Thursday, 10 May 2018

Mindfulness or mindlessness?

       An app that can calm children, soothe them to sleep and help them concentrate? Most parents I know would give their eye-teeth for such help. So why does this ‘Mindfulness’ app, along with the trend that inspired it, worry me so much?
       For me, the problem is that mindfulness techniques are based on meditation, a form of self-hypnosis currently embraced and wholeheartedly promoted by several high profile figures and mooted as a wonderful new route to mental health. Now there are special apps for children, including one for under-5s!
       “No harm in that,” some say. But there are various types of meditation, some of which are not beneficial and may even be downright dangerous. With this in view, let’s be mindful of what meditation actually is and which forms should be avoided at all costs.

What is meditation?
       Meditation is more than mere daydreaming. It involves deep, concentrated thinking by which we can review the past, ponder the present and consider the future – not just our own but that of others and the world in general. Successful meditation requires complete solitude with no distractions – no mobile devices or online games to interrupt the process.
       True meditation should be purposeful and focused, even resulting in amazing Eureka moments from celebrated thinkers such as the late Stephen Hawking must have enjoyed while contemplating the universe!

Good meditation
       To get the best from this practice, we need to look to the best possible examples, such as wise and spiritually-minded people mentioned in scripture. In fact, the Bible encourages meditation - not the sort that involves emptying the mind or muttering mindless mantras and empty repetition, but meditation that helps us dwell on wholesome and upbuilding topics, such as God’s qualities, standards and dealings with mankind.
       King David, for instance, often lay awake ‘in the watches of the night’ meditating on deep spiritual matters which provided him with inner depth and moral strength. (Psalm 63:6, Psalm 1:3) 

Harmful meditation
       Many forms of meditation have roots in ancient Eastern religions. In contrast to musing on profound scientific or spiritual truths, however, “The mind has to be empty to see clearly,” according to one exponent. These words reflect the view that emptying the mind while focusing (mindlessly) on certain words or images promotes inner peace, mental clarity and enlightenment.
       Another source describes a typical meditation as focusing fully attention on one’s breath as it flows in and out of the body. “Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them.”
       Although it may seem harmless, this technique which encourages you to let go and ‘empty the mind’ is not only employed by yoga practitioners but also by spiritualist mediums as they seek to contact their guides in the spirit world.  And you don’t need to be a practicing psychic to invoke the demons! Even though we may initially feel some benefit, emptying our mind leaves us open to some very nasty squatters! (Matthew 12:43-45)

       And it seems I’m not alone in worrying about this form of meditation:
       Dr Miguel Farias, a reader in cognitive and biological psychology and co-author of The Buddha Pill, is very concerned about the effects of what he describes as an entirely unregulated’ practice.  “Quite a lot of mindfulness teachers have no training whatsoever in mental health.” He also doubts the value of mindfulness apps.
       “They work like relaxation apps. Focusing on your breathing can usually make you relaxed – but for some it can also bring on a panic attack.’ There is a wealth of evidence to show that mindful exercises can have negative effects. While some people, find mindfulness unhelpful and dispiriting, for a significant number of others – and for reasons not yet completely understood – it can lead to anxiety, panic or even psychosis. – Can mindfulness be bad for you? Anne Moore, YOU magazine.
        Claire initially found mindfulness relaxing, “but then I felt completely zoned out while doing it. Within two or three hours of later sessions, I was starting to really, really panic.” The sessions resurfaced memories of her traumatic childhood, and she experienced a series of panic attacks. “Somehow, the course triggered things I had previously got over,” Claire says. “I had a breakdown and spent three months in a psychiatric unit. It was a depressive breakdown with psychotic elements related to the trauma, and several dissociative episodes.” – Is Mindfulness making us ill?  Dawn Foster, The Guardian

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