Mindfulness and Complex Trauma: The Rewards and the Risks

Monica Cassani
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This article has arisen as a response to a general phenomena I’ve been observing for some years. Recently, after a friend shared her annoyance and anger about meditation being touted as a cure-all for depression, I started to put down my thoughts. On many occasions I’ve been critical of the marketing of meditation in popular culture but now I want to go into this issue more deeply.

Even while relying on mindfulness as the cornerstone of my own healing process, I’ve found that most popular guidance on meditation and mindfulness only offers a superficial treatment of what this is about. It can cure anxiety, depression, help you be more focused, empathic, compassionate — the list goes on. The fact that meditation can actually help support a lot of positive things in people’s lives predominates the conversation. And while it can indeed do all of that, in the process of getting there it is also a destructive force, challenging the conditioned self. It can tear us to shreds before it makes us feel better. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and in some instances it can be plain dangerous.

It’s taken years of dedicated mindfulness practice, going deep into the darkest parts of the human psyche, for me to heal from the insults that psychiatry imposed upon me. Most of the time this has been anything but pleasant, peaceful, and anxiety-free. It’s been quite the opposite as I’ve struggled to come to terms with what happened to me and so many other victims of psychiatry. This process continues as I heal and gain clarity.

In this process I’ve learned how to listen to my body and follow my own guidance. This is not a precise process nor is it without risk. I ended up in the ICU for a week a year ago, almost dying as a result of this process as I learned and sometimes made mistakes about what to do at each stage of healing. Mistakes and misinterpretations of what is happening while we heal our bodies is simply part of the process.

The good news is that I’ve learned to shut out the multiple conditioned voices of our ugly capitalistic system and come back to myself. To be clear, this continues — it’s always an ongoing process. And indeed, what media hype and those selling mindfulness don’t tell you is that mindfulness is a process that can radically transform you and it’s not always safe, nor is it easy or straightforward. We make it safer by being aware of the risks and learning to listen to our own bodies about when it is or isn’t okay for us. No one else actually knows. Learning from those we trust is a good idea but in the end only we know what is best for us. Sharing experience is far better than being told what to do. Proceeding carefully and with self-respect is important. Sometimes the process involves learning to do both those things, hence the risk involved and the potential for serious mistakes. Mindfulness and meditation are not always appropriate for everyone all the time. This can change too and is part of the bumpy road of life.

Deep, profound, honest mindfulness can alienate and isolate while on the way to well-being. It isn’t a quick fix and popular accounts generally ignore this fact. But there are a few people speaking to this. I have a page on my website called: “Meditation: not all bliss and roses…” It explains that mindfulness can lead to complete breakdown. It did, necessarily for me, really. Or more accurately it brought me through complete breakdown and helped me get well. (I was bedridden and nonverbal for some years — that of course was caused by iatrogenic psych drug brain injury and because instead of being taught to listen to myself as a young woman in crisis I was drugged, almost to death, by a system that doesn’t know how to help us through psycho/spiritual crisis.) Mindfulness and meditation did not shorten that process at all but it certainly informed it.

Mindfulness has been profoundly healing and really is the foundation of everything I have learned, but yeah… flippantly telling people to meditate without such understanding is irresponsible.

When we start to watch and pay attention, whatever we’ve neglected will arise. In some instances this can be radically destabilizing. For those of us with these severe psych drug injuries there is the fact that it can be unbearable to be in our skins. Knowing when to find distractions is as important as practicing mindfulness. I started out doing literally 30 seconds at a time because of the nightmarish condition of my nervous system. This journey has taken years.

Many of the readers of this site are dealing with complex trauma from adverse child experience, which is then further complicated by the heinous trauma incurred by the psychiatric establishment’s neurotoxic drugging of our pain and then the profound denial by society and the medical and psychopharmaceutical complexes. Denial of what we go through is part of the trauma becoming further embedded.

Also, for me, formal (sitting) meditation was/is only a wee bit of my practice. Most of my practice is 24/7 learning to be in the present while allowing the past to come up and out (not pretty, quite often). Mindfulness. Paying attention to this moment now. All the time. That’s all. It’s simple and for those with complex trauma it remains risky, and sometimes excruciatingly difficult and thus, not always a good idea.

So, here I’m presenting another view of meditation and mindfulness that contrasts sharply with the popular one… This view is much more complex and there is no sugar coating. This path can kill. Seriously. And it has almost finished me off in both positive and negative ways. AND, I’m deeply grateful that I’ve stuck it out, too… your mileage will vary. I have one caveat that is ever-present when I share healing techniques, supports and ideas: THIS MAY OR MAY NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOU. Please trust your inclinations and move forward accordingly.

Another important thing: Well-being doesn’t have much to do with being happy… yet happiness happens, on occasion, just like every other state of being and mind. It’s called being human. We are not always happy and marketing for meditation and mindfulness that promises endless happiness is delusional at best. See: “Marketing happiness.”

Meditation has guided me so that I’ve learned how to feed myself, how to move, everything… FOR ME. Again, I don’t tell people how to eat. My diet has had to change numerous times. When we are paying attention we learn that healing is a dynamic, ever-changing process. Our needs change as we heal and being mindful allows us to recognize when things have changed so that we can respond differently to the moment. So mindfulness is only the foundation of coming to awareness of our kaleidoscopic realities so that we might fluidly and vibrantly respond to what is happening now, and that, again, is always changing. Most people don’t seem to understand that paying profound attention to our lives will alter everything and it takes time, yeah. (See: “Everything Matters.”)

