Mindfulness and Passivity

Image Courtesy Pixabay

Image Courtesy Pixabay

In the West intense interest in the practice of Mindfulness has been nothing short of phenomenal. I practice it myself and have experienced life-changing benefit from it. Others I know have received the same.

But, as I’ve shared in this practice I’ve also been made aware of the pitfalls, not because Mindfulness itself is flawed, but because of the human tendency to always misunderstand and want to take short-cuts.

For me the biggest problem was and still is the constant temptation to almost unconsciously want to move in to a form of destructive detachment. I speak for myself here. I have to watch this very carefully. I’ve noticed that when I practice mindfulness without being mindful of mindfulness itself, I can slowly counsel myself in to passivity. Then the practice becomes a kind of medication to distract my attention from underlying problems and issues that have to be dealt with.

So, for me, if my practice does not lead to healthy and constructive engagement with the underlying issues that cause the stress or difficulty in the first place, it’s meaningless. I’m convinced that when Mindfulness individualizes and anaesthetizes, it is no longer Mindfulness.

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Discernment, inspiration, Life, Spirituality, wisdom and insight and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Mindfulness and Passivity

  1. Your words ring true, Don. How easy it is to slip into that state without realizing we’ve even gone there. Wonderful post with exquisite timing, yet again.

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  2. QueasyPeasy says:

    As ‘new’ psychotherapies emerge they contain elements of each other and many in recent have embraced mindfulness as one of their strategies to help people manage their thought lives. In some practices the concept has been over-simplified to the point where the essence of mindfulness is barely evident. However, for some client groups even this basic level of the practice is helpful in assisting the slowing down of racing thoughts (head miles) and unhelpful thoughts. It is particularly helpful for those with post traumatic stress disorder to practice ‘being in the moment’ (termed mindfulness albeit incorrectly). People with personality disorders are taught a form of mindfulness through the Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which has benefits to help them bring order to their lives. Thought provoking post, Don. Thank you 🙂

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    • Don says:

      Thank you Linda for sharing. So very interesting and wonderfully enlightening. DBT sounds fascinating. I’d like to read a little more about it. I have someone I know who has suffered from anxiety difficulties and the whole practice of Mindfulness has done wonders for her.

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  3. Val Boyko says:

    I agree Don. There can be a temptation to see meditation as the answer to one’s challenges.
    It may be used as a tool to escape from life, rather than embracing all of life and what comes up.
    When we sit, its so important to let go of outcomes (such as peace of mind and bliss!) and simply allow the inner wisdom and Presence become known to us.
    The peace of mind will come, but we can’t make it so.
    Val x

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    • Don says:

      So very true Val. Well said. Letting go of “outcomes” and allowing that inner wisdom to speak, I think, is at the heart of it all. It’s a timely reminder. Thanks Val.

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  4. Fascinating point, Don. I was wondering if mindfulness has any connection with Buddhism. I know a lot of Buddhists who suffer from the condition you described so perfectly. Detachment is not human – at least that is what I think.

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    • Don says:

      Monika you are touching on something which I believe to be extremely important. The West is being deeply influenced by Eastern philosophy and I believe it’s a good thing. Mindfulness certainly does have a connection with Buddhism.

      We need the Eastern viewpoint in order to bring greater balance to our world view which has been so dominated by scientific empiricism and action and all that goes with that.The sadness for me are those who simply give up on our Western world-view and ways of seeing, thinking that the East has all the truth. I like what Thich Nhat Hanh says about the East and the West. He speaks of both being a gift to one another in our journey towards understanding and wholeness. As they both come together, a universality and wholeness is affirmed, but both are also purged of that which is superfluous. Thanks for your comment Monika – appreciate it.

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  5. nrhatch says:

    I don’t know that I’ve experienced what you’re describing here, Don. If I have, I didn’t notice. 😎

    I don’t know that I’ve ever used mindfulness as a form of escapism.

    I use mindfulness throughout the day to ground me to reality, not as an escape from the “what is.” I pay attention as I turn on the coffee, reach for the sugar, and stir in the almond milk. I pay attention when I pay the bills and shop for groceries and talk to people in parking lots.

    I use mindfulness techniques to keep me awake and aware.

    That said, sometimes the “problems” and “issues” that cause us stress and distress do NOT need to be dealt with because they are not really our problems. Sometimes we can mindfully choose to “let IT go” and let those more directly impacted deal with IT (whatever IT is).

    In our global community, all manner of problems and issues land in my In Box each day ~ from droughts in California to gas guzzling in Canada. Sometimes it is OK to shrug my shoulders and say, “not my problem.”

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    • Don says:

      As you say Nancy Mindfulness is used in all the ways you’ve described. The context I’m using it in in the post is the kind of mindfulness one practices where changed responses are being called for to given stressful situations. It’s the mindfulness that opens up that space where that inner voice of wisdom addresses the issue above all the other voices. Certainly in that context to “let it go” might be a fitting response. I believe that even “letting go” is a form of response. I just don’t always find hearing that voice easy, and when I do hear it it often calls for a response or engagement that goes against what I would like to do. Thanks for a great comment Nancy. 🙂

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      • nrhatch says:

        Gotcha. When I debated leaving the practice of law, my inner voice was screaming, “Just Leap . . . and the Net will Appear.”

        It took me awhile to listen because I’d always been raised to have a safety net in place before leaping off tall buildings in a single bound.

        But . . . my inner voice was right about the right action to take.

        “Damn the torpedoes . . . full steam ahead!”

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  6. Ah Don, I’m a master escapist. Have gotten better but…

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts with mindfulness. ❤
    Diana xo

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  7. josna says:

    Love this line, Don: “When Mindfulness individualizes and anaesthetizes, it is no longer Mindfulness.”
    I tend to resist the East/West binary of the “spiritual, passive East” and the “material, active West. ” (I also don’t like dividing the world into huge categories “East” and “West,” which to me are meaningless–there is so much diversity and difference within each category–and serve mostly to divide.) There are long histories and traditions of action and materialism in Asia and plenty of unworldly, monastic traditions in Europe and North America. I strongly agree with you, though, that practicing detachment can become a cop-out. Detachment in action–as the Sufis have put in, being in the world, but not of it–is the greater challenge, the Greater Vehicle, as I think the Buddhists call it. As I understand it, the Buddha could have left the world altogether after he reached enlightenment, but he returned to the world to teach others and relieve pain and suffering out of compassion.

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    • Don says:

      Josna, in your saying that you resist the East/West binary…would you say that your own unique journey, something of what you have shared in your posts has also contributed to this resistance? Is it something that has grown over the years or have you always had a strong sense of this resistance. I ask this because we are in a position in South Africa where various groups do have a lot in common, but there are very real distinctions which are sometimes the source of a lot of difficulty. We’ve gone through a phase where where we have tried to look past the distinctions and called ourselves the “rainbow” nation” and this has not been helpful, in fact it has been rather detrimental. We are now beginning a phase where we are honouring our differences, and actually talking about them. This has become far more constructive in leading to a deeper sense of our unity and oneness as a nation, but we are still a long way of.

      I’m so glad you mentioned the Sufi tradition. I have found much inspiration there. It’s strange how almost every religion in the world has a mystical tradition that professes a universality that is quite remarkable. Thanks Josna for such a meaningful comment. 🙂

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  8. Hi Don,
    Teresa and I just got back from 10 days in Puerto Vallarta on the Banderas Bay in Jalisco, Mexico. Please don’t ask me about how we fared in the tropical heat with no a/c. 🙂
    I have not embraced the Mindfulness experiences, but I did spend a lot of contemplative time observing life for the Mexicans in a resort city in the off season. What I saw was people enjoying their own beaches while the Gringoes were safely in the north.
    We vacationed with the host people, and I think they were as pleased to take their pictures as we were. And just as gracious to share.
    An amazing place of abject poverty in the midst of wealth and opulence. I will always be Mindful of this time.
    Thanks so much,
    Sheila

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    • Don says:

      Sheila, I’m so sorry I missed your comment. I don’t know how that happened. Sounds like you must have had a wonderful time. Glad you got home safely. Certain experiences you just can’t forget, hey?

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  9. Yet another thoughtful and deeply wise post Don. This is such an important point, and worth consideration and contemplation for us all. With gratitude for this and all you share.

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  10. Pingback: Being myself | theINFP

  11. Don says:

    Thank you for the pingback Robert. Appreciate it.

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