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Is mindfulness making us ill?
January 25th, 2016 (January 26th, 2016)
Is mindfulness making us ill?

   The article attached is a tiny bit 'catastrophic' maybe… in the sense that, you know, boarding planes isn't for everyone either, driving cars isn't for everyone either, etc. The very assumption at the basis of the article (the idea that mindfulness is for everyone, independently of the context at hand) is utterly naïve!
   But maybe this article is a useful reminder nonetheless, for anyone tempted by naïve views.

   Mental cultivation (samādhi) without the foundation of ethics (sīla)  is basically seen as an aberration in Buddhist traditions.

   That's for good reason: the engagement with ethics is not only a way to build a supportive context (in which guilt, fears, regrets, etc. won't assail you "too much" while you meditate) but also a way to assess one's present compulsions, subconscious tendencies, etc. (and therefore to discern who can meditate safely right away from who's not in the appropriate mindset just yet)!

   It might be useful to remember that the embrace of mindfulness / meditation by lay people is a relatively new phenomenon in Buddhism. Historically, lay people cultivated ethics and generosity (notably via supporting monastics, teachers, projects…), only the utmost dedicated practitioners —monastics, hermits, teachers— would go beyond and start meditating (and not even all of them!).

   This too is for good reason: it's a lot harder for lay people, given the constraints they're subject to (social, economical…), to be in a place where they can be equanimous to what they see in the mirror. It's a lot harder in the midst of ordinary life not  to find compromissions, and other sources of shame, when 'looking inward'. And, importantly, it's also a lot harder to have the necessary time to successfully 'digest' any view-shattering insight… and living life with undigested insights can be akin to not finding one's footing again!
   "Harder" certainly does not imply "meditation should be avoided", but it does promote that cautious planning might be helpful, that qualified support might be helpful…

   It's not that it's wrong to share meditation to a larger audience.
   On the contrary, it offers great potential for more awakening… but one should use caution, intelligence and wisdom!

   It's useful to have a teacher, not just a book or some pre-recorded app' / audio ("guided meditations").

   Fixed records will never pick up signs when something goes wrong, fixed records will never answer ad hoc  questions: a live teacher is a critical safety net (it doesn't matter much if it's online or face-to-face, frequent contact or irregular, as long as  you can ask questions, report your experiences, discuss when needed!).
   This is true for any skill really: you can always re-invent the wheel, as an autodidact, or you can benefit from pedagogical means and expertise available (and be smart in how you leverage such supportive conditions to fasten your learning)!

   But not everyone is qualified to be a teacher: e.g. knowing how to make a few yoga moves doesn't qualify one as a psychologist, having attended one or two week-long retreats isn't enough to qualify either.
   While pastoral or psychological work shouldn't be reduced to a piece of paper (the ownership of it not guarantying in the least that its owner does actually 'care', and vice versa),  one way or another, any meditation teacher should be able to justify a rather extensive level of engagement with models, theories, practices, experiences… in order to know some antidotes when things go wrong  (or, at the very least, know where to quickly look for such antidotes)! This comprehensive knowledge might be acquired in relation to western or oriental psychology, in academic or monastic environments, or even in relation to a wide-enough range of deeply-examined personal experiments… but, whatever the way, expertise or mastery isn't acquired in just a few weeks.
   And, as a student, blindly confusing a piece of paper or an endorsement by the establishment with proper 'qualification' would be a sign of ignorance: you have to assess a teacher yourself, and take responsibility for that (cf. "In tribute to Søren",!

   Personally, I address ethics with any student who asks me for direct guidance. It's not always fun, and many abandon when it gets more 'demanding' but, in this particular sense I appropriate the "buddhist" label, in this particular sense I am a "buddhist" teacher: I do see ethics as a necessary foundation for mindfulness practice to be beneficial.
   If such an approach requires more patience and perseverance, if it offers no promise of silver-bullet or magical wand, if it's a lot more engaged and demanding than merely listening to tapes in your car and expecting a great Awakening with capital A out of that, this is okay by me: patience  and perseverance  are pāramitā (wholesome qualities, useful to manifest a wise way of life) anyway! One cannot cultivate mindfulness very far without concomitantly cultivating these qualities.
   The eightfold path is… eightfold! It cannot be reduced to a unique "right mindfulness", no more so than a wheel can easily keep its strength and shape if you remove 7 spokes out of 8 (cf. "If someone tells you there is only one path to nirvāṇa (whatever the proposed path might be), reject the idea!", None of "right view" (by opposition to e.g. naïve, hopeful beliefs in one-size-fits-all silver-bullets), "right intention", "right speech", "right action", "right livelihood", "right effort" and "right concentration" can be forgotten if you're to cultivate "right mindfulness" successfully!