Meditation/mindfulness is the practice of learning to pay attention. That is all.

When one understands this then anything that is going on is worthy of being with. Another myth about meditation is that you’re supposed to be silent and peaceful while engaging with it. Real meditation stays with whatever arises. It embraces and allows everything and that includes ALL the chaos in our nervous systems. If we have psych drug brain injuries it is a herculean feat to stay with that stuff a good part of the time. As we do this we can respond more and more skillfully to the moment. The process, again, can involve a steep and long learning curve.

Having complex trauma complicates everything.

Mindfulness and meditation are most certainly included in that everything… meditation is risky because we have been forced to bury and deny so much pain. This pain, and then the violent drugging of that pain, changes the nervous system in profound ways, making meditation frankly risky and sometimes dangerous. There is an interesting book available now by David A. Treleaven: Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing.

This book by Treleaven is good to a certain point as it addresses the issue of meditation being risky but it fails to point out the systemic oppressive and often retraumatizing nature of psychiatry and the mental health professions, which is frankly a glaring omission in a book that otherwise speaks with some sophistication about the links between trauma, oppression and social justice in our society. So read it with that warning. I found it quite triggering with this omission of something so critically important for so many of us. We cannot get the help we need when the systemic problems we’re facing are not being acknowledged.

Many folks with psych histories have been denied inclusion when approaching mindfulness teachers too… sometimes in ways that are very traumatic. This too isn’t mentioned and it’s an omission that is an ugly blind spot on the part of the author and most meditation teachers and mental health professionals in general. We should not be ignored and dismissed. We need to come into the conversation and together we might all find ways to create safe and inclusive spaces for some of our most vulnerable members of society. See: “Freedom To Sit: Welcoming People with Psychiatric Labels at Buddhist Retreats” by Will Hall.

So, systems are often dangerous in that they seem incapable of acknowledging their profession’s own grave shortcomings, nor do they seem to understand or appreciate the sort of systemic oppressive force that psychiatry and the belief in the medical model is. Microaggressions against the population of people labeled by psychiatry are everywhere in society all the time. People who are labeled by psychiatry continue to be infantilized and stripped of dignity often for the rest of their adult lives. Far too many people are lost to the system with no hope of ever disengaging. For this reason many in the system never get a chance to heal their early adverse trauma because it is continued and made much worse in the name of psychiatric treatment.

* * *

For me, meditation is the integration process.

Another myth is that long formal sitting retreats are necessary to become aware. This is not true and in some cases long retreats can even be counterproductive. Some formal sitting can be helpful at some junctures for some people. Clearly it’s also very constructive for some people. Again, everyone is different.

I do what I do and I watch. I am what I am and I watch.

Pema Chödrön articulates what meditation is very clearly:

Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness… [We] work with cultivating gentleness, innate precision, and the ability to let go of small-mindedness, learning how to open to our thoughts and emotions, to all the people we meet in our world, how to open our minds and hearts. — Pema Chödrön from The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness

Paying attention and developing clarity can be a very difficult feat in a culture where we are taught to deny so much of our being. Finding ourselves again, though, is incredibly well worth the time and effort put into learning to do so. Remember, it’s not always about sitting cross-legged. Paying attention (mindfulness), can be brought into every moment of our lives and in fact in the end that’s really what it’s all about.

Meditation is the practice of learning to pay attention. That is all.

83 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for writing this and for your honesty. I practice mindfulness and do not find it an easy process at all. I am sickened by the way it’s been turned into another money making commodity. Unfortunately too many people will take the bait hook, line, and sinker and will most likely find themselves in problems. It’s just another thing in our great and frenetic search for constant happiness.

      • No, not like brushing my teeth. I’m not really good with mindfulness but it has helped me deal with some very difficult health issues that may cause my death. Having to deal with my death is made easier when I am able to sit in the Present Moment and look at the realities with an open and unclogged mind.

        • OK. I think most forms of meditation function this way, using one technique or another to get there. So I’m sure you realize that turning it into a commodity (or trying to force it on someone) totally misses the point and betrays the purpose.

          If it helps, it’s always the “present moment,” as time and space are essentially illusions of our limited senses, and what they call “death” is simply our consciousness changing focus, for whatever reason.

          • That’s what I was trying to state. I don’t believe that something like mindfulness should be turned into a commodity. Time is something created by humans, it’s a construct. I would never try to force anyone to use mindfulness. It has to be freely chosen by the person for it to be truly useful.

  2. “Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama

    Meanwhile in so many recovery centers for many conditions like ‘dual diagnosis’ they wake everyone up before they are naturally done sleeping for morning meditation. Morning meditation is the most ASS BACKWARD thing I ever heard of.

    You are still very tired but WAKE UP !!! now relax and meditate

  3. If anyone finds meditation helpful, good.

    I was forced to practice “mindfulness” for 2 hours at a time for months in day treatment. Ugh.

    Telling us to empty our brains repeatedly. Boring as all get out. My brain already wasn’t functioning well and they wanted me to shut it off still more.

    I jokingly called it mindlessness meditation. All about keeping us quiet, pacified, and subdued.

    I heard later that that was really a bad way to teach mindfulness. The woman was a caseworker, untrained in the meditation field.

    • You’re not the first person I’ve heard this from. Being forced to do “mindfulness” is ironic in the extreme. It’s not mindfulness if you’re feeling like someone else is making you do it. Any Buddhist monk would cringe at the thought. And two hours is also a VERY long time, especially for beginners! I’ve been advised that you have a person work UP to 20 minutes at a time. Only a person who has practiced for a good long while can do two hours without needing to alter their activity. Way to ruin a good practice, folks!

