The problem with “Mindfulness”

Ive wanted to write about mindfulness for a while now. I want to talk about how it is being portrayed in the West as a therapeutic intervention for everything from chronic stress to depression, anxiety, severe pain, addiction and many more.

I’ve always bridled at the movement a little although my rational mind has always argued that it is good that meditation techniques are coming to the West.

But being in a deeply Buddhist culture in Myanmar has helped me gain some clarity. What the mindfulness movement has done is taken mindfulness out of the cultural context in which it belongs and presented it as a therapy. It has presented it devoid of both the philosophical and psychological teachings of which it forms a central component. Mindfulness ultimately is a tool to help us understand the nature of life. Although it has healing properties, it doesn’t mean much by itself. It is trite to just say “be in the present”. For a start, from the philosophical perspective of Buddhism we should be free of attachment to both the past, the future but also the present.

Then we can be happy and relaxed.

The Buddhist psychology and philosophy is extremely rich and subtle. It is also far older than Western psychology which is still in its infancy. But Western psychology is aiming to bring mindfulness under its auspices, developing theories around it and studying it. It is ligitimate to ask questions about cultural appropriation.

Just as pharmaceutical companies isolate and take out the active chemical ingredient in traditional medicines, so psychologists and other professionals do something similar with mindfulness.

The end result is that mindfulness is over simplified at times to an almost comical degree.

We should be more humble on the West and respect the full context in which mindfulness belongs. This doesn’t mean one must become a Buddhist to practice mindfullness ( far from it !) but the rich teachings and overall context need to be engaged with and respected.

Anyway here’s a pretty lake !


Kandwagyi lake in Yongon. Off to the monastery later. Thanks for reading.! It’s been lovely to see so many people reading. Please feel free to share and give me feedback and perspective in the comments section. Best wishes and see you in the new year.

6 thoughts on “The problem with “Mindfulness”

  1. An interesting post. I’ve been considering meditation and mindfulness, and I think it’s due to the cultural shift in the west. I hadn’t thought of this effect, so thank you. Do you actively meditate much?


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