Selfish Mindfulness

Selfish Mindfulness

An interesting article in The Washington Post on how Mindfulness is being “diluted and distorted by the prevailing narcissism of our time.”

Mindfulness would be good for you. If it weren’t so selfish.

Similar things have happened to yoga and meditation. A watering down and a shift to making it about me. This is natural in an ego-centered culture. But it is useful to know so we’re not lead astray in our practice.

My perspective is that mindfulness arises naturally with culturing yoga. If there is sufficient presence, we can favour it here and there. If there is not yet sufficient presence, mindfulness can just be mind being aware of itself. This would encourage the issues discussed in the article and can reinforce our ego-sense. Correct practice makes a huge difference. Being with the awake and effortless meditation are the best ways I know to culture presence.

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  1. Jim

    Yes, who is minding what? In lieu of at least being awake to the Self permanently, all of these mindfulness practices are garbage, pure and simple. As mentioned a great way to become further ego-bound. In addition as you say, mindfulness is nothing more than the normal functioning of the mind once it is clear. No practice necessary, or advised to gain ‘mindfulness’ – a silly notion.

    Funny how the practice evolved out of a loss of Self, focused now on the most superficial aspects of life. A complete waste of time. Thanks for bringing this up, David.

  2. Amit

    Actually I am not so sure what the writer was trying to say. Applying mindfulness to combat training etc may seem like an obvious misuse, but the criticism that mindfulness is “selfish” makes much less sense. To the extent that mindfulness involves developing awareness of the mind and sensations, how can it not be selfish?

    Spiritual seeking is necessarily “selfish” since the seeker is trying to awaken before he can be of any utility to humanity at large. Wider culture however tends to see spirituality as the cultivation of virtue and compassion and is put-off by the seeming self-centeredness of spiritual practices.


    1. Hi Amit

      Well – the key issue is what is being mindful of what. As I note above, if there is insufficient presence developed, mindfulness can just be mind noticing itself and sensations. While there can be some value in that, such as noticing how we are with food or relationships, this isn’t a spiritual practice any more than doing yoga as an exercise routine is spiritual. Done incorrectly, mindfulness can actually make mind identification stronger. Yet the practitioner may be convinced of it’s “spirituality.”

      Because mind is usually ego-identified, it will typically co-opt whatever arises in an experience. Spiritual seeking is a good example. It is typically a me that wants to get something from the practice. In that sense, the motivations can be “selfish.”

      The key then is using practices that go beyond the mind (samadhi). Even if the apparent motivation to practice is driven by the ego, if we’re going beyond it, the bindings are softened and we discover our true nature.

      In my experience, virtue and compassion are an effect of spiritual development. While we can favour them, they have to be present in some value, otherwise we’re just making an artificial mood with the mind.

      It’s a subtle but very important point. We’ve been living with an identified mind for a long time. It dominates our perspective about everything.

  3. Blanche

    In Tibetan Buddhism, one starts by learning classical teachings and then practicing tonglen, the art of compassion, and only then meditation. It is said that if one meditates without having proper knowledge and an open heart, getting in the meditation planes with the ego intact may result in an escapist attitude, in a mental blockage, and in an exacerbation of the ego, which would effectively prevent further spiritual progress. Another way to look at how important is the point you make.

    1. Hi Blanche
      Yes, although this is partly related to the nature of the specific practice.

      With a Vedic style of meditation, you go beyond the mind and ego more regularly, giving the experience of consciousness itself and aiding letting go of the ego.

      In time, the layers between consciousness and the surface become clear but by that time, the ego is less engaged.

      However, even that practice can be used as an escape, manipulated, or otherwise distorted.

      On any path, it’s important to understand the nature of the journey and the pitfalls that may arise. While you can certainly just wing it, you’re more likely to end up in a back alley somewhere. It’s better to gain from those who have traveled the path before you.

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