Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Elixir of Mindfulness

Posted by Glenn Wallis on July 3, 2011

The mighty “Mindfulness” juggernaut continues to roll joyously throughout the wounded world of late-capitalism. And why shouldn’t it? The Mindfulness Industry is claiming territory once held by the great occupying force of assorted self-help gurus, shrinks, health care workers, hypnotists, preachers, Theosophists, the church, the synagogue, actual gurus, yogis, meditation teachers, and even—gasp!— Buddhists themselves.  Who, after all, can compete with an industry that claims to offer a veritable fountain of bounty, an elixir to life’s ills? According to the new website mindful.org (links provided at end of post) “a dose of mindfulness (or a very large helping) can enhance your joy and appreciation of everyday life—and help you to deal with some of life’s toughest challenges when they arise.”

“Mindfulness” can, apparently, be applied to virtually any activity whatsoever, thereby enhancing that activity’s compass of well-being. According to the site, mindfulness, for instance, significantly impacts activities as dissimilar as caregiving, dying and death, sex, parenting, healing and health, navigating intimate relationships, consumerism, finances, cooking, eating, entrepreneurship, creativity, sports, activism, education, protecting the environment, working with prisoners, and much, much more.

How, you ask, can mindfulness accomplish so much? After all, in everyday language “being mindful” is synonymous with quite ordinary cognitive functions, such as “being attentive,” “paying attention to,” “bringing to mind,” “exercising caution,” “being courteous.” The only time I have ever heard the term used in earnest (prior to the current “mindfulness revolution”) was when my grandmother would exhort me to “be mindful of the time!” when I went out to play. Mindful.org’s pervasive rhetoric tacitly claims that mindfulness constitutes no less than the basis of a modern-day utopia. Is it really possible that, in reminding me to “be mindful of the time,” my grandmother was asking me to apply the same mental quality that constitutes the first cause of a utopian new age?

It’s hard to say. A visit to mindful.org’s “Mindful Practice” pages reveals such a wide-ranging plethora of “techniques and practices,” that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the term “mindfulness” has become, in the hands of the Mindfulness Industry, a classic floating signifier. “Mindfulness,” that is to say, is an agreed-upon term that is, nonetheless, void of agreed-upon meaning; thus, its usage is run through with empty signification. Being thus empty of any determinate and demonstrable object of signification, “mindfulness” can be filled with any sense desired by the user. (Have a look at these book titles, below.*)

It seems fair, nonetheless, to press the question: of what does this life-enhancing “dose of mindfulness” consists—what is its active ingredient? Yet, still, “mindfulness” on the “Mindful Practices” pages of mindful.org’s website remains an extraordinary testament to what the visual semiotician Daniel Chandler refers to as “a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or non-existent signified.” Perusing the articles there, I find usages that include the following categories. Mindfulness entails: (1) Mental operations: ordinary awareness, paying attention, concentration, changed focus, observing the contents of the mind, freedom from judgment. (2) Behavior: kindness, compassion, common consideration, love, deep listening, slowing down, niceness, being good. (3) Traditional practices: various forms of Buddhist meditation, generalized/unspecified meditation, contemplation, various styles of yoga. (4) Indistinct something-or-others: openness, relating more effectively to thoughts and feelings, lovingkindness, going inward, letting go, acceptance, truly seeing someone, minding mind, being in the moment, being moment to moment, just being.

Has some latter-day Dale Carnegie forgotten to take his Adderall? Or perhaps he took acid instead. Let’s focus, people! Do the editors of mindful.org not see the cruel irony of presenting their ostensibly distracted, abstracted, absent, scattered, attention-deficient hyperactive and/or depressed readers with such a salmagundaceous smorgasbord of—what?—practices, techniques, forms of comportment, affirmations, good intentions, wishful thinking, self-help remedies?

No sooner do I wonder then I come across this statement by the progenitor of the current mindfulness juggernaut, Jon Kabat-Zinn: “mindfulness is not a technique. It is a way of being, a way of seeing, a way of knowing.”

The vacuity of the term “mindfulness” can be traced, in fact, to the vague, platitudinous, and circular definition given it by Jon Kabat-Zinn. That definition takes the following form in his influential Coming to our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness:

Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and as openheartedly as possible (p. 108).

It is not insignificant, I think, that the originator of the term “floating signifier,” the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009), used the Polynesian term mana as a prototypical instance of such an “empty” signifier. Mana was used by Pacific Islanders broadly to denote the mysterious, unknowable, invisible “stuff” of life. The more mana you possessed, the more powerful you were; the more powerful you were, the greater well-being you enjoyed. People who knew how to get mana were particularly sought after. Like many modern-day priests, gurus, psychologists, meditation teachers, and so on, these people claimed to know how to manipulate and acquire the mysterious, elixir-like “stuff” that resides in all of life. Modern-day anthropologists observed that mana-like beliefs could be found across cultures, extending into what we “civilized” people call religion. Thus, mana, Lévi-Strauss observed, simply came to “explain” too much in human culture. Virtually anything having to do with power or animation could be tagged with “mana.” Is it possible that “mindfulness” is like “mana” in being both an amorphous floating signifier, yet one that hovers around something like “the animating elixir of life”?

Another question to ask about the Jon Kabat-Zinn inspired  Mindfulness Industry is just what its relationship to Buddhism is. In one problematically-titled article on mindful.org, “Curing your illness is all in your mindfulness,” authors Ed Halliwell and Jonty Heaversedge broach this issue:

The practices taught in mindfulness courses have been adapted from Buddhism, but are presented in entirely secular terms, as a form of psychological aid. They have therefore escaped the religious, new-age or hippie connotations that sometimes put people off meditation. This is largely thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American medic who became convinced that mindfulness could help patients with chronic health problems, especially when they had come to the end of the road with conventional medicine.

