagree with and to investigate them fully, with an open mind.
So it is with mindfulness. Great claims are being made for its efficacy, and I am living proof that a dedicated meditation practice combined with a mindful approach to living can even help defeat disease (though not in all of the people all of the time).
Yet the claims for the benefits of mindfulness become more extravagant as the presentation of meditation techniques becomes oversimplified. Can sitting with your focus on the breath for 20 minutes each day really lead you to all of the benefits of mindfulness presented every day on the Huffington Post’s Healthy Living Page?
Even as a beneficiary of mindfulness practice and a teacher of meditation, I sincerely doubt it.
I am confident, though, that a mindfulness practice can help spark the noticing of nuance. Even in its definition — the nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment — mindfulness begs us to set down our preconceptions and our delusions and just experience what is happening in the moment.
Very few things that we face in this world are simple. The vast universe of self-help offers seemingly effortless solutions to our greatest challenges. It can’t all be true. Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to set aside our beliefs, and our disbelief, and take in the diversity presented to us, all without judgment. Yes, judgment is necessary for the decisions we must eventually make. But imagine the benefit to us and those around us of being fully informed, open-minded, and nuanced in our approach to the decisions we must make in life.
I understand the irony of my posting a 600-word blog entry lamenting the mind-numbing effects of information technology. If everyone took a long period of digital detox, my latest post may never be read. Incredible resources full of depth and diversity are available all over the Internet for free. But it takes some effort to find them. It’s hard.
Meditation is the same. A simple exercise in stress management can present some uncomfortable emotions and memories. Nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment may offer up a present that is not so good. But if we stick with the hard work, in thought as well as in letting go of thoughts, I believe we will each benefit. The more we explore, the more we challenge ourselves. The more nuance we add to our lives, the better off we all will be.
Hofmann, G. (2014). Overselling the Benefits of Mindfulness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 28, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/02/26/overselling-the-benefits-of-mindfulness/