Despite what you may have heard, mindfulness is not a particularly “spiritual” practice. You’re simply noticing what’s going on around and inside you in the present moment without judging it. Instead of the usual human experience of being blindfolded by a constant stream of judgments, worries, regrets, emotions, and conditioned responses, once you become mindful, you start to actually see and participate in the world around you.
Somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the idea that our inner and outer worlds are unrelated. Most of us no longer think it’s weird that many psychiatrists and psychotherapists are materialistic and classist, or that many activists who work tirelessly for inclusion and peace also harbour bitter hatred toward certain groups of people. Something’s wrong with this picture, and our world desperately needs it to be corrected.
Goethe lamented that “two souls, alas, do dwell within this breast; the one is ever parting from the other.” We’ve probably all observed this inner conflict in ourselves and others: maybe we’ve been in a relationship where our lover’s affection was suddenly replaced by cold distance and abandonment; maybe we’ve bounced back and forth between an exhausting drive to achieve and a crippling lack of motivation; or maybe we’ve watched helplessly while a person we knew to be loving and gentle destroyed themselves and the people around them with rage or addiction. A big part of my job as a therapist is to help people understand these confusing and sometimes overwhelming inner realities.
As long as the underlying psychological process of self-judgment and self-rejection is in place, then becoming a supermodel or a CEO isn’t going to change much. The best we can hope for is to climb to the top of the ladder only to find that it’s against the wrong wall. Some people live their whole lives like that, caught in a game of psychological whack-a-mole, except instead of it being a fun 45 second game, this version saps you of all joy and keeps going until one day you just die.