From the perspective of Speculative non-Buddhism, “adapted from Buddhism” speaks of a perfectly legitimate enterprise. But, in my reading of the mindfulness literature, it is not at all clear whether, to what degree, and precisely how such an adaptation has occurred. My sense is that mindfulness adherents merely pay fealty to Buddhism. Whether they do so because of Kabat-Zinn’s early relationship with Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn or as an attempt to gain legitimation or for some other reason, is unclear. That there is an explicit and demonstrable affiliation with—an “adaptation from”—some form of Buddhism remains to be shown. I am a bit baffled by the Mindfulness Industry’s nod to Buddhism. Is it simply a case of politely acknowledging your sources? Does it stem from an agonistic anxiety of influence? Is it—given the misprision that the Mindfulness Industry has performed on Buddhist literature—evidence of an oedipal complex (with Buddhism as father and meditation as mother)? What are we to make of articles on the mindful.org site such as “Ancient Wisdom Proven by Modern Medicine”?**

Halliwell and Heaversedge err when they write that mindfulness, via its secularization and psychologization, has “escaped the religious, new-age or hippie connotations that sometimes put people off meditation.” From a Speculative non-Buddhism perspective, the Mindfulness Industry has set up camp much too closely to the great spiritualist vallation within which Buddhism and its brood are ensconced. Scanning a few articles on the “Spirituality” page of mindful.org, I see the following words: essential self, psyche, soul, essence, spiritual teacher, spiritual practice, prayer, transcendental knowledge, true self, true mind, contemplation, grace, oneness, God. It may be that the form of mindfulness to which Halliwell and Heaversedge subscribe is devoid of such flamboyant language; but, clearly, the Mindfulness Industry is run through with “the religious, the new-age, and the hippie.”

Speculative non-Buddhism sees in the entire mindfulness project a neo-Carnegian-quasi/pseudo-Buddhist-qua-self-actualization hall-of-mirrors. The Mindfulness Industry lays its tracks in what French social theorist Jean-Gabriel de Tarde (1843-1904) called “the grooves of borrowed thought.” (Recall that de Tarde also coined the term “group mind” in an effort to understand “herd behavior” and crowd psychology.) By re-packaging age-old optimisms, the Mindfulness Industry feeds off of the multi-billion dollar addiction of the desiccated twenty-first century middle classes for anything that will lead them to the promised land of “well-being.”

Speculative non-Buddhism is not, of course, opposed to practices that cultivate salutary forms of life. On the contrary, it places the highest premium on such practices. One such practice is, for lack of a better term, “meditation.” In my next post I will explain.

NOTES

*A (very small) sampling of recent book titles will make my point clear. First, the adjectival variety: Mindful Parenting, Mindful Eating, Mindful Teaching, Mindful Politics, Mindful Therapy, Mindful Leadership, Mindful Recovery, The Power of Mindful Learning, The Mindful Brain, The Mindful Way through Depression, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, The Mindful Path Through Shyness, The Mindful Path through Worry and Rumination. There are books with sub-titles such as Mindful Writing, Mindful Relationships, Mindful Creativity. Somewhat ambiguously, we have, too, Mindful Dog Teaching. We also get the noun variety: Mindfulness for Law Students, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mindfulness, Mindfulness in Plain English, Beginning Mindfulness, Mindfulness and Mental Health, The Art and Science of Mindfulness, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and just plain Mindfulness. Whew! Oh, wait. Just when you thought— unmindfully!— that you had mastered the subject, someone plops down on your desk Beyond Mindfulness!

**The recent special issue of Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal, volume 12 number 1, May 2011, should answer this and many other questions. I just ordered a copy and will post about it in the future. Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the guest editors of the issue, which is titled:”Mindfulness: diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins, and multiple applications at the intersection of science and dharma.” You can read Kabat-Zinn’s introduction here.

Link here to mindful.org.

I am tagging this post as “Constructivists” and “Secularists” because of the approach taken at mindful.org; and “Critics” because of my evaluation of the site and of “mindfulness” as term.

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32 Responses to “Elixir of Mindfulness”

  1. Thill said

    I am curious what you think are the ways in which this notion of “mindfulness” is compatible or incompatible with the notion of Wu Wei in Taoism. The Taoist notion suggests effortlessness which seems to excludes even the effort of mindfulness, of concentration, etc. From the standpoint of Wu Wei, one could maintain that the effort to be constantly mindful of every detail actually interferes with the full performance of an action. One can readily think of various examples. If a performing violinist starts making the effort to be mindful of every motion of his or her bowing arm or the fingers on the fingerboard, this is certainly going to ruin the performance!

  2. I don’t get the problem, and you seem bitter? Kabat-Zinn’s definition (Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and as openheartedly as possible) makes perfect sense to me intellectually, cognitively… Maybe it’s because I compel myself into practice.

  3. Glenn Wallis said

    Hi Thill. Thank you for joining us here.

    I am suspicious of ultimate nouns and phrases, such as “effortlessness.” Some well-known Buddhist varieties include, as you know, “freedom from illusion,” “eradication of hatred,” uprooting of desire,” “overcoming of anger,” “fully enlightened,” and so on. What is going on here, I think, is best understood in terms of rhetorical strategy rather than any real human achievement. While texts and communities posit ultimate outcomes and absolute states of affair, biology, bio-chemistry, anatomy, and all the rest of our human apparatus suggest something else. I can master a skill, say playing the violin or driving a car, to the point of seeming effortlessness. But in reality, and on numerous levels (physical, emotional, cognitive, social), tremendous effort is being exerted. It may that, because of my mastery, I do not need to draw from the entirety of my capacity, but that’s a different story, one that leads to questions about automaticity, presence, concentration, an so forth.

    When Daoists speak of the sun’s effortless action–it does without doing–that’s fine. But when I consider the kinds of moves that are entailed in transferring this rhetoric of “naturalness” into the realm of human ethics, I become uncomfortable. (I’ll leave it at that for now.)

    I certainly agree with you that much of “mindfulness practice” sounds like a sort of hyper-aware-perpetual-inventory-taking. I suspect that Kabat-Zinn took the idea from sati, which means “remembrance.” He uses it, though, as if he means sampajañña, meta-awareness. Adding further confusion to the matter, Vipassana, Insight Meditation, Zen, and certain Tibetan teachers use “mindfulness” to indicate a wholly different cognitive function; namely, attentional focus.

    From the perspective of my project at this blog, the whole “mindfulness” thing is just a huge, obfuscating mess. (I’d say the same thing, by the way, about “wu-wei.”) And trying to clarify what it “means” in terms of Buddhist doctrine and philology is just a case of explaining obscurity with obscurity. That’s the reason that I recommend making moves such as non-decision, structural suspension, postulate deflation, muting vibrato, and so on.

    Thanks, again, Thill.

  4. Tomek said

    Would you please say how do you see the relation between sati and sampajañña in practice. There seem to be another, third factor, called atappa, which supposedly plays important role in practicing meditation. Thank you.

  5. Glenn Wallis said

    Greetings, Easton. Thank you for your comment. It raises several valuable points.

    I am not identifying “a” or “the” problem with “mindfulness.” In the post, I have sketched a complex of issues that render the entire project of the current mindfulness movement problematic. The larger context of my critique is provided in the blog as a whole.