    • I had the same problem with mindfulness. I even had a therapist who specializes in it. It’s just too specific a type of thinking. I like the diet analogy in the article. I basically have invented my own system of meditations for recovery. I did some mindfulness…but mostly I had to go DEEP to recover from trauma. There was one time I let myself feel so sad that I relaxed everywhere and felt pain in my limbs. Like they had been clenched for years. Yesterday I was extremely stressed about the possibility of dying from cancer but I didn’t ignore those feelings. I felt them completely, acknowledged and identified them while shuffling cards. Then after 10 minutes my panic attack was done. It was deeply unpleasant to start but deeply rewarding to finish. Mindfulness feels like denial to me.

      • If your therapist thought there was a particular way to do it she was wrong and you are right. That’s exactly what I’m talking about you find out what works for you. Good job.

        Also if there is any denial involved it’s not mindfulness. Mindfulness is being with whatever is and a lot of times it’s really fucking shity stuff we have to be with.

        This is actually a perfect example of someone who’s fallen for the marketing of happiness through mindfulness which is always a scam. With true mindfulness there’s absolutely no guarantee of happiness.

      • Sounds like you found your own form of “mindfulness.” As someone said above, there is no guarantee that being present in the moment means you’ll be happy or relaxed. You appear to have contacted the present moment and remained in it despite the pain, and it had positive results.

        No one should tell anyone else “how to meditate.” It’s an offense against the concept.

        • Thank you guys.❤️ Meditation is great and has really helped me. I just don’t like when society in general turns something that is creative into something specific. Then you could potentially be doing it “wrong.” Which is not really where I want to be with things that much better to do often and freely.

  4. F*ck That: An Honest Meditation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92i5m3tV5XY

    “Mindless” I would have to say though that the worst thing about treatment can be the other clients. Sometimes is nice to have conversation above the 2nd grade level but the last go around all those people knew was low grade sex humor, street slang and constantly spitting for no reason when standing outside. They spit right where everyone walks and thought nothing of it. I finally learned trying to change the subject to something intellectual was always a backfire with these people and to quit trying. Walk away.

    Like by those tables where they smoke, I started making fun of it “bla bla bla ha ha ha bla bla bla bla ha ha ha” hours and hours of complete stupid talk with little laughter outbursts on and on it went. Then the YouTube on the main TV, they would put on nothing but those make you stupid hip hop videos of people dancing in front of fancy cars and mansions narcissistic materialism or those prison documentary videos that’s it.

    So I start talking alot about conspiracies and how the “New World Order” is intentionally trying to make the population dumb to make it easier control them and would describe everything those people were about as examples.

    Someday I am going to write a book about treatment and I will defiantly include how people think they can go online and pick the ‘right’ treatment center based on the website and the reviews but what they can’t pick out is the other people that will randomly be there with them and IMO the group you go through it with makes more difference then anything else. I would so rather have a bad menu all made in a microwave and a good group of people then a personal chef, fluffy pillows and that group from last time.

    • Ever saw that Simpsons Halloween episode where Ned Flanders is the supreme overlord and re-neducates the Simpsons?

      First they’re put in machines stretching their faces into giant grins.

      Then Ned says:
      “Okely dokely. There are three things that always cheer you up when you’re feeling down. Puppies, a glass of warm milk, and a complete frontal lobotomy!”

      Okely dokely do! 😀

  5. I appreciate that you are not promoting the myth of a universal panacea. I use mindfulness practices according to my experience of what I find beneficial. There is much in the ‘package’ that I don’t.

    Part of how I see the benefit is in authenticity, in accepting myself as I unfold without trying to be someone else. There is so much in society, especially within the beliefs of the mental Illness industry that can set us on a treadmill feeling that who we are is not okay and that we must find ways to become someone who is okay. It can be a radical departure to connect with, rather than reject who we actually are, and there is huge reassurance in finding that we are okay even at our ugliest.

    I’ve found it necessary to dispense with some of the oppressive ideas that were a part of the mindfulness package that was presented to me. I find the industry itself worrying in it’s dogma and grandiosity.

    • I think you said it well. Being who we are without concern for others’ opinions about it (except when consciously deciding to work with others’ opinions to get something done) is at the core of getting clear of most of what gets labeled “mental illness.” I have similarly used meditation as I have come to understand it to work for me. I would not expect the same approach to work for anyone else. The only measure of success is that feeling of authenticity and calmness that comes with rejecting the “lessons” someone else has forced down our throats, including “lessons” about how we should meditate.

      • As Mr. McCrea has so conclusively proven, sometimes, EVEN “when consciously deciding to work with others’ opinions to get something done”, your best efforts can prove futile when others are neither honest, nor truly self-aware.
        I hereby nominate Monica’s writing here on “mindfullness mediation” to be included in any future “best of” compilation that MiA might do.
        The power of the human brain/mind to engage in self-deception is beyond the imagination of most people. THINK about THAT…. remember, the FULL quote is:
        “IF ignorance is bliss, THEN ’tis folly to be wise”….

  6. Monica, I support nearly all of your article.

    I think the ‘mindfulness commodity’ approach might be about sabotaging a useful and genuine (drug and therapist independent) healing process.

    I used Mindfulness and Meditation in my own recovery; my recovery was successful, but it took a long time.

