The extent to which mindfulness and meditation are intertwined with Buddhism is disturbing for me. It’s not that already committed to another religion and feel defensive. I don’t hate or judge religion, or Buddhism especially, but I would rather not go there. When mindfulness teachers go on about Buddhism, how it is more of a philosophy, how it’s important in understanding mindfulness – I feel like a car salesman is selling me on a bunch off car accessories I determinedly do not need. Can I just get the car? Here, I just want the mindfulness, not the philosophical paraphernalia. Is it possible?
Yes. I went and studied what these people have to say. First of all, there are other religions that involve meditation, even Christian ones. The philosophies are completely different. This means that the philosophy is optional. Second, the ideas of Buddhism that are supposed to help you to understand mindfulness are echoed elsewhere, for example, in the writings of Stoic philosophers or more recently in the writings of Viktor Frankl. This means that the philosophy isn’t exclusive to Buddhism.
I have stripped down the relevant beliefs here:
- There’s nothing certain in life. Certainty is an illusion. We will never achieve certainty. The reason why most people want to be wealthy is because they feel they won’t have to worry about x, y, z. In truth, wealthy people indeed do not have to worry about x, y and z – they now worry about a, b and c. Furthermore, things are always changing.
- Thoughts and emotions happen to us the same way as the weather. Thoughts and emotions are like noises, smells and sensations. The mind is, among other things, a sensory organ. It perceives thoughts and emotions – we don’t have control over them, but we can control what we do about them. We control the beliefs that we have – for sure. This will have an impact on thoughts and emotions, but indirectly and over time. You teach yourself not to cringe at the smell of vomit, and you can teach yourself not to cry at the end of a sad film. However, the thoughts and emotions still come in from the outside in. Any kind of thinking is thinking.
- Feeling happy all the time isn’t the goal. You should just observe how you feel without judging it. It doesn’t mean you can’t act on what you’ve observed, but you certainly shouldn’t act before you’ve acknowledged everything that’s going on. Assuming that you can – and should – always feel happy causes a lot of the pain we feel.
- Escaping how you are feeling is pointless. It will just take longer to get past the challenges associated with how you are feeling. This is where the way they deal with resistance comes in. You can act to change your reality – they don’t call that resistance. However, not understanding reality is resistance. Most violence and bad things come from this resistance.
- Mindfulness isn’t there to make you a better person or make you happy. It’s just a way to understand what’s going on.
- You don’t have to feel a certain way to act a certain way. Since thoughts and emotions aren’t always in your control, it doesn’t make sense to wait for your feelings to be right to act. For example, you can go to work without being motivated.
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