    If I may offer a prognostication (at the risk of sounding patronizing): If you are at all like virtually everyone I have met on “the path,” you will eventually start seeing many problems with things that make sense to you now. I think such “problem-seeing” is a sign of maturity and experience. How you respond to the shifting perspectives of your knowledge is up to you. I choose, at this juncture in my nearly forty-year journey of practice and study, to offer spicy (not bitter!) critiques.

    But you don’t have to wait so long. Go ask a few of your fellow mindfulness practitioners just what it is that makes mindfulness mindfulness. Ask them whether simple, ordinary words couldn’t be used instead. Ask them how they understand Kabat-Zinn’s definition. Ask them–and yourself–whether it is really, truly, honestly possible to be “non-judgmental.” Ask them–and yourself–whether “the present-moment” is anything but a tired cliche. Ask why mindfulness training is so expensive. Inquire into whether the Mindfulness Industry really offers anything new, and anything you did not already know. Ask some scientists about the quality of the mindfulness research. Ask yourself why the Industry covers itself in a veneer of scientific respectability. Let your asking be an aspect of your practice–and watch what happens.

    Thanks, again, Easton, for taking the trouble to comment.

  6. another Andrew said

    I’ve always thought of mindfulness as the product of meditation. Ones mind is in play with whatever what engages in (eating, relationships, work, sex), so it’s not so crazy to think that the effect of working on one’s mind would be applicable to all those things. No doubt the way it’s currently being employed in the consumerist vocabulary of the “the mindfulness revolution” is somewhat facile and backwards. I guess my question is: if it gets people to meditate, so what?

  7. Jayarava said

    To be fair I think the mindfulness industry are still negotiating their relationship with the Buddhist tradition. I think they may be a little surprised as how well things are presently going. For the practitioners that I know the issue of how secular mindfulness based therapies relate to traditional Buddhism is very much alive and unresolved. One of the local practitioners Michael Chaskalson (aka Kulananda) even started a group to discuss just this issue with other Buddhists – I attended for a time, but had to drop out. I found him very much interested in the kinds of points you raise – sent him a link so maybe he’ll comment.

    With the growing popularity of the therapeutic mode I think a more nuanced terminology will emerge, and the relationship to Buddhism will both be played up by some, and played down by others according to their temperament.

    I’m not particularly bothered by the floating signifier – it doesn’t seem to matter to the people benefiting the techniques (I know quite a few, and after not enjoying the Kabat Zin style MBSR approach a couple of years back, I’m contemplating the Breathworks approach in the autumn to help deal with my chronic pain). I think it’s an academic issue. After all, people don’t mind going to a ‘doctor’ for ‘health’ advice and what the hell do either of those words mean any more?

    PED (1921-5) includes “mindfulness” as one of it’s suggested meanings of sati. Sangharakshita was using “mindfulness” as a standard translation of smṛti in 1967 (I’ve just been listening to a recorded lecture from then). So if you didn’t hear it used in Buddhist circles until recently that seems a bit odd to me. I recall it being used a lot, and in varied ways, 18 years ago when I fell in love with the Dharma.

    Best Wishes
    Jayarava

  8. Greetings Another Andrew. Nice to hear from you.

    I’ll go straight to your question: “if it gets people to meditate, so what?” I use the term “mindfulness juggernaut” because “mindfulness” is literally overpowering and replacing traditional and even non-sectarian and non-traditional forms of meditation. I use the term “Mindfulness Industry” because of the way it is going about it: making grand affirmative proclamations from the seats of power (hospitals, universities, O Magazine); confounding allegiances–e.g., mindful.org has the same corporate machinery as Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma Magazine; creating a veneer of scientific validation while with-holding critical evaluations.One of the results of all of this is that, more and more, mindfulness does not lead to meditation practice. I will say more later of what I understand “meditation practice” to consist. But I can say this now:based on my own experience teaching meditation to groups of people who have taken the eight-week MBSR-style mindfulness program, the difference is big and significant.

    Thanks, again.

  9. Andrew said

    Thanks Glenn for adding a healthy dose of doubt to this unfolding of a ‘social movement’. It’s obviously picking up steam and resonating with a lot of people. I wonder if its success is a result of people wanting a new dharma package because they are tired of the old ones, or whether it really is adding something that has been missing? Perhaps it is part of a drive to create a traditon that is even more inclusive than the ones it seeks to replace. The floating signifier that means both nothing and everything is an appropriate rallying cry.

    It appears that we are eagerly reaching for new syntheses these days. Is this part of our march towards some kind of universality, a religious unified theory, and mindfulness is another welcome step along the route?

  10. Brad Potts said

    I’m not so sure it’s a floating signifier that means “nothing.” I mean, people are doing *something* when they follow one of the recent mindfulness routines — and many seem to be helped. I do have a problem with the extreme overuse of the term as well as the tendency to view it as *the* foremost method to use for ameliorating one’s life. Even traditional Buddhism does not place *all* the emphasis on sati.

    Brad

  11. BenA said

    I feel very much out of my league in these discussions, but I want to delurk for a moment (thanks, incidentally, for this fascinating blog) just to say that I would very much appreciate your elaborating on what you see as the practical problems with MBSR-style mindfulness programs. I’m a very secular non-Buddhist interested in developing a meditation practice. The “mindfulness juggernaut” and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books are one of the major entry points that present themselves to me. And yet, at a visceral level (and obviously less informed by experience than you are), I share much of your suspicion of them. What exactly do you encounter when you teach meditation to people who’ve gone through MBSR-style programs… and what are the practical alternatives as you see them for someone in my position?

  12. Earl Rectanus said

    Glenn, I would certainly agree that when something becomes incredibly trendy and lucrative, that leads to the unpleasant array of overly hyped sales pitches worthy of any elixir. At the same time Kabot-Zin has been operationalizing his methods in a measurable fashion and publishing in peer reviewed journals for about 30 years now concerning his work in one of the most respected conventional medical communities on the planet. He is certainly more than any other single individual responsible, because of this research foundation, for the tendency of conventional modern medicine to now be accepting the possible utility of these approaches. Also, when you have subjected your ideas and work to empirical scrutiny of the sort which is competitive with your peers at a particular point in the evolution of scientific methods, it is quite legitimate to make a point of that, especially as the vast majority of “elixirs” do not go to the trouble, or would be unflattered by the results (including loads and loads of well-known medical ones). As for it not being something which you or someone else hasn’t already known. Since there are about 40 million Americans alone with recalcitrant chronic pain conditions, and as Kabot-Zin has been doing this work and research for a pretty long time now with good results in a highly skeptical medical environment, the question would be, why weren’t all these other folks helping these patients since they already knew how to do it? Of course there are a great many very simple things that must still gain cultural legitimacy before they can become a part of the common therapeutic zeitgeist. Additionally though, there might actually be a few specific things to learn about the management of pain, before the applications of such procedures can be systematized in a way which is generally helpful.

