There are several valid criticisms of mindfulness:
- It’s a very broad term and it’s used in many different ways. That means that, in itself, it doesn’t mean much.
- It’s only one element of any serious self-exploration. It needs to be combined with a range of other forms of exploration. For instance different forms of inquiry, heart-centered practices, body inclusive practices, attention to how we live our life, psychological healing, relationship work including our relationship to ourselves, others, society, our planet, and life, and a study of other people’s experiences.
- It can open up a pandora’s box of unprocessed materials and disorienting transpersonal experiences, and not all mindfulness teachers are experienced enough to guide their students through whatever terrain is opened up.
One argument against mindfulness that I sometimes encounter, and most recently this morning, is a straw man argument and not valid. It’s when people say: “We can’t just live in the present. We need to plan ahead and learn from the past. That’s our strength as human beings.”
That’s all true. And mindfulness allows us to use that ability with more skill and avoid some of its inherent pitfalls.
Mindfulness helps us change our relationship to thoughts. It helps us see that our thoughts – including thoughts about the future, past, and present – happen here and now. They, in themselves, are not the future, past, or present. And mindfulness combined with a simple form of inquiry helps us see that thoughts are made up of imaginations (words, images) and sensations. They are not what they appear to represent.
And that, in turn, creates room for us to relate to these thoughts more intentionally. It helps us recognize thoughts as thoughts. It helps us be less caught up in them. It helps us avoid taking them as anything more than thoughts. It helps us hold them more lightly and recognize then for what they are….. questions about the world.
We not only are able to “live in the present” while using thoughts as tools. We do so all of the time. The only difference is whether we are caught up in our thoughts and take them as real and infallible assumptions about the world, or recognize them as thoughts and questions about the world.
In either case, thoughts help us learn from the past, explore possibilities about the future, and form working assumptions about the present. Without mindfulness, it’s easy for us to take thoughts to be more than they are. And with, we can use them more skillfully as very helpful and essential tools.
- living in the moment
- (a) set aside thoughts about past / future – momentarily (sometimes useful, like yesterday when I was sick in bed and needed to rest)
- (b) notice that all thoughts – about past, future, present – happen here now
- some seem to think it means not thinking about past/future – which is not possible and very misguided, some even criticize mindfulness for it (straw man argument, lazy)
People who voice the “we can just live in the present” criticism of mindfulness use a straw man argument. And I assume they do so because they haven’t familiarized themselves with even the basics of mindfulness.