The reaction was predictable: plenty of praise, much scorn for the fact that the model on the cover was a thin, young white woman, and some criticism for presenting as new and revolutionary something that psychologists have already known for decades and Buddhists for millennia.
More recently, articles have been cropping up questioning the effectiveness of mindfulness; one that stands out in particular is from The Grauniad The Guardian, titled, 'Is mindfulness making us ill?' The article is a fascinating read: it includes reports of people feeling dizzy and panicky and even having trauma flashbacks while doing mindfulness meditation. The woman who had said flashbacks became an alcoholic who spent time in and out of the hospital, and her doctors have explicitly told her not to use any relaxation techniques. Another woman began to obsessively overanalyse and criticise everything about her life after having a meditation-induced breakdown that destroyed her relationship.
Another interesting point of the article is that many employers, rather than improving work conditions, raising pay, and reducing incredible workloads, have instead given their workers meditation and relaxation classes on the cheap. Will Davies, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, notes that it's a trap: if your boss has given you relaxation classes, then you can't complain about still having a lot of stress; after all, the blame is on you for not applying the technique properly. Kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous or Scientology. It's not that our cult doesn't work, it's that you haven't been buying into it enough.
Apparently, according to the article, the NHS has been replacing cognitive-behavioural therapy with mindfulness-based therapies as a cost-cutting measure. Here in the States, it seems to be the same way: the 'therapeutic' school I attend preaches mindfulness as part of its dogma (and partially to divert blame from the shoddy teaching and the borderline-abusive behavioural 'improvement' methods or the severe lack of funds from the parent organisation), one of the hospitals I was in due to having flashbacks and severe depression from Children and Family Services mishandling me replaced all therapy with daily mindfulness seminars, and various mental health organisations I've been involved with for my PTSD simply suggest mindfulness without offering much in the way of therapy itself.
I must pause to note that what the people discussed in the Guardian article may not actually be suffering from negative symptoms; as the Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dąbrowski noted in his book of the same name, Psychoneurosis Is Not an Illness. Rather, psychoneuroses are steps on the staircase of what he called 'positive disintegration', which entails disintegration of the personality and reintegration for the person to embody their own ideal personality.
Now, mindfulness itself is not a problem; I myself and several friends have used mindfulness techniques both in and out of deliberate meditation to our benefit. The trouble is that what the Western psych industry pushes as 'mindfulness' has nothing to do with genuine mindfulness.
When teaching the concept to his disciples, Gautama Buddha emphasised right mindfulness. Simply put, this means that one is to accept the negative and focus on the positive. Modern 'mindfulness techniques', which San Francisco State management professor Ron Purser and Zen teacher David Loy have derisively termed 'McMindfulness', actually promote an intense state of what Gurdjieff calls identification. Specifically, identification with everything around oneself. Rather than promoting a state of self-remembering, modern pseudo-mindfulness promotes one to lose oneself in the surrounding environment. This is actually quite dangerous to the psyche: both Gurdjieff and Rudolf Steiner have said that the object of esoteric work should be to develop self-consciousness; the ancient Greek maxim 'know thyself' applies in every instant.
To practise true mindfulness, one must not simply avoid identification with one's own thoughts and feelings, but also to avoid identification with one's surroundings. This is the first step to self-remembering, and then toward real objective consciousness.
And in this realm, I beheld two angels. One was shining with a light brighter and purer than the Sun, and who had rainbows emanating from his body in every direction, in directions that are impossible for humans to perceive. And the other had a form darker than the night in the depths of the sea, and who had the countenance of a thousand tyrants and slaughterers.
And the dark angel spoke first, with a voice like that of burnt silk, saying: 'Come with me, my child, and I shall show you power greater than you can imagine.' And with these words, I knew that he was none other than the Dragon, the Angel of Death and the Prince of the Powers of the Air.
And he showed me a vision, a vision that I had seen a thousand times before, a vision of strong, fierce men trampling down the sick and the poor, of blank-faced, dead-eyed men marching over the corpses of dozens of innocent women and children. And he showed me the fire that these men of power wielded, and it was a fire that would annihilate a third of the Earth. And he said unto me: 'Bow down before me, and I shall grant you the power over this fire. Bow down before me, and you can join this legion of men of strength. For it is hatred that purifies the spirit, and blind fury that ennobles the soul. For the weak must be extinguished and the strong must prevail, the enemy must be conquered and our good must reign.'