  13. Glenn Wallis said

    This reply is to Earl, Brad, Andrew, BenA, and Jayarava. It won’t be nearly as detailed as your comments call for. I apologize for that. Given the weightiness that, at least, the medical model version of mindfulness has accumulated over the years, a long, a detailed criticism is in order. I have a hunch we will start to see more and more of those in the coming years.

    Here, I’ll just make a few impressionistic comments about why I look askance at entities such as MBSR, the University of Pennsylvania stress management program, mindful.org, mindfulness meditation, and the like.

    I have been observing the phenomenon of “mindfulness” from close-up and for many years now. For instance, I have been asked to serve as an outside reviewer of several protocols for mindfulness studies, and I was closely involved in one of those studies; I was asked to review the recent book, Teaching Mindfulness (I declined because one of the authors is an adjunct and the other, a graduate, of the program that I chair); I have conducted meditation workshops for groups of recent MBSR trainees; a dozen or so of my colleagues, former students, and current students have received mindfulness training – a couple of them have even gone on to become trainers themselves.

    On the basis of this engagement, my overall impression at this point is that mindfulness is an emperor with no clothes. For instance, my suspicions about the scientific work being done on mindfulness were aroused when I read the research protocols. I found the same pattern in each instance; namely, the study was, as far as I could discern, strong on the science and woefully weak on the mindfulness meditation. In each case I said to the scientists, “all you are testing here is what happens when someone sits still and silently in a chair for twenty minutes;” or “what you are testing here is better characterized as focus, not mindfulness,” and so on. In one case, in fact, I convinced the researcher to shift her claims from “the effects of mindfulness” to “the effects of attention.” Another researcher told me that scientists he knows were extremely unhappy with the “definitional deficiencies” of the MBSR-variety of mindfulness, but were nonetheless compelled to use MBSR models because of the existing critical mass of research that does so. (A sort of scientific Catch 22 apparently.)

    So, a major issue for me is: what, precisely, is being measured when “mindfulness” is measured? As far as I can tell, the answer is always something specific and quite unremarkable, such as (and I am taking these examples from actual studies), deep breathing, rhythmic breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, sustained focus, attention, heightened environmental sensitivity, sustained stillness, mental/emotional monitoring, self-reflection, heightened consciousness, and so forth. I do an experiment with students in the classroom. They are not allowed to use the word “mindfulness.” This forces them to say more precisely what they mean by the term. What they come up with is always something richer, more expressive, and, in my view more honest, than the admittedly convenient but, as it turns out vacuous, term “mindfulness.” I thus see a merging of issues, each, perhaps, exacerbating the other: terminological equivocation, cultural cliché, manufactured consent, scientific imprecision.

    Incidentally, someone recently sent me a link to the blog for the Body in Mind Research Group based at The Sansom Institute for Health Research at the University of South Australia and Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney. They state there that “a very recent issue of PAIN included a paper on a randomised controlled trial that suggests mindfulness is about as good for fibromyalgia as sitting on a waiting list.” The study that they cite was done by Alex Zautra, Foundation Professor of Clinical Psychology of Arizona State University. There is, indeed, a growing body of scientific criticism of the MBSR research to date.

    “Mindfulness” may just turn out to be a contemporary version of the ancient quest for The Cure. The conclusion that something like a curative fantasy is at play for both the researchers and the practitioners of mindfulness seems unavoidable. Like much acupuncture research, the specter of placebo haunts the mindfulness research. In his introduction to the new issue of Contemporary Buddhism (which I mentioned in the post), Jon Kabat-Zinn writes: “Ruth Baer’s paper [in the issue] presents a cogent and empirically powerful alternative perspective. She articulates the fundamental challenge presented to us by evidence-based medicine and psychology: that we need to see if it is possible to work out why something that appears to bring about change is doing so, and therefore to explore by whatever valid methods we have at our disposal what processes may underlie it. This is important because most therapies have some beneficial effects that have little to do with what the clinician actually believes is the critical ingredient. It is the oft-maligned and underappreciated placebo effect. The placebo effect is one of the most powerful effects in medicine. In general, teachers and therapists are reluctant to acknowledge its potential influence, because we’d all prefer that it was the teaching and therapy we offered that was life-transforming to our patients. Research into what is actually the case can be very sobering.”

    Very sobering, indeed. But all of that is for the scientists to sort out. In terms of subjective experience, the comparison between mindfulness training and long-term, rigorous, meditation practice has the former looking pretty meager. As BenA indicates, mindfulness training may be a good entry point into the world of meditation, but that’s it. A statement like this requires, of course, that I articulate what I mean by “meditation.” But I’ll have to do that later. For now I will just report that the mindfulness trainees that I have worked with have been exceptionally poorly equipped to engage what I consider “meditation.” For instance, nearly without exception, they could not sit still for thirty seconds without adjusting their bodies; they employed a formulaic, group – and hence in my view, dishonest or at least evasive – vocabulary in relating their sitting experience; they were prone to self-coddling; they granted concepts, such as bare attention and being non-judgmental and non-reactivity and the like, primacy over process (where process would reveal the problematic nature of their concepts), and much more. I am not interested in macho meditation; and I take exception with much of the Buddhist rhetoric on meditation. I do think, though, that a basic baseline of silence and stillness is required for the practice to be, precisely, meditation, as opposed to just sitting on a chair cushion.

    I do not doubt that we can enhance our human experience by, for instance becoming more sensitive to our surroundings, breathing rhythmically and diaphragmatically, attending to our judgments, pausing before habitually reacting, and so on. None of this, though, is “mindfulness.” What is it? Just what it says: breathing rhythmically, paying attention, etc. Do we really need to subscribe to a multibillion-dollar, institutionally entrenched cultural fad in order to spread the news about the value of simple human capacities? My mother suffers from chronic pain due to herniated discs in her back. She has tried everything to ease her pain, including acupuncture, chiropractic, electric currents, and, yes, mindfulness-oriented practices (Shinzen Young, MBSR, Stress Reduction). Along the way I taught her a simple breathing exercise. She will tell you to this day that that simple breathing exercise helps her more than all the rest combined.

