The Downside to Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all the rage now. You see it in universities, corporate America, therapy offices, as well as New Age establishments. We all hear about the benefits that come from chilling out. And why not? It’s really great stuff, right?

What you don’t hear about is the missing warning label. Yes, like all things, there can be a downside to mindfulness – you get to see your life as it is. Seriously, that’s it.

For most of us, most of the time, that’s a good thing. We all have goodness inside. Sometimes, it’s tolerable. For a few, it’s unbearable. What you haven’t dealt with is still inside of you. When you relax the pressure on a door that you’ve been holding shut, everything on the other side comes tumbling out. Maybe you feel how disconnected you really are. Maybe you face some traumatic memories from childhood. Maybe you feel bored or that your life is fairly meaningless. Mindfulness doesn’t cause that. Mindfulness exposes that. What is powerful is always potentially unstabilizing.

Learning to be mindful is not a panacea. It doesn’t give you a magic bullet to never feel pain again. It just allows you to live with more clarity so that you have a greater range of choices and experiences. If you discover overwhelming emotions or see things about yourself that you could use some help sorting out, it’s time to ask for professional help. There are things that we can do alone and things we can’t. Wisdom is about being able to tell the difference.

One of the keys to mindfulness is to be nonjudgmental. I know it’s hard to say that about something that is causing you pain, but rather than seeing mindfulness as something hurtful, you could view it as a sign that you’ve become both soft and strong enough to stop hiding from what was always there. The pain wasn’t gone. The effect was just beneath your awareness. Now you can deal with it.

If you encounter tough emotions or memories during mindfulness, you don’t have to stop doing it. Perhaps it’s just time to convert it from a self-help practice to allowing a trained professional to help. You’d do the same if you got great information from a book or video series and reached the limits of your understanding or skill, wouldn’t you?

One other word of warning – moderation is the key to everything. When I talk about “mindfulness,” I don’t necessarily mean meditation. I mean being aware. If you are using meditation to experience mindfulness, keep it to a sensible time limit. Too much of a good thing make it no longer a good thing. Water is fabulous. We all need it to live, but too much can throw your electrolytes off and kill you. Everybody needs oxygen, but too much can make your brain go haywire. The same is true with meditation. All things in moderation.



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