  7. Monica:

    It’s nice as always to see you’re still out there and active with the process. Good for you. I had wondered what you were up to, not having seen your name on MIA in a while.

    I think you described the difficulties of meditation well. I’d just like to add one thing from my own experience.

    There is a kind of resistance to letting go and just being there, as you described. For me, it comes in the form of a kind of nervousness and panic at the feeling of opening up and truly letting go and just being there. It’s alarming to feel your sense of yourself becoming exposed like that all of a sudden, and the instinct is to pull back and not do it. I think that is what you were describing.

    What I do is remain completely still for a few moments, and as this sense of panic begins in me (it’s gotten much milder with time and practice) what I do is literally nothing except to breath and let myself feel that. It moves through you, and it wakes up your awareness and your senses as the world begins to come into you. Then, all of a sudden, as you just breath and let the feelings move through you, all the resistance just vanishes, and you find yourself simply there. No resistance, no difficulty at all. Just there and perfectly comfortable being in the moment. It only takes a couple minutes of effort and then you’re home free.

    Thanks for the article. I think a lot of people try meditation and then they think it’s just not for them because they aren’t instantaneously enlightened, and the best thing for them is for people like ourselves to share the problems and what we’ve found for solutions.

    I hope you’re doing well and we hear more from you soon.

    Eric

    • That’s beautiful and resonates with my experience as well. The breath has always been my vehicle so to speak. I started with vipassana at 19 years old so breath has always been my focus point. Although I’ve played with many many different methods and focus as part of my journey, vipassana is what I always return to

      • I don’t want to take away one little bit from the excellent writing here, Monica!
        Or from all the hard work you and so many others have done.
        But I do want to add that there’s something called “walking meditation”.
        Perhaps “mindful walking meditation” describes it better.
        Especially early on, for beginners and psych trauma survivors, sometimes a sitting meditation can be too intense. The basic mental aspects of vipassana can just as easily be practiced while slowly and mindfully walking, thus allowing a better physical outlet for the nervous energy that tends to arise early in meditation.

  8. Thank you Monica for an excellent article – it’s good to hear from you.

    Another thing to consider (which we’ve heard bits of here in the comments) are people who are traumatised further by the effing “mindfulness programs.” Not myself, but I’ve witnessed it in others. And “meditation” in general – especially for those with trauma in their story – is a minefield. If it’s not my trauma, it might be the teacher (I have been messed up by meditation teachers).

    When working with folks, whether it’ well folks, traumatised folks, or folks who walk with feet in many worlds – I do encourage “a daily practice.”

    But it may not be “mindfulness” even if it is mindful. It might be balancing a rubber ball on the end of your nose, or a walk around the block. This daily thing helps to build well being. And it doesn’t have to be Eastern, and it doesn’t have to be patented, and it doesn’t have to cost any money at all.

    Examples include writing, drawing, singing, cooking (I love the arts), or walking, lifting, yoga, breathing, making tea, tai chi, or something completely unique to you. You can be mindful of whatever you are doing – and the healing will still take place. The traumas and sticky stuff will still bubble up whether you are sitting in lotus or knitting. It’s that dedicated time to one’s self which is the foundation.

  9. thanks for all the comments. I noticed after reading them and others on social media that are similar that for many folks who’ve been psychiatrized mindfulness was forced upon them. This is ludicrous. Of course the nature of force in healing is always ludicrous and it’s why psychiatry is always problematic. Force and coercion and paternalism (we know better than you do) is at the foundation of psychiatry. That makes it a toxic endeavor from the get go.

    Mindfulness is something that must be entered willingly. It cannot be forced…it’s completely antithetical to what it is as well as simply impossible. I’m really sorry that people get introduced to the idea in that way because it’s bullshit. It’s too bad mental health professionals once again display their violent tendencies when they attempt to do that.

    I never encountered mindfulness or meditation as a psychiatrized person. It was something I pursued on my own in community circles…starting in college. It never got tainted and mixed up with the violence that psychiatry was in my life. It was a very non-hierarchical endeavor and has always remained that for me. It never had anything to do with mental health per se. I was interested in it for its own sake…to become a conscious human being. Not to fix me in any way…and indeed it will never fix anyone at all.

  10. As someone who feels literally “saved” by having learned and maintained a specific meditation practice, I appreciate this article very much, Monica. I agree wholeheartedly that meditation is not simply about feeling “bliss” and sitting quietly–far from it–and that, indeed, carrying trauma influences our meditation space enormously, which we should approach with caution and awareness.

    When we shift awareness, a process of transformation begins which includes surrender and stiving for neutrality, releasing judgments, which is a quantum leap in consciousness which is literally a shift in our personal reality, inside and out. Step by step, layer by layer, it is such a process! And as we all know and discuss on here constantly, everyone’s process is entirely unique. I’m always glad to see this highlighted because it is our individual spirits we are reminding ourselves of.

    “Many folks with psych histories have been denied inclusion when approaching mindfulness teachers too… sometimes in ways that are very traumatic.”

    I actually got very lucky here and attended a healing meditaiton program where I was very welcomed by the teachers and other students, so I got terrific support as I learned the process of meditation. I was the only one I knew of when I began who enrolled in this program specifically to help me with psych drugs withdrawal, first and foremost, and then to help me to heal from the core issues which flooded to the surface as I came off all the drugs. I did not know about “iatrogenic illness” at the time, never heard of that, so I was not factoring it in. I put it all under the heading of “energy,” and learned the chakra work through grounding meditation.

