Thanks for responding, Tim — Maybe I should clarify a few things. While I understand that meditation is about non-judgmental observation of your thoughts, rather than deliberate focus on them, I obviously didn’t convey that very well in the article, so I apologize.
Of course, you’re right when you say:
First, mindfulness meditation practice is not about “focusing” on thoughts. I note you aren’t saying “focusing on our breath….”
Mindfulness and meditation (though distinct concepts) both rely on passive observation of your thoughts. Simply acknowledging your thoughts and letting them come and go freely. You seem to understand that already. But what happens when the average Joe attempts mindfulness? Without proper, high-quality instruction (either from a professional or an excellent teacher) the average Joe might not understand that mindfulness is about observing non-judgmentally. To many people, “Observe your thoughts in a non-judgmental way,” can be tough to grasp. By nature, humans want to judge. They don’t even realize they are doing it.
Mindfulness is a skill that takes deliberate practice. When you are first learning, it is very easy to make mistakes. To slip up, and think you are “observing non-judgmentally” when in reality you are not.
When every popular magazine, talk show, blog, radio show, podcast — you-name-it — is spreading the “mindfulness hype,” it’s like a game of telephone; the original message often gets distorted. As a result, there is a lot of information about mindfulness out there — but it’s not all good!
Unfortunately, the people on the receiving end of that misinformation often suffer. They practice mindfulness incorrectly, and if they suffer from mental illness, this can be especially detrimental. Let’s take a depressed individual, for instance. Each day, they are plagued with thoughts of worthlessness, pessimism, and indifference to the world around them. When they attempt mindfulness (but do so incorrectly, based on poor understanding) these thoughts can be amplified, because instead of simply observing their thoughts, they are focusing on them. They think they are practicing mindfulness, but really all they are doing is reinforcing their negative thoughts. It’s an understandable mistake, but it can be harmful. So you’re right, mindfulness shouldn’t exacerbate depression or anxiety — but only if they practice it correctly.
Mindfulness is excellent when practiced correctly. Sadly, this often isn’t the reality, due to overexposure and poor understanding of mindfulness. Hopefully this makes sense and helps to raise awareness of the implications that could arise. Thanks for reading!