One of the criticisms often levelled at meditative practices, like self-hypnosis, is that they are selfish. Too introspective, too inward-looking. Drawing our attention away from all the bad things happening in the world that we should be out there trying to fix. Encouraging us to settle, to embrace inadequacies. To sit cross legged in a bubble of peace while everything around us collapses.
In 2017, Psychiatrist Dr Alison Gray of the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested that solitary meditative practices can cause us to become more self-centred (Petter, 2017). Instead, Dr Gray encouraged us to seek out a community with whom we can practice mindfulness.
However, as COVID-19 isolates much of the world in their own homes, away from their support networks and away from their communities, these solitary meditative practices can be a useful tool in lowering our anxiety, building our resilience, and connecting with our inner resources. Gifting ourselves some time each day to nurture our minds, release anxiety and embrace the present moment can be a powerful antidote to the feelings of frustration and helplessness brought about by the lockdown. We are locked down, but our minds don’t have to be.
Embracing mindfulness to protect our mental health can be far from selfish. As neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author Sam Harris writes in his book Waking Up, meditating alone doesn’t necessarily equate with self-centredness; in fact, it can amount to precisely the opposite: “One can […] spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the world – having better relationships, being more honest and compassionate and, therefore, more helpful to one’s fellow human beings.”
We don’t need to feel guilty for prioritising our inner peace sometimes, even while those around us are struggling, as we have more to offer them when we ourselves are calm and centred. As Sam Harris argues “The world is in desperate need of improvement – in global terms, freedom and prosperity remain the exception – and yet, this doesn’t mean we need to be miserable while we work for the common good.”
Petter, O. (2017, December 29). Mindfulness could be making you selfish, psychiatrist warns. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/mindfulness-selfish-mediation-psychiatrist-dr-alison-gray-a8133106.html
Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster.