February 14, 2017

The benefits of not being mindful

Oh no you didn’t …

Oh yes I did.

After teaching meditation and mindfulness for a couple of years now, I have realized a few benefits about not being mindful.

What’s most interesting about this is not the benefits themselves. It’s how people react to the idea of that there could be benefits of not being mindful.

This method has gained the status of being sacred, holy. Even among those who don’t practice mindfulness it seems like heresy to say that there could be any benefits to letting your mind drift, not being aware of your surroundings and state.

Which is insane.

I mean, of course there are benefits to not being mindful. You only need a few seconds of reflection to find that out.

To be honest, it’s sort of scary to me that otherwise rational humans turn off critical thinking when it comes to some areas.

Mindfulness or present-state awareness is a tool. Nothing more. You should look at it with just as much critical thinking as you do with all other tools.

So let’s get to it. What are the benefits of not being mindful?

Mindfulness kills creativity

Mindfulness is horrible when you want to think of new ideas.

The big creative breakthroughs we have come when we are not focused, when we are not deep in activity.

It comes when we take a shower. When we are out walking. When we are about to fall asleep.

When our minds drift.

The reason is that our brains contain way more than our conscious mind. The brain is working constantly, and if we were at all times aware of everything that went on in there we would go crazy. That’s why some of it is subliminal.

Try immersing yourself in inspiring thoughts, artworks, books. You will notice that your mind drifts: oh, if I just mixed this up with that other idea …”

That is not mindfulness. Is great creative work, though.

Mindfulness is just another to-do

What if you are already swamped in responsibility? Let’s say you have a demanding career, kids, hobbies. To you really need another thing to keep track of in your life?

In fact, what would help you more is the opposite of a mindfulness practice. What would help is to throw all the self-help books on the fire.

These practices only amount to further pressure on already pressured humans.

I make my living by teaching meditation and mindfulness and I can honestly say this: most of you don’t need to start practicing this. You are fine.

Some of the most healthy humans I’ve ever met are those who don’t practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness shifts the blame

When I work with organizations, they often want their employees to be less stressed. But instead of fixing organizational issues, it’s easier to say that the employees should just be more mindful. That way, management doesn’t have to change anything.

In some cases, the problem is that a certain individual is overreacting to changes or to uncertainty. In that case, mindfulness (or even therapy!) is what they need.

But more often they need other things. A leader that listens. To be allowed to leave their phone at work. Clear priorities. Good communication tools. Time to focus. Challenges. Meaningful work.

Mindfulness courses at workplaces could even mask the real problems, and therefore allow them to grow.

First, we need to know what the problem is. Then we can apply the method. Don’t jump to mindfulness as a solution straight away.

Mindfulness is murky

This is not a real benefit of not being mindful, but to be honest with you, it get’s really hard to know what the fuck mindfulness is after a while.

It starts out with like being in the moment” and then you sort of sneak in impermance” and then attachment is the root of all suffering” and all of a sudden you have bells and buddha statues and recite suttas at the office.

I’m saying this because it’s weird to see some companies jump on the hype train without understanding that mindfulness does have roots in buddhism and it tends to show itself after a while.

By not practicing mindfulness, you are not treading on that vague and murky path. You might spend that time doing an activity which helps you out in a more clear and effective way.

You can avoid any criticism of mindfulness by just bending the definition. By sometimes including morality, or thinking of the future/past, or indulging in thinking as a part of mindfulness, you can make sure that it’s bulletproof. But. Then you’ve also changed the definition. What you end up with, in that case, is something so broad and vague that it’s useless.

Mindfulness stops you from learning

When I teach mindfulness, I often ask my students how much time — so far– during the session they have been mindful.

Most of the time,” they say.

So what have you been thinking about?”

Well, you talked about being stressed at work, and I remembered this one time, at my last job …”

In this example, do you really want the student to be mindful? Don’t you want her to think back on that previous experience?

I actually think that reflecting on your history is absolutely critical for learning. Even if the student misses out on a few other words, remembering the past and comparing it to a message is necessary to evaluate if the new concept makes sense or not.

I don’t want you to be mindful at all times when I teach you mindfulness.

Meditation could trigger trauma

If you have a lot of anxiety, exposing yourself to your feelings for 60 minutes might not be the best thing to do.

With a trained therapist — maybe.

With a guy that just got his certificate from McMindful Inc? Probably not.

Perhaps it’s better to start with journaling, or deep talks with a trusted mentor. Not sitting in silence and listening to your own thoughts.

Again: it’s great for some with anxiety to understand their thought patterns more. But if you dive in too quickly, or with an unexperienced trainer, this could actually be detrimental to your mental health.

Mindfulness leads to no-mindfulness

A part of mindfulness is not being judgemental of your thoughts.

If I don’t judge them as good or bad, then why do I need mindfulness?

If everything is good as it is (“meta-OK-ness”) then I don’t need to practice.

The end result of the mindfulness philosophy is therefore not to train mindfulness. You don’t need to practice anything. You don’t need to get better. You don’t need to change.

Actually, the most neurotic and stressed out people I’ve ever met are the mindfulness & yoga crowd. Why? They are always questioning themselves. Am I really calm right now? Am I being mindful? It gets you stuck in self-reflection, neurosis.

Mindfulness sets unhealthy expectations

Even though mindfulness is supposedly about not-judging, you’d be surprised of how many mindfulness teachers talk about achieving happiness and success.

This creates a weird bar for students. Is life really about being as happy as possible? Do I want to be 100% happy all the time?

When they get struck by very human emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, stress, the blow is a double strike: first the actual feeling, and then disappointment about feeling that feeling.

I’ve been on a mindfulness course! I shouldn’t feel sadness!”

Of course, real” mindfulness (whatever that is!) is about not-judging yourself. This criticism is therefore more of the modern mindfulness movement and not the technique itself.

But happiness it’s easier to sell than equanimity. Most people don’t wake up feeling like they want to spend $199 on being more equanimi… equini… even-minded. They do want to spend that on being happy and successful, though.

And as things are today, they are ready to believe that mindfulness will bring them that.

There are cases where we obviously should be paying attention to what’s going on right now. Dinner with friends. Playing with your kids. But there are also a million situations where a drifting mind is alright, or even better.

I will keep on teaching both mindfulness and meditation. But I will keep in mind that they have benefits as well as drawbacks. I will remember that in most cases, the solution to a problem is not mindfulness.

I will remember not to lie to others — even if me paying rent is depending on selling something — about what any single method can achieve. I will remember to not assume that other’s need fixing, that we are fine even with our flaws.

And most importantly: I hope to never lose critical thinking, no matter if a method has been super helpful to me or not.

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