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Mindfulness Without Community Isn't Enough, New Research Suggests

Sarah Regan
August 17, 2023
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Image by PeopleImages / iStock
August 17, 2023

It's not a far cry to say that mindfulness has taken the West by storm in recent years. More and more people are getting into yoga, meditation routines, or simple mindfulness practices, in an effort to take care of themselves, up their self-care, and increase their overall well-being.

But according to a new review published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy1, mindfulness doesn't have to be all self-care, and in fact, it shouldn't be. Here's what they found.

Studying the modern approach to mindfulness

Mindfulness is wonderful for increasing your overall well-being, both mentally and spiritually, to be sure. However, according to new research, we're missing a fundamental part of the equation: other people and the world at large.

Namely, their review looked at how mindfulness has been evolving in recent years, and specifically how there's an apparent "loss of the spiritual and collective elements historically essential to mindfulness," the study authors explain. This focus on self-improvement above all else, they say, is a distortion of mindfulness in its origins, and represents a textbook example of the way Eastern, collectivist traditions have been individualized by the West.

As clinical psychologist and researcher Liz Marks, Ph.D., explains, "There is growing interest in mindfulness around the world, and rightly so. The practice offers an important opportunity in ever-hectic lives to pause and reflect. But too often, this is presented as another tool for self-betterment."

She adds that based on their review, the team suggests that mindfulness can offer more than this, "giving people the chance to 'look outside themselves,' deepening their sense of place within nature and interconnectedness with their community."

How to approach community-based mindfulness

According to the researchers, mindfulness can actually be a powerful tool for the crises we collectively face in the world: climate change, the rising cost of living, and violence, just to name a few. And the benefits of mindfulness, they add, have never been more important, "in terms of reducing suffering, increasing connection, and cultivating compassion."

That said, the key to using mindfulness to help address these challenges "will be the ability to bring curiosity and compassion to current areas of tension in the field," the team explains.

So instead of approaching mindfulness as solely a fix for making your life better, Marks says it can be used as a supportive practice to help people live well alongside the challenges of life, "while also helping them to think about how can we make the world a better place for all of us."

And you can start simple, whether it's being more mindful when listening to your loved ones, pausing before you give in to road rage on your commute, or starting a lovingkindness meditation practice.

Whatever it is you do, it's about using mindfulness in a way that not only benefits you but benefits others and the world at large.

The takeaway

There is definitely nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself, your mindset, or your life, but at the end of the day, we can't forget about the larger community we are all a part of: the human race. We're in this together, and according to this review, mindfulness can help remind us of that and act accordingly.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.