Mindfulness has become increasingly popular in the West, especially since the publication of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. The problem is that mindfulness has been misinterpreted and a lot of bad ideas are spreading quickly in our contemporary culture.
The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term sati, originally coming from Buddhist traditions. The movement of mindfulness concepts to the West has resulted in some false and dangerous ideas taking hold.
To be clear, this article is about how mindfulness has been misinterpreted and takes issue with the bad ideas that have been generated from the popularity of mindfulness. We have no problem with practices of mindfulness when interpreted correctly, as many of the articles on this blog will attest to.
However, when mindfulness is used as an excuse to detach from reality, we see the implications as dangerous both for the personal development of individuals and society at large.
Here are 5 common misconceptions that have arisen resulting from the popularity of mindfulness, along with how to correct them.
1) Ignore The Negative
It’s common to assert that you “give energy” to something that is bad for you simply by paying attention to it and becoming aware of it. Therefore, you need to avoid thinking or talking about anything that is “negative”.
Correction: Seeing the negative for what it is gives you the clarity of seeing the reality in a situation. This empowers you to mitigate against its harmful effects. Refusing to look at important information simply because it makes you feel bad is choosing to remain in a state of ignorance, which is actually remaining “unconscious”.
2) Never Get Angry
I often hear people argue that anger is something you need to overcome or let go of completely. Anger is seen as “negative”, and we are urged to replace it with feelings of peace, love and light.
Correction: Avoiding your feelings of anger results in apathy and passivity to the injustices happening in the world today and in your life. Anger shouldn’t be shut out. Instead, it needs to be channeled productively. Righteous indignation can be a major motivation to create positive change in the world and in your life.
3) There Is No Right And Wrong
Another common and widespread misconception is that there is no such thing as right or wrong because it is “dualistic” and therefore invalid. Rather, every situation should just be accepted.
Correction: This way of thinking is known as moral relativism and it can be dangerous. It results in people feeling justified in failing to take responsibility for their actions (or inactivity) and the effects this has on others. We live in times of injustice, violence and suffering, and anyone who claims that things are the way they are because of a “divine plan” are delusional and negating how important our actions are in this reality.
It is common for people to create stories of what is right and wrong based on what is easy for them and what is most comfortable for them. However, negating notions of right and wrong give people an easy way out and result in illusions clouding their thinking.
4) There Is No Truth; Perception = Reality
This is a common idea in the contemporary era. Many people say that you can never know the ultimate truth about the reality we live in. You’ll hear it spoken about in mantras such as “perception is reality”.
Correction: While the idea of “perception = reality” makes for interesting philosophical speculation, committing to the idea of truth is what has created such incredible progress in recent centuries. That’s how authority goes back to the people, and claims that slavery or women’s disempowerment are natural can be challenged and weighed up against objective notions of truth.
The ultimate truth of our reality may be beyond the limitations of the human mind. But the commitment to truth is what anchors our perceptions and provides the grounding for us to make changes in this world.
5) What You Resist Persists… So Don’t Resist
Another very common belief in the new age movement is that you should let go of resistance to whatever is happening in your life. You simply need to apply techniques of mindfulness to whatever is causing you issues in your life.
Correction: You can either avoid dealing with whatever issue in your life is causing you resistance, or you can face up to it and do the work in changing the conditions of your life.
Facing up to resistance doesn’t necessarily mean directly confronting what is causing feelings of resistance. It may mean changing your inner relationship with the resistance.
However, avoiding the feelings won’t do anything to create positive change.
Mindfulness has a lot of positives to it, but can become dangerous when it promotes misunderstandings, misconceptions and delusional dogmas that prevent you from facing up to reality.
True spirituality includes being responsible, mindful of your actions and standing up for notions of what’s right and just.
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Originally published on The Power of Ideas.