Just when you thought it was safe to close your eyes, there has been recent warnings from psychiatrists on the adverse effects of mindfulness meditation. As well as evidence of underqualified teachers, there have been rare cases of depersonalisation, where people feel an out-of-body experience.
There has also been questions raised over the vulnerability of some of those who seek meditation as a form of treatment, regarding the increase in awareness and the emotions this can conjure.
Meditation has fast become synonymous with the improvement of mental wellbeing. With its incredibly generous praises sang from a range of experts, it’s no wonder we expect amazing results quickly and easily.
But these concerns highlight just how quickly and intensely a Buddhist tradition has become an unquestioned convenience in the UK. Lunchbreak meditation classes with quickly qualified teachers, short mindfulness courses – we’ve successfully westernised Buddhism to fit into our lifestyles.
And with more and more of us suffering with depression, anxiety and stress, we certainly have an appetite for anything that promises to help. These problems are far from enough to bring the practice of Western meditation into question – but they do serve as a good opportunity to explore it.
Our busy, loud lives aren’t particularly conducive to regular meditation. It isn’t an easy thing to master, and the friction this causes can end up stressing us out more. We’ve marketed an ancient Indian tradition as an antidote to stress, but traditional Buddhist meditation has two objectives: to become more compassionate, and gain insight into the true nature of reality. But meditating to gain compassion seems to have got lost in translation.
We’ve separated meditation and mindfulness from the tenets of Buddhism, and we could be starving ourselves of the best bits. The underlying beliefs of Buddhism could help us with stress and anxiety – without the risk of underqualified teachers.
Mental Health Awareness: Facts and figures
Mental Health Awareness: Facts and figures
1/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
Almost one in five people feel anxious all or a lot of the time.
2/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
22 per cent of women feel anxious a lot or all of the time, compared to 15 per cent of men.
Roman Levin/Flickr Creative Commons
3/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
45 per cent of people who feel anxious in everyday life cite financial issues as their biggest cause of worry.
4/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
And 26 per cent of people who feel anxious say fearing for the welfare of their children and loved ones leaves them burdened with worry.
And 26 per cent of people say fearing for the welfare of their children and loved ones leaves them burdened with anxiety.
5/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
27 per cent of people who suffer from anxiety say work issues, such as long hours, are the source of the problem.
6/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
30 per cent of people deal with anxiety by talking to a friend or relative, or by going for a walk.
7/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
But 16 per cent use alcohol to cope, while 10 per cent turn to cigarettes in the face of anxiety. Unemployed people are more likely to resort to these harmful strategies: 27 per cent use alcohol and 23 per cent use cigarettes.
8/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
Only seven per cent of people who say they suffer from anxiety seek help from their GP.
9/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
People are thought to be more anxious than they were five years ago.
Alessandra/Flickr Creative Commons
10/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
The stresses of modern life are thought to have created "The Age of Anxiety".
They can help identify and quash the habitual patterns of thinking that keep us unsatisfied, by gaining realistic expectations of others, but also by not expecting material gain to make us any happier, and accepting that everything in life is transient.
The principles of Buddhism can't be applied to all aspects of our lives, but they can be molded around our problem areas.
I become interested in meditation about three years ago, during a bad patch of anxiety. Although, I found learning about the Buddhism behind it to be even more helpful.
Since then, it has helped me to stop indulging in prolonged periods of rumination over things I can’t control. It’s made me aware that I’m responsible for my own suffering, and lack thereof.
Working in fashion and having a penchant for pretty things, Buddhism allows me to derive pleasure from aesthetics designed for mass, meaningless consumption, while remembering what’s really important.
Buddhism is closer to a science than a religion. It’s a modern way of thinking, and perfectly suited to tackle the problems of Western culture. So next time you’re staring at an apple, being mindful of its every molecule, and wondering how this will bring happiness to your life, pick up a book on Buddhism instead. Pick and choose what works for you and apply it to your thinking.
Meditation and mindfulness are great, but learning the thinking behind them could help in the long-term, without giving you a stiff back.