But the angel of light rebuked him, in a voice of fire and thunder, saying: 'Cursed are you, you son of death and darkness, for there is not one word that exits your mouth that is of the Truth!' And he showed me another vision, a vision of all the Universe, of infinite galaxies and stars, of infinite planets harbouring infinite populations, of life strange to behold, of life and world familiar, of the same radiant light penetrating every atom of existence. And he said unto me: 'There is no opposite, there is no division. For all are of One, and all have been made as One, and there shall be no disunity within. For that One is the Love and the Light of Being, and there is no other outside. Follow me, and you shall live to see a world where strife has perished and harmony envelops all there is, for all shall know that there is no death and no need for fear of death, as all is in the whole of the One Infinite Creator.' And with these words, I knew that he was the Angel of Life and the Messenger of the Universal Redeemer, outside of Whom naught exists.
And the Angel of Life reached out his hand and placed it on the head of the Angel of Death, and the Angel of Death cried out in terror and blasphemy, and began to melt into a pool of glowing light as radiant as the Angel of Life. And the Angel of Life told me: 'This is the fear of death that resides within you; this is the delusion of separateness and the rebellious child inside all that lives. It has no thought nor will of its own, but rather a blind desire to kill, steal, and destroy. But behold, it has been redeemed of itself, and it ceases to have power over you. For now you see clearly that there is none other than the One Infinite Creator, within Whom there is no division or death.'
And I was bathed in a light greater than any I had seen before, and felt the presence of every soul within my own soul, of every particle of the Universe within my own body. And the Angel departed from my sight, but he remained within me, and I within him, and both of us in All, and All within us.
By 'regular', I don't mean 'normal', but 'consistent'. What is really necessary is radical forgiveness.
Psychological studies have shown that forgiving someone of the wrongs they have committed against you improves your mental health. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and a slew of other religions say that forgiveness is necessary for salvation or liberation. Clearly, it's a perennial phenomenon.
But allow me to introduce some metaphysics into this: the average person is a fundamentally neutral (but intellectual) psyche in the psychic plane, possessing (in descending order) an astral (emotional) body, an ethereal (life/orgone) body, and a physical body. Of course, we're 'trapped' in our physical bodies, but that's not the point.
The psyche can either become dark and eventually disintegrate into coarse matter, or it can become light and develop higher bodies: mental (higher emotional), causal (higher intellectual), and spirit (total unity).
Ruminating on wrongdoings serves the effect of blackening the psyche and dragging it back down toward matter. As Gurdjieff would say, it makes you 'food for the Moon'. Unforgiveness is spiritual poison. It disintegrates the self and leads to worse and worse karma.
So what does forgiveness do? Forgiveness is medicine for the soul. It purges karmic debt and loosens the grip of what some call the Matrix.
When someone does evil to you, they leave a karmic 'mark' on you alongside their own karma. It ties you to them. Unforgiveness strengthens this 'mark' until it becomes a monster; true forgiveness can quash the seed before it takes root and slay the dragon even after it has consumed you.
To be candid, I was raped as a child; I told whomever it was at the school that I felt more like a girl than a boy, and he proceeded to rape me multiple times. I have PTSD to this day from it. But, although I don't even remember his name, I forgive him. The mere act of forgiving my rapist has eased the horror quite a bit.
Forgiveness breaks chains of spiritual tyranny and relieves karmic debt. Perhaps, perhaps, if we could all forgive more often and more easily, we'd have a lot more awake people in this world.
There's probably no more comprehensive system for truly Becoming than that enumerated by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The basic idea can be found in virtually all cultures, but I feel the need to summarise it with real, concrete modern examples. It covers all three stages of conscious awakening as enumerated by my friend Tom Montalk.
All right, here we go!
I've already written about ethics in a recent article, but I'll recap:
There are objective ethical principles. However, each principle can only be applied relative to the situation. If you're stealing because you want something, that's wrong. If you steal to feed a starving family, that's imperative.
In general, don't lie, don't steal, don't cheat, and especially practise nonviolence.
Be clean, for one. Nobody likes a stinky person.
