If you’ve been reading the news lately you might have noticed some people reporting problems with mindfulness meditation.
As a meditation teacher, I must say that there are indeed some problems with meditation. However, the vast majority of these issues occur because people do not meditate properly and do not understand the true nature of meditation.
So let’s examine things.
Let us look at the alleged problems with mindfulness, whether they are legitimate issues, and what to do about them.
The Alleged Problems With Mindfulness And Meditation
Over the past few years, numerous scientific institutes have reported the following problems with meditation.
Mindfulness Makes You Selfish, Apparently
According to research from University At Buffalo, mindfulness can cause antisocial behavior. Michael Poulin, PhD, an associate professor of psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, states that “Mindfulness can make you selfish”. This, Poulin states, is particularly true for people who are independent instead of interdependent.
Is this factual? Yes and no.
Mindfulness enhances awareness of our thoughts and feelings and also reduces reactivity to thoughts and feelings. What this means is that your motivations will not be affected by your feelings. So if you want to behave selfishly, you will be less bothered by feelings of guilt. But that’s only if you want to behave selfishly to begin with.
More on this below, where I will explain how to solve all these alleged problems with meditation.
Supposedly, mindfulness makes you ignore important negative feelings
Some researchers believe that mindfulness prevents us from learning important lessons that negative emotions teach.
Andrew Hafenbrack, an assistant professor in the Foster School who studies mindfulness, says, “Negative emotions may not be pleasant, but they can help us navigate social situations and maintain relationships.”
The idea is that reducing reactivity to these negative emotions could be problematic. For instance, perhaps you want to do something but feel guilty about it. Your guilt is preventing you from taking an action that could harm a relationship. Mindfulness, however, could prevent your guilt from interfering, leading you to perform that action and harm your relationship. [For more on this read: Meditation And Guilt]
Is this true? Again, I’ll answer that and present the solution below.
Allegedly, meditation leads to dissociation and depersonalisation
People with dissociation and depersonalisation feel like they are disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, and body. And meditation, supposedly, can cause this condition.
This is a common issue and you can learn about it in my article Meditation And Dissociation.
Research published on the National Library of Medicine shows a link between meditation and dissociation. This is especially true for certain type of meditation, such as Vipassana and any transcendental meditation, which involve disconnecting from ourselves.
This is definitely true. However, handled correctly, it is actually a good thing, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
Solving these problems with mindfulness and meditation
So, we have seen that mindfulness can lead to certain problems. However, this only ever happens if you meditate incorrectly.
The research above (and virtually all research I’ve read on meditation) only looks at one technique. The research above only looked at mindfulness.
And yes, if you only do mindfulness meditation, you may experience problems.
Sadly, many people do indeed only do mindfulness meditation. They don’t do other techniques. And this single-minded focus on mindfulness is the real issue.
Nowhere in the classical texts does it say that you should only do mindfulness meditation. Rather, texts like the Pali Canon describe meditation as a system.
We must use a combination of different meditation techniques, with an understanding of the purpose of each.
Let’s revisit the problems with meditation that we looked at above. And I will show you how all of these problems can be solved simply by practising a variety of meditation techniques instead of just one.
Firstly, we looked at how mindfulness can make you selfish. But this won’t be the case if you approach meditation as a system, as you should. Because the meditation system also includes techniques like Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion), which promote compassionate prosocial behavior.
We also looked at how mindfulness can prevent you from learning from your negative emotions. But only if you do mindfulness exclusively. A proper meditation system includes techniques like Insight Meditation that specifically train your mind to learn from difficult emotions.
Finally, we looked at how meditation leads to dissociation. But again this is only true of certain methods like Vipassana. Your meditation system should also include methods like Bhakti (oneness with a deity or with an ideal self) which will connect you to an ideal version of yourself, as well as Kinhin (Zen Walking) and tai chi or yin yoga, which will connect you to your body.
Yes, there are some risks of meditation, but a well devised meditation system will mitigate that.
What really matters
If you only do mindfulness meditation, you could experience problems. Sadly, this is what many meditators do. Why? Because most people learn from apps, which only care that you keep your monthly subscription, and therapists, who have jumped on the meditation bandwagon and only know how to do mindfulness. And most people don’t truly understand the meditation system.
If you want to succeed with meditation, you must look at it as a system in which there are many different techniques, each technique having its own unique purpose.
In my online meditation lessons I teach the entire meditation system. I discuss with my students where they are now and what types of meditation are right for them as individuals. This is how meditation should be taught. You should never ever work with an app or teacher who only knows a handful of techniques. For true success, you need to work with a teacher who understands the entire meditation system.
Learn the different meditation techniques and their purposes, and divise a meditation system that works for you.
Want to learn more? Book an online meditation lesson with me today.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison