Sitting with the Demons – Mindfulness, Suffering, and Existential Transformation
Keywords:Buddhism, mindfulness meditation, ethics, intercultural dialogue, suffering, Kabat-Zinn
In the article, I critically evaluate some common objections against contemporary approaches to mindfulness meditation, with a special focus on two aspects. First, I consider the claim that de-contextualized contemporary approaches may have serious ethical consequences (the so-called problem of “mindful sniper/zombie”); second, I investigate the suggestion that it may be misleading to construe mindfulness meditation as (simply) a relaxation and/or attention-enhancing technique, as it is sometimes accompanied by unpleasant, even terrifying phenomena (the so-called “dark night of the soul”). In the last two sections, I weave the two narratives together by putting forward the following claim: traditionally-minded criticisms of contemporary approaches are ultimately correct, but for the wrong reasons––the historical context is not important in itself, but because of the role it plays in confronting the practitioner with the fundamental existential questions. In this sense, mindfulness meditation can be conceived as an important, but not the only element of a broader process of overcoming existential angst, whose ultimate goal is not relaxation or enhanced attention, but rather a radical existential transformation.
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