    Can we please at least consider putting a moratorium on the Mindfulness Industry? Doing so might just create a speculative opportunity. It might force us to seek to understand instead just what simple, everyday, natural capacities for “healing” or feeling good or being present we always already possess as human beings. What we discover might be more disappointing than what the Mindfulness Industry claims is the case. But, I think, it will be more real– and a hell of a lot cheaper!

  14. James Hegarty said

    An interesting post which reflects some of my own very real concerns about the problem of “mindfulness,” and how it is used in therapy. There are a lot of problems. A a secular practice it has no agreed upon definition (I don’t even think it does across schools of Buddhism). It also has no agreed upon system of training. I have seen everything from a body scan, to visualizations, self talk, and superficial metta practice being presented as “mindfulness.” Strangely just attending to the breath seems less popular (although I believe it is in the MBSR programme). It is also common for techniques from various Buddhist traditions to be taken out of context and applied as “mindfulness.” Often by those who have had little experience themselves, and who are poorly trained. Even more worrying to me as a psychologist is that there is often not a sound theoretical, or practical understanding of how mindfulness fits into therapy, or of its active processes as a component of treatment. Serious stuff. Then you have people writing learned articles in various journals presenting their particular brand of practice as “mindfulness.” This of course distorts the literature, and causes confusion, but I suppose it does get them a publication.

    I do have some comments on your post though, and am surprised to find my self defending, at least partially what you call the mindfulness industry. However, I think that some balance is only fair.

    The MBSR research is not great, but it’s not really bad either. Of course, MBSR does not equal mindfulness, or the mindfulness based therapies. Regarding the active components of “mindfulness,”Ruth Baer in particular has done some good work in this area, and while it is easy to criticize it, this has been a good start. A problem that a lot of people have is that they simply look at treatment outcome studies. These are almost always confounded. However, if you look at the relevant basic lab data, outcome studies, mediational studies, and relevant studies that don’t have mindfulness in the title a picture starts to emerge. Some components of what might be considered mindfulness do seem to be important, and consistent across a quite a few studies. There is a tremendous amount of evidence that acceptance, or the opposite of emotional avoidance is a big factor in helping people cope with distress of various kinds. Also, that not getting so hooked up by our thoughts is helpful (cognitive defusion).

    It is possible to see much of the therapeutic effect of mindfulness as the effect of simple exposure. In fact for quite awhile I have tended to see all therapies as essentially exposure therapy (you heard it here first folks, the reference is Hegarty, J P, 2011). This is not necessarily a bad thing. If we can find much more effective ways to train what is in effect “introspective exposure” then this is a good thing.

    Also, the “industry” component of the mindfulness juggernaut is just that, industry. The vast majority of those who are involved are just interested people. And often they are driven by a love of the dharma, or their version of it, and a wish to help others. There certainly are those who jump on the gravy train and try to make a few bucks, achieve some fame and so on but that happens with anything that becomes popular. What is interesting is that there is a market for this stuff. Something about it strikes people. There is a reason that they choose mindfulness over competing cure alls. I suspect that it might be partly due to the fact that most of the mindfulness literature, despite much languageing to the contrary, does carry the underlying message that this won’t git rid of you problems, but it will help make life more satisfying.

    Just a brief word on Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s definition. It is reasonable to assume that his original definition was not meant to be the final word on mindfulness. In fact there is some evidence that it was a definition produced as a particular time, for a particular group of people, for a particular purpose. It has been far too widely used, but we can’ we really blame him for that?

    Jim

  15. earl said

    Glenn, great response. Now I *do* understand where you are coming from, and I completely agree with your academic point. I myself don’t think there is likely to be very much “actual” difference between mindfulness approaches and those based in progressive muscle relaxation which have been empirically demonstrated for half a century or more. I would also agree that what a Buddhist (or Kabot-Zin) calls mindfulness, might be rather different than what the average cognitive process is for a group of patients newly instructed in the (or a) technique.

    At the same time, as a clinical psychologist who has been treating pain for about 25 years, i have enormous respect and interest in the power of the culturally/evolutionarily determined placebo du jour to make huge differences in peoples’ lives, which is really the only important thing from my pov. So there is also a cultural and evolutionary process which is being served here which goes way beyond the academically interesting issues of what are actually the specific processes going on. As Jerome Frank observed, people are cured in the ways in which they expect to be cured. Clearly the “empirico-scientific” models (as Frank would term them) are dramatically failing current human beings. It is the placebo-based “religio-magical” approaches that are doing much of the heavy lifting at present, especially for people for whom the antiseptic, robotic, dehumanizing, often callous, and almost always anxiety-provoking approaches of conventional medicine have been ineffective.

    So while I agree completely with your specific observation, I would disagree on the larger issue of whether or not a scientifically sanctioned procedure which has broad (and mysterious) cultural appeal is a bad thing just because it isn’t scientifically rigorous in its details and applications. As I mentioned above, that can be said of just about any currently sanctioned therapeutic that is currently used. And yet, culturally, we are healed through some combination of specific agency and belief which is not only still mostly mysterious, but also always changing.

    Thanks again for your wonderfully clear and thoughtful response.

  16. Tom Pepper said

    I was thrilled to find this essay. I’ve been saying for years now that mindfulness is not what the psychologists think, and anyway what they think is mindfulness is not really possible. I thought, finally, that I was not completely off my bean, somebody else saw the absurdity. And I thought maybe here was a blog on which you wouldn’t need to keep explaining, every time you say anything, that empiricism is an epistemological dead-end and to use “operational definitions” and statistical analysis in human sciences is a waste of time at best. These things have been argued and (to my mind, at least) convincingly demonstrated for a quarter of a century, and only an American psychologist would be so ignorant as to be totally unaware that empiricism is long dead.

    Then, I read the comments, and all the claims that “mindfulness” (whatever it might mean) has been “empirically proven,” and that people are “healed” (read, restored to functioning as capitalist cubicle-dwellers in states of blissfully medicated delusion). Glenn, I was hoping your style would fend off these tired comments–but it seems to have only attracted complaints of your “wordiness,” a common euphemism for “complex thought,” a pathological illness in our culture. If you can only use terms that are part of everyone’s everyday vocabulary, you can never advance thought at all. (Personally, I didn’t have any trouble with your vocabulary, except that I had to look up “vallation”: you use it often, and I started to think it must have some other meaning I was not aware of–but it doesn’t seem to.)