    Absolutely the worst and messiest time of my life, I was in the throes of withdrawal and dark night, and even in a social services day treatment program when I began at this school. Each community invalidated the other, it was fascinating and excruciating at the same time. Although the spiritual teachers were more open to “mental health” work than the “mental health” commmunity was to the energy work. They totally judged it and found it “symptomatic.”

    I finally ditched all the mental health stuff and went with chakra and energy route, and that was the way out for me. No looking back, other than to inform my work in the world.

    From what you say in your article, I now consider myself to be extremely fortunate. This school I attended is one place where I did not experience discrimination and exclusion, directly opposed to what I felt in “the system,” whether in groups or 1:1 clincial sessions of any kind.

    And while the meditation, grounding, and energy work were major factors in my particular process of healing, what was MOST healing for me at that time in my life was the fact that I was welcome and treated with respect like all the other students. In fact, everyone knew the healing I was doing and thought it was cool, I was respected specifically for that, and neither scorned, judged, stigmatized nor discriminated against because I was dealing with such issues. It was normalized here, everyone had something they were dealing with, given how human we all are. The teachers were transparent in their personal growth and healing, too. There should be more places like this, I think.

    • that’s fantastic Alan – and I was hoping you’d show up in the comments! so nice to see you.

      I have a community like the one you are talking about now in my local ecstatic dance scene. From day one (5 years ago) I started talking about what was happening for me and what I was struggling with when we gathered. No one ever did anything but allow me to work on it on the dance floor as I saw fit…I ‘ve had periods of time when I couldn’t dance at all but sometimes I would stop by and sit on the floor against the wall and listen and watch for 15 or 20 minutes (that went on for about 3 years). Now I go and still need to make my own accommodations and do…no one ever says anything or asks questions. Everyone’s process is respected. For example I have not been able to build up stamina so I’ll sit on the floor against a wall and dance from that position. I have discovered it’s possible to get pretty wild on my butt against the wall! So I’ll do bits on my feet and bits on the floor etc.

      For those who don’t want to sit but are interested in practicing mindfulness, I do recommend mindful movement of all kinds. If you’re moving while you’re doing it, it can be done mindfully.

      • From what I understand, the present moment is all that we can know with certainty is real–in the moment we are living it–and where our true power to heal, shift, and manifest exists. When we are mindful of our process and notice our response to life in the moment, then we have the power to take pause and shift that response, if we want to experience change. Or we can simply validate and enjoy the moment, which is the joy of life. Either way, present time awareness is where the power is.

        Great stuff as always, Monica. It’s wonderful to see the edge expanding. I’m all for however we can tap into our highest creative potential.

  11. Hi Monica

    Great blog with many important insights as usual.

    I will add this point. My wife is now a yoga instructor in her second career path. I recently picked up a copy of her Yoga Journal magazine and read an article about how the U.S. military is starting to embrace some of the “benefits” of yoga in carrying out its mission.

    And any truthful historian can seriously question the overall oppressive and exploitative nature of these imperialistic “missions” that have been carried out by the U.S. military.

    Also in the past I have read articles about how some parts of the U.S. military (pilots and snipers) use meditation to enhance their ability to carry out their so-called missions.

    Many proponents of yoga and meditation promote these activities as some type of religion or liberating activity that BY THEMSELVES will lead individuals to some higher level of consciousness and/or morality.

    This approach is utter nonsense and ignores the importance of a person’s overall ideological and moral stance in the world AND the important related sum total of their experiences in the world.

    Both meditation and yoga have an important place in the world in helping people cope with a very oppressive status quo that includes the enormous harm done by psychiatry and the Medical Model.

    But, as you have pointed out Monica, they also have their limitations, and must be applied carefully taking into consideration each person’s unique experience in the world. When making use of these practices you cannot ignore individual experience, political ideology and knowledge, AND what is deep inside a person’s heart.

    Richard

    • Both meditation and yoga have an important place in the world in helping people cope with a very oppressive status quo

      Yes, but they also have benefits that go far beyond that, so I think that’s a bit simplistic and limited. They can also help people transcend their programming and see beyond their egos.

      The Pentagon has been doing this sort of thing for ages, previously with EST and transcendental meditation, I believe. Ideally these would help employees recognize the destructiveness of their jobs, but oh well. It’s absolutely a contradiction. (On the other hand as long as the Pentagon exists we all work for it in a sense.)

      • Oldhead

        You said: “Yes, but they also have benefits that go far beyond that, so I think that’s a bit simplistic and limited. They can also help people transcend their programming and see beyond their egos.”

        By themselves, yoga and meditation WILL NOT and CANNOT teach people who their “friends” and “enemies” are in the real world, and/or what are the institutions and human forms of exploitation that need to be eliminated from the world.

        To think otherwise is to drink someone else’s “Kool Aid.”

        Richard

        • “To think otherwise is to drink someone else’s ‘Kool Aid.'”

          I’m quite sure there are more options than this. Meditation can help refine our sense of clarity and discernment. It can also help to achieve a broad, non-dualisitic perspective.

          • Alex

            My point here is that it can help do positive things if there is already some positive ideological and morale underpinnings within the individual performing these activities.

            Meditation and yoga would do absolutely nothing for Donald Trump except, perhaps, help him function better as the narcissistic fascist that he is.

            Richard

          • While a meditation practice might help someone clear their mind of clutter and help to sharpen focus, expand awareness and to perceive in new ways, it doesn’t necessarily change our heart or ideology and heal our wounds. That is a matter of heart healing, which is complex and is inherently about relationship to others. Meditation is about relationship to self, which is highly personal and individual.

