On to a topic I'll spend a great deal of time on over the course of this blog: mindfulness. Mindfulness is trendy these days, and amongst those who are in the business of helping people make changes in their lives, it is really trendy. This is for good reason. It is a highly effective strategy for helping humans navigate the often painful and difficult process of living.
I teach mindfulness at the wellness center at which I work, and have for a few years. I've also practiced, on and off, for the past decade. I want to be clear, though: I don't consider myself an expert, and am certainly not particularly "good" at mindfulness. I do, however, find the practice to be highly beneficial and have found it to be of help to many of the folks I've worked with.
One of the first things I do with almost anyone who is new to the practice is dispel myths. The degree to which mindfulness meditation has infiltrated public awareness is, in my mind, a very good thing; but is not without pitfalls. I think, to a degree, popular understanding of the practice reflects an underlying cultural theme; that of pursuing good feelings and pleasure.
From a meditative perspective, there is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure and feeling good, the Buddha famously rejected asceticism in favor of the "Middle Way". Pleasure seeking is the other half of the pleasure/renunciation dialectic, though, and the Buddha was certain to steer clear of that as well. We are left neither pursuing nor rejecting pleasure, pursuing nor rejecting pain. The feelings and thoughts, or content of our experience are far less important than our attachment to them.
In other words, the purpose of mindfulness meditation explicitly is not to relax, feel better, be at peace(!?), think positively or cultivate a feeling of being in control. It's not particularly mystical, either.
So, what is it for then, and why bother?
Good question, and I'll discuss that in a subsequent post!