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.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: 'One vast, decrepit wall of stone
Stands in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And fleshy lip, and sneer of harsh command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Donald Trump, the King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
(Original is 'Ozymandias' by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Edited by Eva Gnostiquette.)