Mindfulness is a trait and a state. Some are more mindful than others and a person can be less or more mindful depending of a situation. Mindfulness is associated with improved wellbeing, emotional intelligence, and stress reduction. It also promotes compassion and moral behaviors. A large body of scholarly articles and empirical research studies support this notion which is the foundation for mindfulness apps, training courses, and workshops in different educational institutions, workplaces, and correctional establishments.
However, a 2021 research study conducted by Poulin and colleagues found that individuals with independent self-construal (self perception), mindfulness decreases prosocial behavior. Highly independent people showed less prosocial behavior when compared to people with interdependent mindsets. Experts from various fields related to mindfulness and meditation shared their opinions about these findings.
Mindfulness is about identifying what is good for you and engaging in actions that promote your wellbeing. Elizabeth Chiang, a certified life coach and a physician said, “mindfulness helps the individual understand his or her own desires and to love oneself. It is more honest to choose how you want to spend your time, money or anything else, instead of pleasing people.” She views this as self-consideration, and stresses the need for people to take care of themselves to reach their goals.
Jamie Hickey had a similar view about mindfulness training for personal wellbeing and shares his experience, “My teacher taught us that to be happy, you need to take your time seriously and spend it only doing what will make you happier and productive.” During this mindful journey, he also lost some friends, but Hickey stated, “those weren’t my true friends.” Now he doesn’t listen to unproductive conversations or attend obligatory social events.
His experience suggested that mindfulness in the western community focuses on independence, even if it comes at the cost of compassion and empathy. Some people think that it is not mindfulness itself that results in self-centeredness, but the way it’s understood in the Western world.
Lisa Swift-Young, the author of Power of 3: The Christian Gratitude Journal to Restoring Your Faith and Renewing Your Praise, agreed with the notion that mindfulness in the west focuses on individualism. But she also suggested that “mindfulness can empower individuals to be more intentional about how they interact. Mindfulness can help one sync passion and purpose. Individuals who gain focus better serve the greater good of the community.” Thus mindfulness can be about how people want to monitor and direct their thoughts to benefit themselves or others.
Shifu Love, a spirituality expert, spiritual martial arts instructor, and mental health counselor, articulated that mindfulness originated from the eastern culture. In a Western society, where people value individualism, “mindfulness makes people selfish because they develop a hyper-individualistic mindset.” Love suggests that Western civilization hasn’t wholly adopted mindfulness. There are specific missing components in the mindfulness training in the west; thus, “they are not getting the deeper layers of mindfulness.”
Mary Berry, founder and CEO of Cosmo Vita and a health and wellness advocate, considers mindfulness practice healthy and said that “mindfulness is not about being selfish in a negative way. It is about being self-aware from an objective perspective.” She believes in mindfulness as long as you also stay connected with others.
Mindfulness practice is not to blame for any self centered tendencies because it simply means we haven’t embraced the true concept of mindfulness as mentioned above. And as suggested by the researchers, “by better understanding how and when mindfulness affects prosocial behavior, stakeholders can make more informed decisions about whether and under what conditions mindfulness practices are appropriate.” When there’s a better understanding of the intended purpose of mindfulness, self centered thoughts and behaviors will decrease.
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