Mindfulness is not the way back to who you are

Mindfulness is not the way back to who you are

Mindfulness is not the way back to who you are

We are currently witnessing in the world a tsunami of interest in mindfulness. Newspaper and magazine articles, web pages and YouTube videos abound on this subject; there is even a magazine, Mindful, published monthly in the United States, completely devoted to it.

International conferences on mindfulness and its techniques are held regularly, and our schools, medical centres and corporations such as Apple, Google, Cisco and many others are awash with gurus promoting mindfulness as the new panacea that will cure our personal and social ills.

The source of mindfulness is anything but new. It traces its origin to ancient Buddhist techniques of meditation. But these ancient Buddhist techniques were grounded in a way of life that was all about freeing ourselves of the illusions and constant cravings of life to achieve things: these cravings can at most give us momentary happiness, which then fades and disappoints, or cause us suffering when these desires are frustrated. Also these cravings are always based on a need to achieve things for ‘me’ and my kin or group.

Mindfulness was part, but only one part, of a very disciplined way of life, the goal of which was simply to eradicate this constant craving to satisfy our desire to get things for ourselves at the expense of others, which is the source of enormous tension because we all know deep down that we are not separate from others, but all interconnected.

Modern mindfulness has been torn from these moorings; it has now nothing to do with freeing ourselves of the arrogant and grasping need to get what we want and everything to do with making ourselves more functional in a frenzied and stressful world, to achieve more of what we want for ourselves, yet feel less tension from the striving to do so. It dulls the mind by throwing a gloss of relaxation and passivity over that tension so we don’t feel it.

But it does nothing to remove that tension; it just medicates it. The tension all comes back when we stop our mindfulness session, or the continued practice so dulls us over time that we gradually achieve a state of being checked out from our true knowing. Mindfulness is a scam, a snake oil solution to a world gone mad on achievement, competition, recognition and success.

The runaway world we live in today is tense and stressed. Globalization is speeding up social and economic change and many people, particularly in the developed world where mindfulness has really taken off, are finding it difficult to cope with all the demands of this increasingly frenzied world. We are feeling more competitive with our fellow human beings, more insecure and in greater need of recognition, and in spite of all the great increases in communications technology and the networking we constantly talk about, more isolated and individually encapsulated.

Mindfulness is offered as a way to check out from all this for a short time and reconnect with ourselves.

However, this is the vital point: we can’t truly reconnect with ourselves if we ever check out. We need to check in.

And I speak from personal experience here, having done Buddhist mindfulness meditation intensively for fifteen years. In mindfulness meditation we are typically instructed to observe our breath, the in-breath and out-breath, without judgment, just observing the sensations that arise from that. Our awareness will wander, but don’t follow or judge the thoughts, just come back to watching the breath. Gradually the agitated thoughts will subside, and we will enter a blissful state of relaxation and lack of tension.

This blissful state is very desirable, sometimes almost trancelike. There is indeed less of our tension and our craving in it, but only because there is actually less there of who we really are; we have simply checked out and filled ourselves with a feeling of elation.

Elation feels great, but is far from who we truly are. When we feel who we truly are, we feel joy, not elation.

Elation is when we feel lifted from the tension. It won’t last, and we will come back to earth with a thud sooner or later. Joy is a confirmation that we are living all that we are, and it is not found on a meditation cushion mindfully observing our breath, but is found in life.

Joy cannot be found in living in a dulled state, because without sharp awareness we cannot see the cause of the tension, the struggle to achieve for ourselves, and are still stuck in it. Unlike mindfulness where we use awareness to check out and dull the tension by focussing all of our attention on an object like the breath, what we need to do is to re-imprint the tension itself.

The tension comes from the way we are living:

  • in struggle,
  • aggression,
  • carelessness
  • and roughness.

So we can choose to take time out to re-imprint the way we are living. We actively choose with our will to do something in gentleness. For example, we choose to breathe with gentleness in the Gentle Breath Meditation®.

Superficially the Gentle Breath Meditation® may seem like mindfulness meditation, but there is a world of difference. In mindfulness meditation, the breath, while our own, is still an external object on which we focus our attention and observe. Our attention has moved from ourselves to something that is not us – a part of our body, yes, but not us, which is our awareness and our will to choose; we have checked out from ourselves.

In the Gentle Breath Meditation® though, we focus on our choice to breath gently and the sensations that follow from this choice. If we lose it, we simply choose again to breath gently. We have checked in to ourselves, the core of who we are, which is our will, awareness as our willed choice.

Consequently, in the Gentle Breath Meditation®, we don’t get lost in the elation of checking out, but feel joy in the confirmation of feeling the love and care that we truly are in making this choice to be gentle.

Just as mindfulness can be extended to all actions of our lives, (with the same ill effects), so too can the technique of the Gentle Breath Meditation® be extended. That is called living in Conscious Presence, will-fully choosing to do every action in gentleness, love, and care, in every interaction with the world and in every interaction with others. Every action we do joins our mind and our body in gentleness, love and care. Every day then becomes a confirmation of all that we really are.

The current fad for mindfulness techniques spreading into all levels of education is deeply concerning. The last thing our kids need is yet another technique for numbing themselves and checking out as a means of coping when they already have so many, such as computer games, television and iPads.

Mindfulness is being promoted to deal with students’ difficult behaviour and to manage their tension and stress levels, but behavioural problems occur because our schools concentrate on all that is dysfunctional in our society:

  • its endless competition,
  • striving for achievement and recognition,
  • and feelings of isolation.

Our kids feel the tension intensely; they are the canaries in the coalmine, warning us of how deeply lost we are.

All mindfulness does is medicate that tension, makes them not feel it or fills them with elation, but it is there nonetheless. Teaching mindfulness to our kids in order to numb the tension they feel when they know that things are not right sets them on a path in life to look for respite from life’s struggles rather than answers to them – a path of checking out from life rather than joyously embracing it.

Instead of numbing our kids from the tension, let’s help them to see through it and re-imprint it. The Gentle Breath Meditation® and Conscious Presence let them re-imprint their lives with love and care, giving them a true choice to live in joy.

Let’s raise a generation that lives in joy, not resignation. That will transform the world.

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MindfulnessTensionStressMeditationConnectionConscious presence

  • By William Foley, University Professor: BA, Brown University MA, PhD University of California, Berkeley Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities

    I am a Professor of Linguistics. I am interested in how peoples of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds communicate and how we can increase understanding and brotherhood across these differences.

  • Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.