Mindfulness is the path to happiness - but screw Buddhism!

I read an article today written by Ruby Wax, talking about her quest to prevail over her mind. She talks about how our brains aren't geared towards living in the 20th Century:

'None of us is equipped for the 21st century. It’s too hard, too fast, too full of fear; we just don’t have the bandwidth. We all have the same equipment: we suffer, we laugh, we rage, we bitch; we’re all vulnerable, delicate creatures under our tough fronts.'

Ruby decided to study a master's at Oxford, where she learnt about neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to rewire itself) and mindfulness:

'After much research, I thought mindfulness might help me best as I had heard it gives you the ability to regulate your own mind as well as an introduction to the study of neuroscience.'

In the article she raves about mindfulness:

'If we learn to regulate our attention, we can reduce our reactive nature and cultivate a more flexible mind that points the way to health and happiness. If we can observe our own habits of thinking clearly and without harshness, we can notice the habits of thinking in others and have greater empathy.'

Unfortunately for Ruby, this is where her open mind ends:

'I probably don’t need to mention that I was very, very sceptical about learning something connected to meditation. I thought it was a Buddhist thing where you have to use those words like shuranana murtisugamutisatimanyannanaan — an explosion of letters. Also, I was not about to worship some elephant with a thousand arms or a smiling fat man. Before I become involved, I always want things to be tangible; things I can see or taste or touch.'

This is unfortunate, for two reasons:

  • Displaying an open mind and learning about mindfulness has obviously helped Ruby in her quest to cope in the 21st Century. However the lesson that opening your mind to something you have a preconception about can pay off, for some reason, doesn't extend to Buddhism. 

  • A lot of what Ruby talks about has connections to Buddhism principles. She said that 'the failure to get what we want leaves us in a state of permanent desire.' This is a tenet in Buddhism. She says that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, which is another tenet of Buddhism. 

"With mindfulness the point is not to empty your mind; you need your mind to analyse, memorise, create and, most importantly, exist. It can never be empty while you’re alive; even in a coma your mind is chattering away. The trick is to learn to live with the soundtrack"

This alludes to the misconception that Buddhist meditation empties your mind, when in fact, it is learning to 'live with the soundtrack', too. 

I love Ruby Wax. She's done a lot for the good of mental health. Going to Oxford to study the mind is a great example of being proactive, of wanting to understand and of not giving up. The article is great - it's just a shame she said what she said about Buddhism.

Being so open-minded towards mindfulness before disregarding Buddhism on inaccurate rumours is a shame, especially when a lot of what she's learnt relates to it. And I'm sure if would further help in her quest to cope with the 21st Century. At least, I think it would. It's hard to gather my thoughts whilst bowing down to a smiling fat man and thousand-armed elephant. 

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