The Dark Side Of Mindfulness?

In a recent article in the New Scientist it is argued mindfulness and meditation “have a dark side that should not be ignored”..

The authors, Farias and Wikholm, then go on to list the risks associated with mindfulness and meditation.  It is perhaps surprising that I, as a mindfulness teacher and a Buddhist, agree with a lot of what they have to say.  Mindfulness and meditation is not for everyone.   What worries me is there are untrained people out there “selling” mindfulness as the answer to everyone’s problems. It is far better to say that we know from the extensive research that many people have benefited from this approach so try it and see for yourself.  I am also aware that some mindfulness teachers are accepting people onto courses without undertaking an orientation and assessment interview to ensure there are no contra-indications.   This robust approach to recruitment would go a long way to addressing some of the concerns listed in the article.

“Too many courses are being delivered with a “one size fits all” approach or by people who like to be seen as a “mindfulness- gurus”. Teaching mindfulness is not about being the expert but helping people to get in touch with the wisdom they have inside. This not only takes skills but also humility. This is something that is sadly lacking in some mindfulness teachers.”

I am also of the opinion that teaching and learning around mindfulness and meditation requires the skills, knowledge and experience of somebody with an established personal meditation practice and who has completed a 1 year supervised teacher training pathway at the very least.  This would ensure that meditation practices are introduced by somebody who has a good knowledge of the theory underpinning mindfulness and is able to guide meditation practices and then lead an inquiry into participant’s direct experience.   But perhaps more importantly the trainer is able to monitor how each person is progressing and to adapt the teaching and learning accordingly.

Too many courses are being delivered with a “one size fits all” approach or by people who like to be seen as a “mindfulness- gurus”.  Teaching mindfulness is not about being the expert but helping people to get in touch with the wisdom they have inside.  This not only takes skills but also humility.  This is something that is sadly lacking in some mindfulness teachers.  I also believe that many of the problems outlined in the article could be addressed by adopting a person-centred approach to mindfulness training that takes into account a learner’s starting point (the awareness, understanding and skills they already have), their interests and concerns and any potential barriers to learning they may have. It is for this reason that learners on our courses have individual learning plans and we are introducing learning mentors..

The authors talk about how mindfulness has become “a multimillion-pound industry” and the danger is that the need to make money becomes a significant factor in how learning and development programmes are developed and delivered.  Whilst Now Unlimited has to make money to survive, it is not at the expense of a learner’s experience.  If a learner is not benefitting from a course I am happy to let them go with a full refund.  This is about having integrity.

So what am I saying?  Mindfulness offers a number of potential benefits but this is by no means guaranteed.  People should be encouraged to approach the practice with an open mind.  Any risks associated with mindfulness and meditation are minimised by ensuring that the person delivering the course has the required skills, knowledge and experience. Being open, honest and responsible as a mindfulness teacher will stop being questioning the dark side of mindfulness.

Swoosh