Is mindfulness the answer to everything?

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days, particularly in the therapy world. Defined as the art of bringing non-judgemental attention to the present moment, it's practically guaranteed to reduce anxiety, emotional pain and obsessive thinking or rumination to some extent. It works to calm us down, ground us and eliminate a lot of the needless mental conflict that we get in the habit of inventing for ourselves.

But is this really the point?

Mindfulness is originally a Buddhist practice, a discipline of watching thoughts, feelings and perceptions come and go. Through awareness of how our experiences form then come apart again, like waves rising and falling in the ocean, sooner or later we realise that there is nothing solid in our experience that we might identify with, or cling to, at all. This is an unsettling realisation, if not a terrifying one. It's meant to be. Within the framework of Buddhism, however, it makes sense. The ultimate aim is not feeling or functioning better, but realisation of the truth.

Secular mindfulness, then, only goes so far. It remains within our comfort zone. It does not unsettle us too much, or, indeed, lead to spiritual awakening. Although there is always the 'danger' that both these things might happen, they aren't included in the deal.

If we are present, doing what we do, rather than wandering off in our heads, or emotional storylines, we're highly likely to become more relaxed, experience more well-being and more easily find solutions to any problems we might face. Yet this shouldn't be confused with mindfulness as a spiritual practice, and it's also crucial to remember that, by itself, a mindful attitude is unlikely to heal major trauma, solve engrained relationship difficulties, or magically change the conditions in our lives that cause distress.

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