Three Downsides of the Mindfulness Revolution

by | Meditation

The benefits of mindfulness are legion. However, I do believe there are downsides of the mindfulness revolution, because wherever you find light, you find the near enemies.  

1. Scientism

As potent as mindfulness is, it is not a panacea. Just like one can stray in the practice of mindfulness itself, there are plenty of places where the mindfulness revolution can stray. For example, while it is obviously beneficial to have scientific studies supporting the validity of mindfulness (some 500 studies a year are now being conducted), science can easily stray into scientism. Scientism “is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most “authoritative” worldview or the most valuable part of human learning – to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

Scientism colonizes and then dominates other valid forms of knowledge acquisition, and runs rampant in the West. “Strong scientism” goes so far as to say that if science can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist. It’s a “near enemy” of science, an ignoble aspect of this otherwise noble disciple. So while science can help mindfulness gain a foothold in the West, we should not allow it to dominate our relationship to mindfulness. Science doesn’t have the final word.

2. Meditative Bypassing

Another shadow of the mindfulness revolution that I see is “meditative bypassing,” which is a subset of “spiritual bypassing”.1  Meditative bypassing is when you unwittingly use meditation as an escape, to bypass worldly responsibilities. It’s also connected to single action bias, which is when you think one action, one thing alone, can handle everything. Because mindfulness has so many benefits, it’s easy to think it can solve all your problems. It can help you get in touch with problems, but by itself it may not solve them. Mindfulness needs to be integrated into a broader spectrum of understanding, and situated accordingly in the armamentarium of skillful means. This is why I’m a fan of integral studies, which honors and incorporates all disciplines and fields of knowledge for a more comprehensive understanding of mind and reality.

3. “McMindfulness”

Another shadow side of mindfulness is how faddish it has become, and how easily it slips into McMindfulness. There is no fast food, no quick fix, when working with the mind and the power of habitual pattern. Distraction, or mindlessness, is a formidable bad habit with a great deal of established momentum. It’s taken a long time – and a lot of unconscious practice — to get so mindless. It’s therefore going to take time to transform that bad habit into a good one. You can’t stop the Titanic when it’s been cruising on full throttle for so long.

There is so much more to say in this rich topic. These are what I see as the three shadows of the mindfulness revolution. Bottom line: mindfulness is a really good thing. But to keep it good we need to see where it can go bad.

  1. An excellent book on spiritual bypassing is “Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters” by Robert Augustus Masters

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