Recently my partner and I were startled by a tweet, popularly reposted by several of our friends, that suggested that there needed to be an article along the lines of 18 Ways to Punch the Next Person Who Suggests I Try Mindfulness. While I was aware that there was some critique of businesses that were using mindfulness training to get more productivity out of their workers, I sort of put that in the same category as businesses putting in heaters, air purification systems, or indoor plumbing – yes, it did make their workers more productive, but that didn’t mean that the systems themselves were bad. It just meant that businesses would try anything to maximize profits (and in other news, water is wet).
However, in lieu of being arrested for battery, I thought I would do the public service of giving you three reasons that mindfulness will not work for you.
- The Vizzini Fallacy aka “You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. The fact is, there are a lot of things out there that claim the label “mindfulness” but are really missing the point. At the risk of falling into another fallacy (“No true Scotsman…) there’s a very simple test to figure out if That Thing the person is calling mindfulness actually qualifies: is it bringing your attention to the here and now? If it’s not, then it’s not mindfulness. It may be something else that’s good – nothing wrong with a little escapism or distraction or entertainment. But mindfulness is about learning to be in the present moment in an aware state of mind. That’s it.
- The Violet Beauregarde Fallacy aka “But I want it now! Mindfulness is physical therapy for your state of mind. In other words, it sucks. It is painful, and especially at the beginning of your practice you will fall flat on your metaphorical face and be very frustrated because the Stupid Exercise doesn’t seem to be helping at all. Some people quit, then, and prove themselves right. Others stick with it because they believe that others who have said it’s worthwhile might actually know something – and those are the people who suddenly realize, months or weeks later, that the incremental progress has added up to amazing things. But if you’re in it for the quick fix? Sorry, mindfulness is not that. If you’re waiting to feel peaceful or enlightened or something, just forget about it. Try hot yoga or something – that will give you results you can smell almost immediately
- The This Is Fine Fallacy aka “It’s not me, it’s you!” The reason mindfulness sucks is because it slowly takes away our ability to be distracted by all the things we use to hide our lives from ourselves. As I’ve said before: this sucks. It is painful. It often results in changes being made, in new neural pathways and behaviors and sometimes even a new hairstyle or a tattoo. If you don’t like change – if you want to stay comfortable in the state of mind that gives you plenty of things to complain about – then you should definitely not try mindfulness. Very few teachers of mindfulness suggest that you punch people in the face, for example, so if that’s your thing, stay away!
There was a part of me that wanted to ask the critics “So, what, we should try to cultivate the opposite, and be mindless?” The funny thing is, though, that whatever you choose to call it, mindfulness has a way of sneaking up on you. A recent article in Tiny Buddha talked about how “Mindfulness didn’t work for me…” and then concluded with this description of what did work for him:
…we come into the present moment and foster a sense of inner calm. It’s not about changing our thoughts. It’s about learning not to attach to them and diminishing their power over us. Once you’ve made friends with exactly where you are, even with your negativity, a regular practice…will make you less likely to be taken by those storms of negativity in the first place.
He was talking about “meditation”. And that’s great! I’m a big fan of meditation, too. It’s a big part of how I try to become more mindful. If you are engaged in trying to be a better person in any way you have to start by paying attention to the person you are at the moment – and you can call that whatever you want. I’m pretty sure mindfulness doesn’t mind.