    By the way, just about 100 years ago in the discipline of psychology (in a land far far away), Titchener and his students tried to get people to train themselves to perceive things non-judgmentally, without “adding” thought, and just describe their pure sense perceptions. After many years, they gave up. Turned out James was right, there is a “long education of the eye,” and discriminating thought really does always and unavoidably precede and guide perception, even when you try to fool yourself that it isn’t doing so.

    I hope you keep up the blog. Personally, I tend to get too easily discouraged when I have to explain for the hundredth time what others have been writing books explaining for since the 1970s. I’m willing to do that with my students, because I don’t expect them to know any better, but sometimes it would be nice to have a place where certain things can be taken as settled, and we can move forward. I’ve read your responses, and you have much more energy, and much greater equanimity than I have ever achieved.

  17. Glenn Wallis said

    Dear Tom, first of all, congratulations: your “’healed’ (read, restored to functioning as capitalist cubicle-dwellers in states of blissfully medicated delusion)” has made it to the blogdada crypt for future usage.

    I have to say that, I, too, was surprised at the response to my critique of both “mindfulness” and the Mindfulness Industry. Really, though, I should not have been. Whenever I say the kinds of things that I did on the blog to psychotherapists, social workers, Buddhist practitioners, and the like, I am typically met with tilted heads, drop jaws, and blank stares. “Mindfulness,” it seems, is currently unassailable. Jon Kabat-Zinn, after all, has science on his side. That is more than the Dalai Lama can say.

    I think that you make a very astute point when you say that “what they think is mindfulness is not really possible.” Claims of “bare attention,” “non-judgmentalism,” indeed, “not judging, reflecting or thinking “(quote from an actual mindfulness teacher), and so forth, are vacuous – they literally have no content vis a vis reality. If I understand correctly, you pick up on this point again when you mention William James’s “long education of the eye.”

    Speaking of Titchener, Husserl’s project of epoché, too, has been proven untenable. How is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s statement that “mindfulness is…paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and as openheartedly as possible,” really all that different from the discredited belief of 19th century phenomenologists about the feasibility of suspending judgment and withholding assent? I agree with you as well that there is a good deal of self-delusion going on here. It is an insidious self-delusion; for it is in the guise of an empirically/scientifically verified spirituality.

    Hope to hear from you again, Tom. Thank you for your comment.

  18. Sabio said

    I just posted “Mindfulness Hype” from my naive, lay perspective where I spoke about driving a car an mindfulness. David Chapman directed me Glenn’s superb analysis and insight. I’d love other’s criticism of my experience of mindfulness and if it is at all in line with Glenn’s criticisms here.

  19. roni said

    Just some random things:

    1. There will be a Mindfulness Conference in Hamburg this August, check out the program here. To me it seems to be about finding the balance between mindfulness as a Buddhist practice and its application (outside the Buddhist context).

    2. There is a method called HeadSpace in Great Britain, promoted by The Guardian as well — an interesting and promising(?) initiative.

    3. The Dalai Lama does have science on his side through the Mind & Life Institute (also Tibetan Monks in the Lab) .

  20. Dear Glenn,
    Thanks for your wonderfully provocative post and a great website. A few things…..
    I also have a reaction to the plethora of offerings that go under the name of “mindfulness”. This word is being used to describe a huge range activities and interventions, delivered by people with vastly different training, experience and conceptual understanding of what it is they are offering, and over different time frames with different intensity of engagement with meditation processes. Some of these interventions have a strong relationship with the Buddhist roots of the use of the word “mindfulness” (meditation within the eightfold path) and some have a minimal or no relationship with it, and this is reflected in the requirements for teachers /clinicians in terms of personal experience with meditation practice.

    I must confess that I teach MBSR. . In that sense I suppose I am part of that mindfulness meditation industry. I wonder whether you too are part of that industry as someone pays you for your professional qualification in Buddhist studies? How is this different? We all have to deal with locating ourselves in the world with considerations of right livelihood. I am not sure where the intensity of your critique comes from, about this. I know I have it for those who I perceive are teaching (selling?) mindfulness without any training or immersion into it’s wisdom dimension – as if suffering can be undermined by a technique.

    Like Jon Kabat-Zinn, I understand what I am doing in MBSR groups as teaching people meditation. It is a recontextualization of the dharma, as I teach the four foundations of mindfulness within the context of a phenomenological, personal and specific investigation into suffering, informed by Buddhist psychology. I have just read your excellent book on meditation, and was stuck how similar it is to how I and others I am involved with in Australia, teach meditation in an MBSR context. I am not sure what MBSR class you may have immersed yourself in, but your communication about it doesn’t resonate with my experience of it.

    You argue against the selling of Mindfulness as a cure-all but write articulately about the health benefits (validated by scientific investigation) and then go on to write a compelling list of promises arising out of your own experience. I have no problem with this, just wonder about how different this is from what others might be doing when they communicate about mindfulness.

    “After just a short period of consistent meditation practice, you will experience a calm, spacious feeling arising in your mind. You will find that many of your problems will simply fall away—because they will cease to be, or be seen, as problems. (What’s the difference between a “problem” and a “situation” or an “issue”?) Difficult situations will become easier to handle. Facts will be more readily accepted as facts. You will feel increased warmth toward other people; and your relationships will gradually improve. You will develop a clearer awareness of your own needs and desires, and have firmer confidence in pursuing these. This will lead to a fuller sense of engagement with life. You will simply feel better. Life will be more pleasant. It will be sweeter, more enjoyable. Real fulfillment will start to seem possible after all.”

    Best….and thank you for the poems.

    Timothea

    PS The latest edition of Contemporary Buddhism was co-edited by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams. It has some excellent rigorous and heartfelt explorations of some of the issues you are expressing here. Lucky I am earning money from teaching MBSR because I can afford to buy it!

  21. Hi Timothea. Thank you very much for your illuminating comment. It allows the conversation to continue.

    Let’s start with the question of “difference” that you ask about, since I think this difference goes to the heart of the matter. I have a friend who teaches MBSR in the Philadelphia area. I’ll call him Jim. Jim and I both earn a living teaching “meditation,” as you say. Jim, though–and here’s the difference–sells a luxuriant bill of goods; I sell nothing.

