Hi Mehboob,

Thanks for your article. What you've highlighted here are some of the common misperceptions of mindfulness and meditation. Living mindfully can seem like a strange way of approaching life. On the surface, it can seem backwards. But, when you dig a bit deeper you discover that many of the things you thought were concerns are not concerns at all.

#1 Thinking about the future: no good mindfulness teacher would tell you to stop thinking about the future. We all need to think about the future. We have life to live, things to do. When it comes to anticipating what's to come, yes, there is some enjoyment there and the point of meditation is not to somehow purge the enjoyment from your experience. However, what Buddhism teaches (and what science has shown) is that life is more enjoyable when we're not lost in thought. If we're constantly thinking about the future, we're foregoing the beauty of life in the present, which is something you talk about later in your article.

#2 Detaching from emotions: how Buddhism suggests we deal with our emotions is not easy to understand. Most of us simply are caught up in them, completely identified with them. We assume that our feelings of anger, shame, happiness, and joy are US. On closer examination, which is made easier with mindfulness, we see that our emotions arise out of conditions. Someone cuts us off in traffic, we get angry. We make a mistake during a presentation, we feel shame. We have a good time with our friends, we feel happy. Mindfulness helps us to see these connections from a bit of a distance. "Detaching" is not the best word to use here; "non-attachment" is better. Once we see how emotions arise from conditions, we see how they are less "us" than we assumed them to be. As a result, we become less "attached" to them--we stop clinging to positive emotions and we stop pushing away negative emotions. We experience emotions more fully by allowing them to arise, endure, and pass away in their own time.

#3 Not caring about the world: another big misconception about mindfulness is that it causes people to stop caring about the world. This couldn't be further from the truth. Buddhism and science suggest that mindfulness increases compassion, which is the desire to act to help. The more compassion we have the more likely we are to help. Meditation trains us to be more compassionate and therefore trains us to want to do something about the suffering we see in the world. Where this can get confusing is that mindfulness helps us to accept the current state of our lives and the world--but to accept it only in the sense that there is nothing we can do to change the events that have led up to this moment. We can't change the past or the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but we can impact what comes next, and meditation/mindfulness will help us see how important our next step is.

#4 Numbness: I think there is a genuine opportunity to experience numbness when first beginning to meditate. The activity itself is so foreign and some of our experiences are so strange that we don't know how to interpret it all. Mindfulness picks away at the framework or foundation upon which we have based our lives and this can be shocking, scary, and intimidating. Plus, at the beginning, we don't really understand the point of meditation or the messages being conveyed by teachers. We try to build the concepts we hear onto the old foundation even while mindfulness is tearing it down. Sadly, I'm not sure there is any other way. All I would suggest is to have faith and trust in the process. For most people, there will be a point at which things begin to make more sense and be less scary. Then, you will begin to feel your emotions with more intensity, not less.

I hope you continue to pursue your curiosity in this matter, Mehboob.


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Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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