Mindfulness: safe or savage?

It seems to be human nature that, as soon as ‘the next best thing’ is ‘discovered’ and gaining popularity, a counter-movement begins to let us know about the perceived downsides and dangers. Of course, we need to take a rounded view of all things. But we also need to experiment with what works best for us, as individuals, rather than as an average or a statistic. I’m talking particularly here about the huge amount of column inches dedicated to mindfulness practice. Is it good? Is it bad? How do we know? There are a lot of courses, classes, workshops and teachers out there. So, what should we reasonably expect?

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  1. You could, perhaps, check out the course you intend to sign up for. Do a bit of background research on whether, in general, it seems right for you. Ask others who have been on it (if possible) how they found it.
  2. Talk to the teachers in advance about any concerns you may have (including how they can support you if you are finding some of your responses to the process a little different from those anticipated). And ask a few questions: What are their meditation/mindfulness qualifications? How long have they been teaching? Do they still have a regular practice of their own? Do they still have teachers? (In my opinion, a good teacher practices what they teach/preach and is still a student themselves, or has a mentor/supervisor for their teaching work.) A good teacher won’t mind answering these things (and, indeed, many will want to let you know in advance their own journey with the process.) You could also, if you are unsure or have a history of, e.g., depression/anxiety, talk to your doctor. Once signed up, don’t forget that you can simply stop if that’s the best option for you. And, if you DO have a history of depression/anxiety or any other issues that concern you (and perhaps are being medicated for them) then make your teacher aware. A good teacher will check these things in advance, but, just in case …
  3. Be aware that there are no quick fixes. Sure, a course may run for a certain number of weeks. But that isn’t the end; it’s really just the beginning for how you can, day by day, incorporate what you have learned. This is a lifelong work in progress (if you want it to be). Beyond a fixed-length course, you may want to consider joining a regular meditation/mindfulness group – which many, including myself, find helpful in keeping going with their own practice. Alternatively, the whole thing may just not be for you. And that’s fine too.
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