        • By themselves, yoga and meditation WILL NOT and CANNOT teach people who their “friends” and “enemies” are in the real world, and/or what are the institutions and human forms of exploitation that need to be eliminated from the world.

          No, nor will learning to play the piano. Who ever said the purpose of yoga is to identify friends and enemies?

          • Oldhead

            You said: “They can also help people transcend their programming and see beyond their egos.”

            Here you are implying (if not directly saying) that somehow yoga and meditation involvement, BY THEMSELVES, can transform someone’s ideology and behavior in a more humane direction.

            This is utter nonsense, and there is no proof to back up this over exaggeration of their benefits.

            Richard

          • Nor do meditation and the like have anything to do with ideology or linear thought; they are experiential.

            You must drive your wife nuts with this stuff. Anyways, one person’s implication is another’s inference.

          • “Flakes of infinity” are fine and dandy, up to a point, and that point is the point at which you have to say, to quote Bertolt Brecht, “Grub first, then ethics”. “Wha-what?! Are you saying there is a limit to the virtue received through contemplation of my navel?” Yes, I think there is a limit to how beneficial contemplation of a navel might in the long run turn out to be.

          • “‘Flakes of infinity’ are fine and dandy, up to a point….”

            Bwahahaha! Love it Frank. 😀

            If you’re already too prone to naval gazing–like a lot of “depressed” people including me–you really need to get out and DO something. Look outward; not inward.

          • “You need to be out before you come in
            After you come you go
            In the midst of yang is a smaller part of yin
            And when it happens you know!”

            — Jefferson Starship/Blows Against The Empire

  12. The USE to which something is put can shift a helpful FORM into a harmful and vice versa.
    Thus the active purpose – which may of course be different to the presumed purpose is the determiner of the focus of attention and selection or noticing.
    Mindfulness (a term I don’t personally adopt as I prefer an un-selfconscious awareness free of interjection of ‘mind’ – let alone being full of it’) is noticing or witnessing and in its being, is ours self-aware.
    The mind is like the self as a term that is used for different facets aspects and levels of something that in truth is NOT so divided but by definitions held in mind, accepted true by reacting as true and habituated and reinforced in thought and act and social interaction.
    My sense of the mind of fragmentation is as a result of separation trauma, that is intent on NOT knowing as a predicate to its own survival. The movement of segregation seems self-protective but manifests as a conflicted sense of self and life under some sense of narrative continuity in persona terms. In pursuing or opening ANY relationship, the segregative self will ‘meet’ conflicts as well as recognitions, and in the opening of an integrative recognition is the stirring and movement of a reintegrative sense of self. The conflict between these two voices or choices is not actual, but of the use of conflict to delay decision by the attempt to have both – even though they are mutually cancelling each other out.
    The idea of self-protection by the denial and projecting away of what we hate, fear and are not ready or willing to see, face, own or integrate is not wrong for the timing of that one, and coercion of self-will, peer pressure or any agencies of the masks of ‘power’, will only reinforce the basis FOR fear and the need FOR denial of a sense of being denied.
    “Sufficient be the evils of the day thereof” is not looking for trouble – or for what is ‘wrong with me’ or anyone else – as a presumption to fix it or put it to ‘order’ but is vigilant within an alignment in joy (integrative being) for the habit-obstructions or triggers of reaction that rob us of our natural being by framing us in forms of past associations that we no longer need.
    The issues that arise to us in the course of our relational being in this moment in this day are ‘coming to the surface’ of our attention – albeit initially as trouble – because they are ready to be revisited with NEW EYES.
    Where are new eyes but the releasing of our engagement in old thinking as the desire and curiosity to truly SEE?
    Many may say this is a step too far for those whose fear is overwhelming and yet the key is not in somehow being already able but in in some moment of conscious willingness that is noticed, acknowledged and honoured – regardless the interjections of mind that may follow. Willingness works in ways that willfulness is denied or blocked – because willingness allows a greater life to move as the reintegrative intent of our wholeness that we – in emotionally backed intensity of thought, feeling and sensation, have forgotten.

    No one else can substitute for your will or in fact gainsay it – for a mind that’s changed against its will, is of the same opinion still – but simply changes form within its environmental condition. Owning what is truly ours is denied us by fear of being damned by exposure of lack, invalidity and unworthiness, but all of such are what – in our Right Minds, we disown because they are not true in the light of an awareness of truth that we do not make, frame, set up, or determine. Releasing what does not truly belong is a result of calmly looking upon it – in act – or in place – from a new or fresh perspective for which we are in some part willing – even if seeming small amidst our fear.

    The true relational field is pervasive and our mapping of it can be persuasive. Feeling as we go in terms of checking in as a self-honesty of head to heart, is part of re-learning to align in our being as a whole – instead of demanding control.

