Is mindfulness harmful?

So lately, I’ve had the urge to up my spiritual practice game. Kind of like some people with their physical fitness, I tend to be on again, off again with my spiritual fitness. But I know when I start feeling off-centre, it’s time to turn inward.

And mindfulness meditation is usually a vehicle I use to facilitate that inward journey.

Why am I telling you all of this, well in our latest Havana Cafe Sessions podcast, Sarah and I talked about an article by Dawn Foster, entitled, Is Mindfulness Making Us I’ll?

I’ve never actually thought about any potential negative side effects of mindfulness. And none of the mindfulness practitioners or mindfulness coaches I know have ever mentioned any side effects. But this was Dawn Foster’s reaction to mindfulness meditation:

Then comes the meditation. We’re told to close our eyes and think about our bodies in relation to the chair, the floor, the room: how each limb touches the arms, the back, the legs of the seat, while breathing slowly. But there’s one small catch: I can’t breathe. No matter how fast, slow, deep or shallow my breaths are, it feels as though my lungs are sealed. My instincts tell me to run, but I can’t move my arms or legs. I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing. Then we’re told to open our eyes and the feeling dissipates. I look around. No one else appears to have felt they were facing imminent death. What just happened?

For days afterwards, I feel on edge. I have a permanent tension headache and I jump at the slightest unexpected noise. The fact that something seemingly benign, positive and hugely popular had such a profound effect has taken me by surprise.

I never considered that people might have this kind of reaction. Dawn Foster goes on to cite several more examples of people who’ve had a negative experiences with mindfulness.

I thought this was interesting. And when I thought deeper about it, I realised that yes, once you start journeying inward, regardless of the technique to get there, you’re venturing into subconscious territory and all that’s hidden in there, the good and the bad. The subconscious mind can be a very unpredictable place. As Jung said, the journey inward is the greatest adventure of all.

Real adventure is a dangerous affair. Most times it helps to have a proper guide there to assist you. One of the things Dawn Foster questions is whether or not the mindfulness experts and coaches are fully trained to handle all aspects of the mindfulness journey? I suspect not, though I’m sure most will tell you they are. And for me, that’s the crux of it. If you’re going to be adventuring into subconscious spaces, make sure you’re prepared to deal with any issues that might arise and make sure that your “guide” is too.

Here’s a link to the original article.

And listen to my conversation with Sarah:


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