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Is Mindfulness Dangerous?
In his 1961 book, Psychotherapy East & West, the philosopher Alan Watts wrote,
If there is to be a battle, there must be a field of battle; when the contestants really notice this they will have a war dance instead of a war.
As is popular in South Asian poetry, such imagery aptly describes a social as much as a psychological state. For example, the slim volume of karma yoga lessons, the Bhagavad Gita, treats the metaphorical field of battle as both a reflection of Indian society and an introspective mirror held up to one’s brain.
Humanity’s battle against its brain has, at least since written language commenced, been epic. Countless metaphysical fables and invasive therapies have been created to describe our place in existence and treat the neuroses that often follow. One of the most popular modern formats is the resurgence of Buddhist mindfulness, the practice of observing one’s thoughts as if watching passerby. As with prescriptions before it, there appears to be a danger involved.
Noticing your thoughts is much different than simply thinking. The neuronal firings that we term ‘thinking’ is so pervasive we hardly ever realize we’re doing it—until we attempt to stop (or, more realistically, slow) that rushing river of information. Only then do we realize that sitting in meditation has nothing to do with ‘doing nothing.’ As Buddhists are fond of saying, we are observing the observed.
Based in the Buddhist tradition, over 1,000 mindfulness courses are now being offered across the UK, predominantly under the name mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). That sounds like a good thing; indeed, on paper, it should be. Learning to watch one’s thoughts has proven neural and emotional benefits, such as slowing the reaction time in one’s neocortex from lashing out after an angry or sad event. It offers immediate insight: ok, is this how I really want to act right now?
Part of the problem stems from inexperienced teachers leading clients through these techniques, according to Robert Booth. As he writes in his Guardian story linked to above, people are becoming certified to teach after taking a one-week training course, hardly enough time to understand much of anything useful about mindfulness. They haven’t even stepped onto the battlefield yet are acting like generals.
America is watching its own existential crisis unfold. In the Atlantic Tomas Rocha writes that this is the result of people treating mindfulness only for its socially quantitative benefits:
This widespread assumption—that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, “because that’s what Americans value”—narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable—and fundable—research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.
As Booth points out, some researchers have cited studies claiming that mindfulness can be as beneficial as pharmaceuticals in treating certain ailments such as depression and anxiety. Anecdotally I can vouch for this: Tibetan Buddhist mindfulness practice helped me get off Xanax seven years ago. I haven’t taken a pill since. When panic attacks arise—and they still do, though with much less force and frequency—I have a container to work within and address the issue.
Here’s the thing, however: I never measured the exact neurochemistry of my problem. I’ve heard some refer to panic attacks being ‘all in the mind,’ but a closer truth is that they’re all in the brain—and that means the brain’s chemicals and hormones, not a dualistic embodiment of stressful goblins invading my conscious experience.
Science communicator and writer Cara Santa Maria expressed it succinctly on a recent podcast when discussing her personal battle with depression. People refer to infections and diseases as problems requiring medical attention, yet when it comes to affective disorders, we expect ‘thinking positively’ to be enough. Crippling emotional problems are just as ‘real’ as other medical procedures; she discusses how much differently she treated life once she found the proper meds for her own unique biochemistry.
And this points directly to a failure of mindfulness training as cited above. Mindfulness is a trendy catch word, one numerous life coaches take advantage of. Genevieve Smith writes in Harpers that there are now roughly 50,000 life coaches in America. While some are trained therapists and psychologists who added the term to their business card to take advantage of a trend, many are not trained at all. When uncertified coaches encounter clients experiencing profound emotional distress or serious existential crises, they are not equipped to properly treat them.
The road of mindfulness has never been about feeling good all the time. Experiencing the depths of despair and anger might very well be encountered along the way. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As Rocha writes,
While meditators can better avoid difficult experiences under the guidance of seasoned teachers, there are cases where such experiences are useful signs of progress in contemplative development.
As neuroscientist and author Sam Harris writes in his new book, Waking Up, ultimately mindfulness aims at developing a non-grasping attitude toward any emotion:
Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves. Mindfulness is a vivid awareness of whatever is appearing in one’s mind or body—thoughts, sensations, moods—without grasping at the pleasant or recoiling from the unpleasant.
There must be an awareness of what emotions are being breached in the practitioner, as well as knowing who can sit with trauma and emerge stronger on the other side and who might very well need a prescription or serious counseling. If the guide does not recognize these individual and specific nuances, trauma is a possible outcome in the student.
There has never been a singular path to self-realization. Recognizing this before teaching mindfulness is of utmost importance, just as walking the path yourself is crucial in unlocking the puzzling domain of our minds. Once that door is opened, you never know what might emerge.
Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.
- White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
- Carbon is an essential component of life.
- White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
What Are White Dwarf Stars?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7b046e546ce994682b2553a8c978eb32"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/77a1KSxfaR0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.
- Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
- The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
- What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
3 Tips on Negotiations, with FBI Negotiator Chris Voss | Best of '16 | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b86d518e9f0c9f9d7a7c686e07798152"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-FLlBchonwM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This question forces a response, but—and this is key—the other person has to consider your side of the argument. They have to look at the situation from your perspective if they hope to offer a solution.</p><p>Offering a real-world example, Voss mentions coaching a high-end real estate agent. They were leasing an expensive home in the Hollywood Hills. The first time the negotiators asked the "how" question, the leasing agent relented on a number of terms. A little while later, they asked again. This time, the agent said, "If you want the house you're going to have to do it," signaling that the end of negotiations had been reached. </p><p>Voss says that "how" is not the only word that works. "What" is also a powerful entry into negotiations, such as "What am I supposed to do?" Again, you're forcing the other person to empathize. </p><p>This is a particularly tricky skill during a time when most conversations are online. Nuance is impossible without the immediacy of pantomimes and vocal fluctuations. Whataboutism is too easy an escape. </p>
Aikido Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969, standing, centre left), founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido, demonstrating his art with a follower, at the opening ceremony of the newly-opened aikido headquarters, Hombu Dojo, in Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1967.
(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)<p>Online debates often amount to little more than frustrated individuals pulling out their hair. In his book, "Against Empathy," Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom writes that effective altruists are able to focus on what really matters in everyday life.</p><p>For example, he compares politics to sports. Rooting for your favorite team isn't based in rationality. If you're a Red Sox fan, Yankees stats don't matter. You just want to destroy them. This, he believes, is how most people treat politics. "They don't care about truth because, for them, it's not really about truth."</p><p>Bloom writes that if his son believed our ancestors rode dinosaurs, it would horrify him, but "I can't think of a view that matters less for everyday life." We have to strive for rationality when the stakes are high. When involved in real decision-making processes that will affect their life, people are better able to express ideas and make arguments, and are more receptive to opposing ideas. </p><p>Because we "become inured to problems that seem unrelenting," it's imperative to make the problem seem immediate. As Voss says, giving the other side "the illusion of control" is one way of accomplishing this, as it forces them to take action. When people feel out of control, negotiations are impossible. People dig their heels in and refuse to budge. </p><p>What seems to be weakness is actually a strength. To borrow another martial arts metaphor, negotiations are like aikido: using your opponent's force against them while also protecting them from injury. Forcing empathy is one way to accomplish this task. You may get more than you ask for without the other side ever realizing they surrendered anything.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>