Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Sometimes Mindfulness Is Not Enough
Mindfulness lies at the heart of all Buddhist practice. It is what allows us to keep in mind what we believe is important to be aware of in the moment. Without mindfulness, there is no Eightfold Path, no liberation. It can be easy to think that as long as we are mindful, all will be well. There is some truth to that, but there are also some situations where mindfulness by itself is not enough to stop suffering, on an individual or collective level.
We can only be mindful of what we are aware of. If something is unconscious, we cannot be mindful of it. Much suffering in the world, and certainly in our culture, is the result of unconscious views that white, privileged (cisgendered, male, etc.) people hold about other people and about the world. The vast majority of people who are racist, homophobic, transphobic, or mysoginist, or who hold views of able bodiedism, ageism, and all the rest, don’t necessarily want to have those views. The views are held in the collective of the popular culture which is dominated by white, privileged, mostly male, cisgendered people. Because these views are held in the collective, everyone gets indoctrinated to them. Everyone. It’s unconscious to privileged people until it becomes conscious. But, because mindfulness cannot be aware of what is unconscious, a different method is needed to free the heart and mind of such unwholesome (leading to suffering) views. This is where outside information in the form of training, workshops, articles and books comes in. This information can begin to make what was unconscious conscious. Only then can mindfulness come into play and be used to notice when these deep-seated views start to manifest themselves. With mindfulness, there can be a choice to not follow those views and to walk a different path.
Much of the Buddhist teachings on suffering talk about personal suffering. On one level, all suffering is personal suffering. On another level, the suffering is collective. It is important to not get stuck in the personal suffering model and to open to the suffering that gets perpetuated on the collective level. It is at this collective level, at least in our society, where the causes of suffering tend to be even more unconscious than the causes of suffering that are on the individual level. Therefore, we need to bring more attention and skillful means other than mindfulness to work with and bring to an end this collective suffering.