    There is always the opportunity to delay in conflicts that simply frame us in an appearance of engaging while actually going AWOL. Noticing that we HAVE been ‘AWOL’ is the moment of a rising awareness, worthy of welcome and appreciation – instead of using it as fuel for self-judgement. We can only grow in capacity for choice by living such moments of choice/awareness as we have – naturally to our being.
    Without self-responsibility at the level of self-integrity that IS available, nothing but dis-integrity occurs – until the recognition of the poor choice waking the need and desire for a better choice. Such may be called ‘bottoming out’ – because the choices within dis-integrity are all ways of trying to keep it hidden and protected – because it is associated deeply with protecting you from a greater fear.
    Because every relational moment is unique, even guidelines can be misused under the idea of presuming relationship that has not been truly seen, heard, felt, honoured or shared. Our mind-blindness to life, self and each other is not hard to notice, and therefore open to being demoted as the basis from which to react.
    Listening in is a natural result of releasing the fixation of identity in thinking, in its persona, and its purpose.
    Willing to feel, is not the indulgence of emotional reactivity when ‘feeling’ is a discernment of the qualities of the movement of our being.
    Those who try to sell what they haven’t in fact accepted themself are ‘unhealed healers’ who attract those who also want the motions of seeking without the transformational challenges of finding or being found.
    They also seem to cover over a true movement and dilute it – but this is really simply a matter of our own tuning in. If we are ‘distracted’ is that ‘their doing’ or feedback to our own ‘diversionary tactic’ or pattern?

  13. This was a really excellent comment thread, until *SOMEBODY* just had to go and ruin it by mentioning
    *T*R*U*M*P*. Maybe MiA should have a blanket “no Trump-calling” policy? Why is it, that the people most opposed to the Trumpeter, are also the ones who most frequently invoke his name for what I consider to be stupid reasons? If ever there was a de facto “off topic”, it would be our current POTUS!

    • Commenting as moderator: It is a tough one when we’re talking about public figures. It’s generally accepted that being a public figure, especially a politician, leaves one open to attacks regarding one’s policies and actions. However, the comment threads ought to be focused on the goal of revising/eliminating psychiatry, and political discussions can pose a serious distraction.

      I appreciate you bringing this up and will give some serious thought to when a “Trump” or other political figure comment is actually contributing to the conversation or detracting from it.

      • However, the comment threads ought to be focused on the goal of revising/eliminating psychiatry, and political discussions can pose a serious distraction.

        That’s a contradiction. ALL discussions of psychiatry are political, as psychiatry is a political tool which enforces the interests of one class over another. Any discussion that is not politically focused is a distraction from a coherent analysis of psychiatry, which is an analysis of power.

        If by “politics” you mean electoral politics, that’s a different animal.

    • To all

      I am that person, and I used “Trump” in the form of an “analogy” as to what is, and is NOT, possible to change using such activities like yoga and meditation. In order to make this point more obvious, I used the most extreme person in contemporary life, so people would have NO doubt regarding my meaning. This a commonly used writing technique.

      Given what is currently going on in this country and the world, AND just how serious and dangerous these conditions are, it is a moral imperative to find any, and all, opportunities to make these kind of analogies.

      HOWEVER, these kind of political insertions in relatively unrelated topics should not be “forced,” or somehow mechanically applied, otherwise they will not succeed with their overall intention.

      And regarding anyone who would “protest” my above use of this analogy, it is unclear if this is a criticism of my writing methodology OR of my political outlook? The way the criticism was made seems more like the latter, and that does tell me something about the author.

      I understand that a discussion of this particular question cannot be resolved here at this time. But I hope that people do not adopt an “all political analogies” are off based and can never be used in thread discussions.

      We do NOT want to end up just watching the “Cabaret” while the world falls apart around us.

      Richard

      • One strategy for change is to allow things (the old, outdated, dysfunctional systems) to fall apart and then seeing what emerges. That’s the natural cycle of rebirth. Could the planet be going through a rebirth at present?

        Hard to know what actions to take at any given time with such an event, but I believe being mindful of our own personal reality brings inspiration along the way. And I believe acting on inspiration is way more effective than acting out of fear and panic. There are also times where it is most effective to allow and see what happens next. We cannot control everything, that is impossible.

          • OK let me amend that — yes, the falling apart is definitely in progress (lots of cracks in the infrastructure anyway) but there are vultures waiting in the wings to take advantage of the confusion. We must beware the flapping tail of the dying dinosaur. When Empire falls it just may fall on our heads unless we learn how to guide its descent.

            (Enough analogies for tonight? No offense to vultures or dinosaurs btw.)

          • Hey Oldhead – the vultures are important.

            The people who want power and control – as said by comedian Lee Camp – are the ones with the plans.

            The rest of us muddle along as best we can while the power hungry are making plans for what they want next…

            The prophecy of Eagle and Condor comes to mind. At first I was offended that the scavengers would reign – but that will be what it comes to. To the vultures go the spoils.

          • Sorry I’m not that cynical yet. But maybe I could have come up with a better metaphor; I have nothing against birds.

            People have the power! (It’s more than a Patti Smith song.)

          • Back to it is impossible to control everything–if a dying dinosaur’s tail were to be thrashing around from either rage or lack of control or simply one last good thrash while going down, I’d get out of the way asap.

        • ‘Could the planet be going through a rebirth at present? ‘

          A dangerous idea.
          What sort of rebirth would involve mass intinctions of many diverse forms of life, (including potentially, humankind), catastrophic environmental destruction, out of control climate change, acidification of, and rising sea levels, and unprecedented geopolitical unrest?

          Rebirth of what exactly?

          • Not everyone subscribes to the notion of rebirth. I do not believe it is dangerous, but more so a natural cycle of expanding consciousness.

            What some cultures call “death” others call “rebirth” because what we generally refer to as “death” has various interpretations. Concsiousness, for example, never dies, according to these beliefs. It simply shifts into new awareness, a new point of focus. That would create a new reality, like an upgrade. It’s one way of looking at things.

  14. In the MI System they kept encouraging us to numb our pain–with drugs and crap like “mindlessness” meditation. That’s like encouraging an abused wife to be perpetually drunk or high to cope with her creeper husband instead of seeking out a woman’s shelter.

