Mindfulness will fuck you up

Mindfulness is part of a demanding meditative path that suits only a few people. There are better ways to be happier.

I don’t recommend getting an arm cast for a bad tooth, taking ibuprofen for stomach ache, or treating a broken leg with herbal remedies. To each illness, the correct treatment.

In today’s age of the “mindfulness app”, it’s become a common place belief that mindfulness meditation can help with the common problems of stress, anxiety and depression.

While breathing exercises can help us relax, the longterm “positive” benefits of mindfulness are often a form of numbing. The meditation becomes another form of distraction, like drinking a bottle of wine, or watching Netflix. Sooner or later the stress, anxiety and depression creep back in.

But our intuition that these are, at least in part, spiritual maladies, seems right. It’s our spirit, not our body, that seems to be in pain. But there are spiritual paths that are likely to help us much more than the tough practices of mindfulness meditations like Vipassana.

“Our inner landscape is not a placid lake, but a raging hurricane, that mindfulness unleashes.”

The word “yoga” comes from the word “yoke”. The way a yoke joins a cow to a plough is the way a yoga path joins your body and spirit. The are many yogas, many paths, and hardcore meditation may not be the path for you.

Bakthi yoga is a path of loving devotion. Find the people in your life in need of love and give it to them. Devote yourself to a higher cause. Depression doesn’t survive this kind of treatment for long.

Ashtanga yoga is a path of embodiment. Place yourself in a difficult physical pose and watch how your body responds. Stress can’t prosper if you’re rooted in your body, it being a being of the mind.

Tantric yoga is a path of experience. Getting married? Going bankrupt? Making love? Facing hatred? Whatever experience you are in, learn to be in it fully and completely. It’s a tricky practice, but anxiety, just another name for fear, disappears like shadows exposed to the light.

Within yoga practices, what we commonly think of as mindfulness is an aspect of Raja yoga. It’s central to the Buddhist practice of Vipassana or Insight meditation. It’s the path of the Buddha theirself, although many of the meditation practices taught today are much later creations.

Vipassana is a remarkably hard path. It suits people who are highly conceptual, who think in abstractions, and are rooted in their mind. It can, potentially, cut through all the fetters of of material existence. But it will be accompanied with intense mental anguish, as the delusions of life are stripped away. And it can easily become a trap. The meditator becomes so enamoured of the insights they have learned that, like a satellite orbiting a planet but never landing, we miss that the insights we seek  are right there in plain sight.

A partial Vipassana practice, which is what is most often taught as “mindfulness”, can open up sources of stress, anxiety and depression that the new meditator might then struggle to resolve. It can, please pardon the language, fuck us up. Our inner landscape is not a placid lake, but a raging hurricane, that mindfulness unleashes.

I talk in more depth about some of the pitfalls of mindfulness meditation on my YouTube channel. Please subscribe for new talks, and back me on Patreon to help me put more time into writing.