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"Mindfulness"


 I've come to the conclusion that my current endeavor of studying the Psalms might be a bit esoteric, and not really able to support the kind of reflection I usually post. Give me time, though, I'm hoping I might be able to actually apply the discipline of Lectio Divina to the psalm study.  In the meantime, this morning I got involved in a digression responding to a friend's post on Facebook about an article in The Guardian which asked the question, "Is mindfulness making us ill?" I thought it was worth saving and posting, so here you are...

"Hoo boy. Don't know where to start. I've always been terribly suspicious of what I call "self-help Zen," and this article reinforces my skepticism even further. Traditionally and historically meditation was never meant to function as a panacea. There are many cautionary tales about things like "meditation sickness" and Zen even has a term for the "uncanny realm" -- makyo, which they classify as a form of 'delusion.' My point is, Zen Buddhists and other 'religions' that engage in the practice of meditation have long traditions about the difficulties and pitfalls of practicing disciplines such as meditation. If I were to dare to diagnose what is going on with these unpleasant side effects, it would be that even the bare introduction has caused these beginning meditators to notice that there is something awfully wrong. Up to this point they have survived by doing their best to ignore what is wrong. The act of sitting still and paying attention, even for a little while, makes it impossible to suppress or repress the symptoms of stress any longer. Hence the panic attacks, headaches, onset of depression, and so on. In the old days, it was customary to make a prospective student camp out in front of the monastery for days, to prove he was serious, before the doors were opened and he was admitted as a student. No-one should dare to practice meditation without the clear understanding that it will get worse before it gets better. It is irresponsible and even reckless to teach "mindfulness" as if it were a quick fix. Personally, I hate the word "mindfulness." It also seems to me to be one of the worst things about our modern culture, that we are dependent on pretending nothing is wrong. We 'bury our heads in the sand.' We diagnose realistic discouragement, honest grief, and reasonable sadness as if they were illnesses and proceed to prescribe drugs to treat them. We create environments of intolerable and unjustifiable stress and refuse to admit that is what we have done. We bolster this denial by blaming it all on the individuals who suffer under such stress, as if they were somehow faulty. The status quo depends entirely on the refusal to admit that something is wrong, so engaging in a mindfulness practice in which the first instruction is to pay attention to what is happening is bound to result in the practitioner actually noticing what is happening. That's a no-brainer if there ever was one. The funny thing is, people start meditation because they suspect something is wrong, but when their suspicions are confirmed and they find that the act of paying attention has caused them to notice just how stressed out they are, and their body responds by releasing repressed symptoms, then they naturally want to retreat. This is why a meditation practice should not be engaged in without the support of a dedicated group, with teachers who have the credentials and experience to deal with the fallout. I don't know how many times my Zen books, and my teacher too, have said that this practice is not to be engaged in lightly. It's serious business. Now, after saying all this, I don't mean to discourage anyone from engaging in such a practice. It is one of the very best ways to become a balanced, sane, and whole person. Just don't expect it to be simple and easy. It will be a lifelong practice, and it won't get rid of stress, sadness, frustration, boredom, or discouragement, it will only help you fully inhabit the world that contains those things, along with delight, love, joy, compassion and friendship. Carry on, and don't give up!"

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