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Mindfulness & the dark passenger

The BBC article – How mindfulness can make you a darker person, by David Robson, looks at new scientific research that shows a more complicated picture of the effects of mindfulness on our behavior. The article is a good read that offers a peek into the “dark” side of mindfulness.

This raises the question; Does mindfulness make you a darker person? In this article, we look at whether mindfulness makes you a darker person when using the right knowledge and tools for a particular situation.

Does mindfulness make you a darker person?

The article states “mindfulness may be especially harmful when we have wronged other people”. It is my view, that when you learn to be mindful or adopt a mindful way of living, you learn and practice various attributes such as compassion and kindness. When you become aware and practice compassion and kindness toward yourself and others, you become aware of your thoughts and feelings, in the moment and how they cause to you take actions. This awareness helps you make decisions that stop you from causing harm or doing wrong toward others. Mindfulness supports prevention and is not a tool to justify your action or soothe yourself or your ego after having wronged someone. As with all aspects of life, if you use the wrong tool for the wrong job the result may not be what was expected. This is true with mindfulness practice too.

Robson’s article goes on to state that “by quelling our feelings of guilt, it seems, the common meditation technique discourages us from making amends for our mistakes”. When you understand the concept of mindfulness, you understand it is not about quelling our feelings, be it guilt or any other feeling, it is about acknowledging the presence of feelings, becoming aware of those feelings, and then learning to accept and let go. There is a process to be followed if learned correctly from a qualified mindfulness teacher and applied; you learn that mindfulness does not advocate “quelling” or “suppressing” your thoughts and feelings. Rather, it encourages you to get to know and understand your thoughts and feelings, and respond to them appropriately.

Image to illustrate article; Does mindfulness make you a darker person?

Right tool for the Right Job

As stated by Andrew Hafenbrack, assistant Professor of management and organization at the University of Washington, “Cultivating mindfulness can distract people from their own transgressions and interpersonal obligations, occasionally relaxing one’s moral compass”. He goes on to say “Such effects should not discourage us from meditating, but may change when and how we choose to do it”. This is where the importance of a trained mindfulness teacher is evident; someone who can guide you and direct you in your practice. It is like when you want to improve your physical health and decide to join a gym, a qualified personal trainer at the gym will guide you in how to use the machines in the gym to move toward the required outcome. Similarly, a mindfulness teacher is able to direct and guide you as to which mindfulness practice to follow for better mental resilience and interpersonal obligations.  

Another great example that demonstrates the importance of learning mindfulness techniques from a trained mindfulness teacher is Hafenbrack’s new study. In this study, a sample population was asked to remember and write down a situation that made them feel guilty. One group was asked to practice mindfulness of breath, which helps calm uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, while the other was asked to let their mind wander. Participants who had performed the mindfulness meditation reported less remorse compared to the other group. It is important to remember there are many mindfulness techniques and focusing on your breathing is only one of them.

As a mindfulness teacher I strongly believe it is important to use the right technique for effective, long-lasting results; once again “the right tool for the right job”. For example, in Hafenbrack’s study, if participants were asked to practice loving and kindness techniques of mindfulness, there is a possibility the outcome would have been different.  Again, referring back to the familiar gym example, if you wish to strengthen your biceps you work with the bicep curl machine and not a leg press.  Similarly, if you wish to work on feelings related to guilt you would work with loving and kindness meditation, with the aim of asking for forgiveness from the people who you have wronged and forgiving the people who have wronged you, rather than focusing on your breath which aims to calm uncomfortable feeling. This once again brings into focus the importance of learning the mindfulness techniques to address the right kind of thoughts and feelings with the help of a qualified mindfulness teacher.

Robson’s article goes on to confirm the above by noting that Hafenbrack found that using the  loving-kindness meditation increased people’s intentions to make amends for their wrongs. “It can help people feel less bad and focus on the present moment, without having the risk of reducing the desire to repair relationships,” he says.

Image: Man lifting weights for bicep curl

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Meghana Millin
Mindfulness teacher & Reiki Master

* The images credits: Pixabay by the artist Kellepicstsukiko-kiyomidzu & jl1263

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