The Guardian recently published an article called “Mindfulness therapy comes at a high price for some” about how for some people, their training in mindfulness caused them to suffer real difficulties in terms of opening them up to panic attacks, psychosis or depression.
I think this is an important warning because mindfulness is a very powerful technique that needs to given with care and understanding about these possible consequences. The self survives in life, often through very difficult formative circumstances by creating defensive structures. These structures form a complex whole that has integrity of some sort, the wisdom of the self has worked hard to make the best solution it could, and this is always a complex interlocking structure where for one thing to change, everything has to change.
If the structure is fairly robust and self-regulating then mindfulness can be a wonderful opening into an expansion of consciousness, opening up our deep connection to life on a profound energetic level. But the power of mindfulness is that it can also undo the balance of a self structure that is only held together with a lot on tension and internal conflicts. We nearly all hold some un-reconciled insecurity from our past conditioning, and when this is acute we find life difficult and full of conflicts. For such people it is often that there are very young and deep wounds that they have not yet managed to become aware of. For such people loosening the defensive structures has to be done very gently and carefully.
I include mindfulness as part of my approach to therapy and personal development, very much within this context of respecting persons defenses. There is this need to build the person’s self-support before very gently encouraging them to loosen their defensive structures, which are always in the form of their habitual patterns of feeling, thinking and physical tensions.
So those teaching mindfulness need to be very sensitive to the degree of insecurity within those taking part. The only way for this to be possible is for trainers to be deeply aware of their own insecurity.
There is another, less serious danger in mindfulness training, which is around this idea of “spiritual bypassing”. This is where we use the power of presence that comes from mindfulness to bolster our ego and then use the resulting narcissistic inflation to avoid the hard work of facing and healing our insecurity, of taking responsibility for the reality of ourselves. So the context, aim and motivation behind the wish to engage in mindfulness needs to held in mind. It is not a cure-all and as with any powerful medicine, it can be abused as well as used.