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Can Mindfulness Cause Harm?

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There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness. A study reviewed over 40 years of study into meditation and mindfulness-based therapies. It suggests that these practices can lead to negative effects in about 8 percent of individuals. These individuals can experience increases in anxiety, depression, and stress. Scientists have cautioned about the harm meditation can cause when not practiced properly. This is reflected in ancient Buddhist meditation texts from late Buddhism. Can mindfulness really cause harm?

The answer is yes. While mindfulness provides many benefits to the mind, it can also cause harm and confusion. Mindful practitioners may think that mindfulness is an escape from the stresses of life. In its original form, mindfulness is the opposite of escaping from stress. We explore mindfulness in its original context. Watch the video above to find out more or read on.

How does mindfulness cause harm or confusion?

How our society and economy function is to quickly fix problems. This over-arching mentality we have teaches us to get rid of stress quickly. We all want our lives to resume to the way we know it without change. We have done very well in this area by creating numerous sophisticated distractions from games, consumerism to the upcoming metaverse. Mindfulness practice is actually the opposite of this mentality we have. Without understanding, we delve into mindfulness, hoping that it will be a quick fix to whatever problems we have. Mindfulness can certainly cause harm when we have wrong expectations.

The role of mindfulness in its original context

Mindfulness is only a part of eight links in the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. Many people may avoid mindfulness if they think the Noble Eightfold Path is only for Buddhists. If we study the history of Buddhism, we will find that its founder, Gotama Siddhartha taught the path as a remedy to psychological ills. He taught it to people with different religions to those without any religion. What is most interesting about Siddhartha is, he never thought of himself as a religious leader. Those who learned the path from him were encouraged to keep supporting their religions. He allowed others who really wanted to practice under his tutelage to join his order of monks.

Mindfulness begins with right understanding

To practice mindfulness and all the other parts properly, one must have right understanding. Right understanding has also been translated into right view. Most of us hold differing views and we cling to our views tenaciously. In right understanding, the only view worth having is knowing what stress is. To know stress is not to become distracted or to escape from it. We have to turn our attention to stress and understand how it arises. What did we do, say or think to cause stress to arise? How does it feel? How does stress come to cessation and what caused it? Is the Noble Eightfold Path a path to the cessation of stress?

We courageously turn towards stress instead of fighting it or escaping from it. This is contrary to how our society and habitual minds deal with what we dislike.

With right understanding, everything falls into place

By understanding how stress arises and cease, we can pursue our goals in a peaceful way. We learn to think in a way that is harmonious towards ourselves and others. Right thought is about letting go and being generous. This is not to say we allow ourselves to become doormats. Rather, this letting go is done with wisdom. We can make firm choices without causing stress and hurt.

With right understanding and right thoughts, only right speech, action and livelihood can follow. We no longer speak in ways that anger others or hurt ourselves. Right action means we consider other beings’ lives to be as precious as ours. This helps us learn to be kind to our environment as well. Understanding how right speech and action can bring harmony in our lives, why would we choose any work that can cause harm to society or our environment?

Mindfulness works with right effort

Right effort works hand in hand with right mindfulness. What is right effort? Right effort is the effort we put into knowing the kind of thoughts that come up in our minds. As you can see, this requires mindfulness (awareness) in daily life. Most of us like to think of ourselves as kind and nice people. But when we have the ability to look into our minds, we may be horrified to see the kind of vengeful and petty thoughts that can appear frequently. These thoughts can attack ourselves as well as others.

Having right effort means we douse the fire caused by these harmful thoughts by replacing them with harmonious and peaceful thoughts. Another aspect of right effort is to increase harmonious thoughts that have arisen. As you can see, right effort cannot be practiced without right mindfulness.

What is right mindfulness?

There is right and wrong mindfulness. Wrong mindfulness causes harm. Someone with sharp awareness can use it to perform harmful speech, action, and livelihood. Do you think it is possible to have a clear conscience and light mind/heart by telling lies, speaking angrily, harming another, and causing hurt by being unfaithful to your partner?

Right mindfulness is a clear comprehending mind that knows what happens in as many moments as possible to cut the root of stress. If our mind is burdened by guilt or negative thoughts, can it be clear and aware? The reason many people suffer bad effects from meditation is that they expect to experience calm on the cushion without living a calm life with their thought, speech, and action.

We hope you have a better understanding of mindfulness in its original context now to help you with the practice. As you can see clearly, the practice, even in its original form does not convert anyone to a particular religion. If anything, this practice can bring one closer to his/her religion. For those without religions, it can bring peace and harmony to one’s heart and mind.

At Mindful Breath, we offer mindfulness courses and workshops to corporate clients as well as individuals. Get in touch with us if you are interested to know more.

Mindful Breath

Mindful Breath is committed to sharing the systematic training of mindfulness with anyone who is keen and open to exploring their relationship with their inner experience for better health and caring relationships towards a gentler and friendlier society.

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