    What does Jim sell? Look at the MBSR literature or the mindfulness.org site for examples. In short, he sells prescriptions for better living. Included in his prescriptions are psycho-physical exercises and an extensive conceptual framework. To get at the difference that I find so significant, I ask the question: what is the relationship between the exercises (“meditation,” etc.) and the conceptual framework? With MBSR, with Buddhism, with every case of what I will call eudaimonized practice–practice that aims to increase human flourishing–the framework exerts a coercive influence on the practice. To my thinking, such coercion constitutes a form of ideology, whereby a particular type of person is being formed. The framework is a vehicle for indoctrination into a worldview. My encounters with MBSRers, Buddhists, etc., on virtually a daily basis over an extended period of time has helped to foster in me this view. I have taught numerous stress-reduction/MBSR practitioners (including instructors). My observation of their uniform habits of speech; their common experiential vocabulary, their shared index of shoulds and shouldn’ts, their constant inventory-taking of experience, their (unvaryingly poor, shifting) sitting posture, their, in short sameness tipped me off to this possibility of their being subscribers to a pre-determined eudaimonistic program rather than …what? Here’s where I need to say how I see meditation as human practice.

    In the briefest of terms, I sell meditation as a coalescing of the person with, in Wallace Stevens’s words, “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” I am not ennobling the person with new values or beliefs about what constitutes proper, or even healthy, human being. Such coalescing requires precisely the dismantling of any conceptual infrastructure–Buddhist, Wiccan, psychological, whatever. And it is precisely in such frameworks, and not in the sitting, that prescribed values are found. What happens if you teach the practitioner to rely only on the stillness and silence? What happens if you suggest to the practitioner that he/she become highly sensitive to ideological intrusions into silence and stillness practice? We do live by values, of course; but where are we getting those values? To what extent does our involvement in ideological systems of prefabricated thought determine value? What difference will it make if one is made aware the distinctions?

    I say more about my understanding of “meditation” in the latest post. By the way, because of my most recent understanding of all of this, I discontinued the meditation guide of mine that you refer to. I am writing a book on the topic now (again, the post says something more about this; I also write about meditation, poetry, and language at my Ovenbird blog.)

    If I may mangle a comment by Ray Brassier to make it fit our discussion here. (Brassier is discussing philosophy. This is from his Nihil Unbound. I am paraphrasing.) MBSR/Buddhism/meditation guides would do well to desist from issuing any further injunctions about the need to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between humans and nature. “Meditation” should strive to be more than a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem. This “nothingness” approach to practice does not raise an existential quandary; it raises a much-needed speculative opportunity for genuine investigation into our lot as homo sapiens apes. MBSR/Buddhism, etc. has interests that do not coincide with those of human being; indeed, they can and have been pitied against the latter.

    I would encourage you, Timothea, to insert into your MBSR teaching a code that, eventually, destroys MBSR for the student. Then, you are right, there will be no difference between us.

    I leave you with this excerpt from Ovenbird. Thanks again!

    If you have ever been foolish/courageous enough to try to teach other people meditation, I imagine that you, like me, have also been accused of doing “something other than meditation”– what you are doing is not “Buddhist” enough, not “spiritual” enough, too “masculine,” and so on.

    Okay, here goes. “Paul Muldoon”/”Glenn Wallis” responding to the heckler now:

    It doesn’t come naturally to me to defend this practice as meditation. As a concept, I see it like this: the word “meditation,” as you know, means “cultivating,” so this is a construct in the world…One is trying to construct something that will help us to make sense of things, and the construct, or building even, let’s say, space, a clearing, a momentary stay against confusion, which, when we enter, we have some clarification, however slight, and when we leave it, something, however slight, has been clarified. We have been helped in some way to make sense of the world.

    So that is what meditation means to me. I need to be provoked by it. I can’t quite accept what seems to be a fairly conventional notion of meditation as that which bolsters us up in what we already know. I am less interested in that than in meditation that puts us in a difficult position and makes us think again about how things are, and that is almost an article of faith.

    Another article of faith…has to do with unknowing, and that, I think, connects it to many experiences that could be described as “spiritual” experiences, and I know you are all familiar with those, or one has a sense of giving oneself over to something beyond oneself, something one doesn’t quite understand; and only when one does that, and only in a spirit of humility, is there half the chance that one will come out the other side knowing anything at all in some minor way. So I think I am really pleased that you enter these discussions in the spirit of unknowing, because that is the spirit in which we all engage in the business of trying to meditate. (The New York Review of Books, June 23, 2011/Volume LVIII, Number 11, p. 66)

  22. Dear Glenn,

    Thanks again…..I feel enlivened by what you are saying and it helps me.

    I find that open awareness practice – when offered in a truly inquiring way – offers this undermining of MBSR as a prescription for the student in the way you are speaking. In terms of my own explorations of practice, sitting with Jason Siff (Unlearning Meditation) has profoundly influenced me in this, and the theorising of Stephen Bachelor has freed me up too.

    Meditation is not a thing….nothing is a thing, and MBSR is not a thing also. It is a process of inquiry with some clunky signposts and scaffolding which can become a thing, a should, a prescription…..I see my job as a constant underminer of this. But it is not me doing this…the very practice of setting aside time to pay attention to the flow of experience provides this opening to the indeterminacy of things…..it opens people to the process of things…how they are constructed and unconstructed, and how a lot of this is out of one’s control…..impermanence and how our experience is constructed. Specificity is important and generalisations can kill inquiry. I think because MBSR is semi-manualised and often taught by people who are just starting out in practice, this can get lost and it is a great shame.

    I do teach MBSR teachers here and regularly come to a frayed and unknowing place in this. As most people begin teaching MBSR with only one or two retreats under their belt and although encouraged to teach form a place of curiosity about what it means to be human and to honour the process of each person’s subjectivity, this can be hard when one is frightened and this leads to clinging to technique, prescriptions, trying to convince about how to be… etc. Paradox abounds. Should one not offer MBSR because this happens. I am attached to it because so many people only come to meditation through it. Other contexts are too Budhhist/new agey etc. and science is so soothing and comprehensible as a framework for this beginning practice.

    Of course as soon as people start practicing, there is much disappointment, at first, as what is here is just one’s own mind and body in a room of other minds and bodies….finding stuff out, or not. (The very diversity of experience in the room also undermines any neat sense of prescription that any teacher could offer.) And then there can be great freedom in finding stuff out, being in this process. This is my experience of MBSR.

    I am very glad that I have come across your sites…and especially the poems.

    Timothea

    Timothea

  23. Kevin Knox said

    A great post – thank you! Unfortunately it seems that Jon Kabat-Zinn’s useful but meaningless definition of mindfulness rules the day. There are other voices and uses out there but they are so in the minority I wonder if the battle is not lost.

