Unchecked Journalism Can Lead to Mindful Misperceptions
I was recently forwarded an article from the LA Times that had the best intentions, but sloppy journalism can give people the wrong idea. The title was called Mindfulness Therapy is No Fad, Experts Say. I like the title and believe it to be true, but the author goes on to make some errors that may give people the wrong perception or idea of mindfulness therapy.
One of the errors in the article that I’m hoping to correct in this blog is a short write up of a 26 year old marketer in NYC who suffered with issues with anxiety and after mindfulness therapy is now med-free and sits every morning with a 10-minute meditation.
"Now he starts every day with a 10-minute meditation. He sits cross-legged in his apartment, TV and music off, and thinks about his breathing.
When a negative thought pops off in my head, I say to myself, 'There's a thought. And feelings aren't facts.' "
I’m guessing this was an error, but it needs to be corrected. Feelings are absolutely facts. When I’m sad, I can feel that I’m sad, when I’m angry, I can feel that I’m angry, it’s a fact that’s living in the present moment. What’s not a fact is the thought that is associated with it. How do I know this? Because if I surveyed 10 different people viewing the same event, they would have different thoughts about it. Which one is right? None of them, the thought isn’t a fact, if it was everyone would see the same thing.
So feelings are facts, thoughts are not.
The second thing he said was in the first sentence where the journalist says the marketer “thinks about his breathing.” When we’re practicing mindfulness of the breath, we’re simply experiencing the in-breath and the out-breath, we’re not “thinking” about it. In fact, we’re coming down from our thoughts and onto the breath.
Neuroscience can confirm that we’re activating an entirely different area of the brain, the experiential network which lights up when we’re engaged with our 5 senses versus the narrative network which lights up when our mind is thinking.
At the end of the day, the article is pointing in the right direction and contains so research evidence that's interesting and worth looking at. Mindfulness as an integration into psychotherapy is not a fad, because the idea of becoming more present to our lives is something that many therapies have supported for years. This is a just a very practical way to bring it into your life, while also bringing in other attitudes that therapy supports, like kindness, gentleness, compassion, focus, and effectiveness.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.