More importantly, don't be a kvetch. Be happy with your existing material possessions. I know I'm guilty of violating this, but most people are. Don't feel bad about it, just fix it. As Father Mouse said in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: 'It's not enough to be sorry; when you've done something wrong, you have to correct the thing you did.'
Next up is using your energy. Don't waste yourself in frivolities; do something worthwhile! Art, study, exercise, etc. are all good. Not being a couch potato. Also, it's necessary to pay close attention to oneself at nearly all times. When you can study yourself, you can know yourself. And of course it is necessary to celebrate all the highest ideals—God, the universe, brotherhood, humanity, etc.. Without being in touch with the wonders of being, there really is no being.
This may catch some people off guard, but it's true. Good posture enables the energies of life to flow through the body, and as such connect the material body to the spiritual aspects of oneself. Hatha yoga is one method, but qigong, Reichian exercise, and various other methods (even Pilates!) have been developed through the ages to help with this part.
- Breath work
Respiration is one of the hallmarks of life. However, most people don't breathe correctly. All I can say about it is that Éiriú Eolas (condensed here) is the best, most scientific method I've come across
- Outer observance
Now, what I mean here is not investing yourself in either the things happening around you. Psychologists have known this at least since the cognitive-behavioural boom in the '70s. Simply feel what's happening around you without identifying it with yourself.
- Inner observance
Also tying in to cognitive-behavioural theory, this is more about your internal state of mind. Psychologists have noted that it is possible to not identify with your emotions. Emotions are good, don't get me wrong; but when you invest yourself in every little feeling, you lose yourself. What you want to do is, again, to feel your emotions without thinking that they're 'you'.
This corresponds to Tom's 'stage 2'. At this point, you have to lose yourself in meditation. Whether you're meditating on God, Jesus, Allah, Brahman, or even a potted plant, the aim is to really connect with your heart. This doesn't even have to be sitting or lying down; what's important is that you're acting from the heart. This 'grooves' your consciousness to what Fourth Way teachers would call the 'higher emotional centre'. And without the higher emotional centre, the heart, there's no true development. Make sure that you have an uplink to your higher emotional centre, and you're set.
This is the Golden Child of spiritual development. Not only are you in a positive flow, you combine this with lucid awareness. This is total self-actualisation; complete integration. It corresponds to Tom's third stage of awakening. At this point, you're in positive lucidity. Don't make the mistake that this is a state where you just sit on your ass 24/7 in an incomprehensible bliss. Now, the incomprehensible bliss is there, since your higher emotional centre is active, but your higher intellectual centre is also active at this point. You have a real 'I'.
So you actually have tons of energy, and you put that energy to good work. 'Enlightened' people don't just sit around in caves all day, neglecting the outside world; no, they're out there trying to ensure that everyone can develop to that point. An enlightened person devotes verself to the physical and spiritual well-being of others, realising that as we are all One, truly ensuring their own well-being is dependent on the well-being of others.
Of course, this is a 'beginner's course', but it's all true, as far as I can see. It's universal and practical knowledge that should be the day-to-day lifestyle of every self-respecting spirit.
As some parting words: 'Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.' (Luke 17:21)
Historically, religion has focused more on orthodoxy than orthopraxy. However, this attitude is part of why people are leaving traditional religions. Because religion insists that praxis (action) is reliant on doxis, the individual is left out of the discussion and forced to either surrender to a static idea or leave and find their own way. And yet, religions wonder what is driving people (especially the younger generations) away.
By elevating doxis over praxis, traditional religion offers little room for individual thought, reason, and intuition. The tyranny of doxis ends individual questioning and seeking, and thus stops the path to true spirituality at a dead end.
The solution is actually very simple: make praxis king and let doxis be a matter of the individual's thought.
Rudolf Steiner, the Christian mystic and founder of Anthroposophy (which provided me with these lovely fonts), realised this over a century ago. With his book The Philosophy of Freedom, he introduced a theory called ethical individualism, brilliantly explained here. However, it can be easily explained as such: ethical principles, although objective, are still relative to each situation.
This idea prioritises praxis over doxis. By emphasising the need for individual seeking, intuition, and reasoning, it shows that following the impulses of spirit is more important than submitting blindly to dogma.
Unless mainstream religions can allow adherents to develop individual thought, they'll see more and more people identify as 'spiritual but not religious'.