    Wikipedia, interestingly, is up to speed on the gulf between the modern pop psychology definition/appropriation of sati and traditional dharma usage. Look up “Mindfulness – Psychology” and then Mindfulness – Buddhism” there for a fascinating read. In a nutshell, you have the JKZ “nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment,” which has no Pali or Sanskrit equivalent nor precedent in Buddhist practice, and then you have sati – training in concentrating on one object.

    The broader corollary is this: you have the meditative path the Buddha seems quite clearly to have taught and practiced (samatha leading to jhana and achievement of the latter used as the springboard for insight or vipassana) and then what the Buddha never taught being promoted as all he ever taught, namely, “vipassana” meditation, no need for concentration techniques, labeling of thoughts and other weirdness that was invented from whole cloth quite recently by folks far more familiar with Abhidhamma and other commentarial literature than they were with either the suttas or meditation practice.

    You see a very few people out there (Alan Wallace perhaps most notably, Bhikku Sujato on the Theravada side, along with Ajahn Brahm and a very few others) who point out how far removed from the Buddha’s teachings the modern vipassana movement is, but it seems to me that the pervasiveness of secular mindfulness practice exactly mirrors the relative availability of, say, Goenka and Mahasi style “vipassana” practices vs. training in the jhanas.

    Meanwhile concentration practices (albeit ones based on the Visuddhimagga rather than the suttas) as taught by Pa Auk Sayadaw and others seem to be the hot area for practice among the elite at Spirit Rock and IMS these days (Sayadaw is currently teaching his second 4 month retreat at Forest Refuge), but there seems to be no trickle down to the masses nor any clarity about the simple fact that mindfulness as presented by JKZ and his peers has nothing to do with what the Buddha taught or practiced.

  24. earl said

    Kevin, it seems that from an evolutionary perspective, ideas morph and change over time and this is probably both necessary and appropriate. When we find ourselves saying that something shouldn’t be evolving in the way that it is, we may be on shaky logical ground, although most of us do this most of the time. After all there is some sort of compelling combination of forces which move things in one direction rather than another, in reality, whether or not that matches theories which we have in mind and favor. To be of usefulness in the maelstrom of modern life practices do need to be simplified, I think. Processes that were quite useful in cultures that were rigidly hierarchical and separated monks from lay persons (with enormous existential limitations being assumed for the latter) are not likely to be equally useful in radically egalitarian societies where each person is to become some portion of their own spiritual authority (even if only at a pretty low level). Of course maybe it shouldn’t be that way.

  25. Kevin Knox said

    Hi Earl,

    I’m sure Glenn with his deep knowledge of early Buddhism will have much more fruitful things to say about this, but for what it’s worth the Buddha taught jhana to presumably busy lay people in his time, not just monastics. Not to say said laypeople were busy (or distracted) to the extent we are today.

    In any case, it is a question of priorities, now as then. I know plenty of busy folks with careers and families who start and end each day with an hour of meditation because it’s a priority. In a broader sense, does Buddhist practice need to adapt to our distracted society in order to be useful, or do we need to radically simplify our lives in order to be liberated by the dharma? With such massive secularization and dilution of meditation practice and going on I think we really need access to those few voices who are suggesting that those who want a taste of the Buddha’s level of freedom might do well to renounce as he renounced and practice meditation as he did.

  26. Gaurab said

    Hello,

    First of all, I would like to thank you for the wonderful article called Gautama vs the Buddha which has revealed so much to me. But I am also big on mindfulness. I thought it was what the Buddha taught, to be mindful of the present so that you don’t care about the past or the future too much so you can dissociate from the negative experiences of the past and not be too fearful of the future. One of the biggest proponents of mindfulness is the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He has a plethora of books and videos on the subject. I wonder what you think about him. This is important because I have joined a group called Wake Up USA to practice mindfulness and to be grateful about the blessings in life. Also could you outline in simple terms how meditation should be performed? What did Gautama say about this?

  27. jonckher said

    #all

    Ah, the perils of entering the conversation late. I have just read the above after commenting a little on this subject here (https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2012/05/09/on-the-faith-of-secular-buddhists/#comment-6123). The next generation (mindfulness 2.0 if you will – Steven C Hayes and Acceptance Commitment Therapy) has a bit more to it and is worth looking at. I will not insult any of you by summarizing it.

  28. Tomek said

    The Mindfulness Industry is selling its Elixir even at the World Economic Forum in Davos – latest news headlines.

  29. Andrew said

    From Tomek’s New York Times link extolling the virtues of the MIndfulness Industry:

    “You’re on a journey of self-discovery and you need a guide, she said.”

    I guess the mindfulness elixir is all about following authority and recognizing your subservience, or at least your ignorance. I thought the path was self-discovery? What’s this about needing to follow a guide? Must be a meme that fits comfortably with the Mainstream……you know – the old Standard Model.

  30. Patrick said

    Re 28
    Hi Tomek
    Isn’t it nice that its on the money page. No need to exert yourself! Inner and outer well-being side by side…in bed together…snug…ah the joys of capitalism! Off Later to Davos to stick it to the great unwashed…might get a bit of mindfullness training in too…sharpen the knives..upps sorry… the focus he! he!

  31. Tomek said

    What’s this about needing to follow a guide?

    Andrew (#29), be reasonable, guide is a must if you want to alter your href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/opinion/sunday/your-phone-vs-your-heart.html?src=me&ref=general”>vagal tone! How can one resist it if this is really the case? Certainly not the general public.

  32. amanithis said

    well, i think it is never the method but we humans who are to be blamed.

    mindfulness could be great, just as Christmas or any other stuff could be, if some people didn’t see how much money lay in leading astray those who are unwilling to see (should i say, who aren’t mindful enough?)…

    to me, mindfulness is about finding peace within amidst the chaos i encounter every day in Life, it is about accepting myself, and others… just as much as i can, of course. i come from a culture that is different from the American one, where it is almost “compulsory” to approach everything with a negative attitude (the remnants of communism)… and i realised it here, in the States, on first hearing about mindfulness how much easier its practice makes life.

    sorry, industry section, i am not interested that much. however, i do believe it is nicer to live without criticizing, being self-destructive, irritated and worried about things all the time. like…what i am used to back home.
    so i am a happy one here, a beginner, though. hopefully, i remain one, too…

    i hope my English let me express what i intended to, it doesn’t always do that 🙂
    thanks for reading.

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