    Thank God my parents have provided a place to crash! I didn’t need more “meds” or mind emptying but to get away from that abusive system. Emotional abuse from the segregation, gas-lighting, and constant put downs no one else saw as insults. Physical abuse from the constant fear of being locked up and rendered truly disabled from the cocktails of drugs.

    Many here talk about changing the system. But even as individuals, numbing ourselves into a coma instead of doing something to solve the problem is a bad idea. The system is made up of individuals.

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.

    Keep wisdom alive! Psychiatry is the death of her.

  15. I appreciate Monica’s blog very much because it is all encompassing in the pros and cautions of increasing our self-awareness through mindful practices simply to pay attention to ourselves, as she states above. Brings up all sorts of stuff when we first start these practices, and it is a process of which to be aware, like with any learning curve from change. We do face our own programming here. That is our opportunity to ascend it consciously, should we so *choose* to do so.

    There are many and varied ways in which to deal with these newly unearthed feelings, depending on a person’s process, beliefs, experience, etc–a variety of factors. Support when learning this is valuable, and there are people trained and experienced in helping people learn to practice conscious mindfulness–from their own experience of learning, it is a paying forward kind of thing–when people so desire to choose something new and different for thesmelves. It can be a very healing endeavor for some people, on many levels. And yes, there are challenges and pitfalls, like with anything new, and this is simply an option for focus, motivated by a desire to change something in their lives.

    It is certainly not intended to be the only tool for living, the way breathing is not the only thing requred to stay alive. One needs to eat, too, and to self-care in many ways including nourishing one’s heart and spirit, creative expression, etc. There are many practices required to have the life we desire, just like there are many practices which affect our daily consciousness. There are so many generationally evolved practices and perspectives from which to choose, including creating one’s own, as there are infinite ways to practice mindfulness/consciousness/awareness. The idea is that these practices can be powerful tools for self-support in so many ways, if applied with conscious intention.

    Responding to the idea of “forced meditation,” I believe it goes without saying, especically aorund here, that nothing forced works in any respect, other than to make matters worse. In addition, I do not believe it is possible to force mindfulness, meditation, nor even one’s own beliefs, on another. That cannot be because, in the truest sense, no one can control what is in the head and heart of another. It is either a choice or n/a.

  16. Hi Monica,

    I think you need to know that mindfulness meditation is NOT merely about ‘paying attention,’ although paying attention is an important element of it. Mindfulness meditation is about understanding our subjective experience as well as about developing experiential self-knowledge and wisdom.

    Mindfulness uses a different ‘epistemology’ (‘a way of knowing’) than what biomedicine uses to understand phenomena. Basically, mindfulness is about understanding how our minds work – i.e., the moment-by-moment manifestation of our mind-stream (note that we only experience one thought moment at a time). Through mindfulness we can understand how thoughts can enter our minds through sensory triggers (the five senses or as a stimulus independent thought). We could also get to know how we develop various attachments (through conditioning processes) and how these shape how our feelings manifest, etc. Mindfulness is also about significantly reducing rumination – this is very important considering that rumination is a huge risk factor for mental problems.

    Mindfulness is not dangerous at all and ANYONE can benefit from it, just like how everyone can benefit from physical activities. However, if someone finds that they cannot meditate right away, they can do other practices like mindful walking meditation, yoga, tai chi and even simple physical activities that are carried out mindfully, before starting formal meditation practices. Mindfulness is also known to increase eudemonic wellbeing (you can call it ‘spiritual happiness’). The practice of Mindfulness is also known to bring about favourable changes in the nervous system (I can provide lots of research evidence if you want), just like how physical activities brings about changes in muscle cells.

    Also, I suggest that you read the following article to get a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of mindfulness meditation:
    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology.

    Additionally, I personally find ‘loving-kindness’ meditation to be tremendously beneficial [you can check out this meditation on the internet – it is about directing thoughts of compassion towards yourself and then extending to all people and even to enemies]. Loving-kindness meditation can precede mindfulness meditation.

    • That’s nice that your experience of mindfulness is that it is never dangerous or risky. It’s not my experience nor many of the people I work with. This is exactly the point of the article — we are all different and we meet this process differently because of that. If our bodies are heinously injured by drugs, for example, the healing process is sometimes also heinously bumpy and that’s quite risky at times. the fact is that is the nature of life when you get right down to it and none of us get out of here alive. I’ve embraced it and love my life but the reality of that has not changed.

      I love some of your other comments I do intend to perhaps write a book on this subject and this article could only barely scratch the surface of what I am coming to understand via my own process of paying attention which does in fact lead to all the things you’ve very elegantly expressed.

      And yes loving kindness is a beautiful practice I love it too and have practiced it for many years off and on. Your suggestion that it be a starter meditation is excellent as well.

      • Thank you for your comment Monica. In my comment, what I tried to convey was that mindfulness is not dangerous or risky IF it is properly understood in terms of what exactly it is, what it is doing and how it can benefit different people in different ways.

        Also it should be noted that lots of research has demonstrated that neurogenesis (the generation of new neurons in the brain) can happen after traumatic brain injuries and also that mindfulness meditation promotes neurogenesis. So, I don’t see any reason to believe that a brain that is ‘heinously injured by drugs’ cannot overcome any damages that may have happened due to drugs.

        Through mindfulness practices, one can even overcome worrisome thoughts like “for me life is heinously bumpy and risky” without letting such thoughts overpower their lives.

        All the best for your potential book!