I contributed the chapter below to Ronald E. Purser, David Forbes. Adam Burke, Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement (Basel: Springer Publishing, 2016) (link at bottom). It’s a big book, 500+ pages, with over 30 contributors. Many of those contributors will be familiar to readers of this blog; for example, David Loy, Richard Payne, Ronald Purser, and Bhikkhu Bodhi. I find the new, but obviously well-informed, voices, such as Zack Walsh, Per Drougge, and Edwin Ng, and many others, refreshing. I applaud the editors for their unorthodox group of contributors.
The title may give the impression that this is yet another of the proliferating paeans to the mindfulness industry or a How-To book. The book’s five parts reveal, however, that it’s up to something else:
Part I: Between Tradition and Modernity
Part II: Neoliberal Mindfulness Versus Critical Mindfulness
Part III: Genealogies of Mindfulness-Based Interventions
Part IV: Mindfulness as Critical Pedagogy
Part V: Commentary
As the first sentence of the Preface says, “This volume is a critical inquiry into the meaning of mindfulness today.” From my first perusal of the book, it seems that the degree of criticism varies from curry mild to habanero hot. Some pieces seem to be not at all critical; but I’ll have to take a closer look. In any case, the book should augur a new phase in the reception of mindfulness in the West. Let me know if you would like to review the book for this blog.
The final Part consists of only two chapters: Rick Repetti’s, “Meditation Matters: Replies to the Anti-McMindfulness Bandwagon!” and my “Criticism Matters: A Response to Rick Repetti.” As I understand it, the editors invited Repetti to offer a mindfulness-friendly voice to the overall critical tone of the volume. They then decided that his response itself merited a reply. And so they asked me to do so. Repetti’s background is philosophy. His chapter is over twenty pages long. Obviously, I couldn’t summarize or respond to his piece in its entirety; but there should still be some tasty pickins on the plate.
Criticism Matters: A Response to Rick Repetti
Rick Repetti has written a lengthy, somewhat sprawling, rebuttal to four criticisms leveled against contemporary “mindfulness.” I offer here my reaction to his text in the form of reader response criticism. I’m not using “reader response” in its technical sense. I just mean to convey that I will not be commenting on each of his complicated meanderings or analyzing his copious analogies or dissecting his various examples. That would be too much. I will instead read through his text, pause at those points that strike me as salient, and then offer my more or less spontaneous response to them.
To begin, I have some comments about the piece as a whole. As I read the synopsis I found myself questioning the viability of Repetti’s overall argument. That is, I had to wonder whether he was making the right refutations. By “right” I mean refutations that other defenders of contemporary mindfulness would find necessary and significant. To be more specific, would other refuters of the so-called McMindfulness critique concur that the four objections that Repetti singles out for treatment are indeed the decisive issues to be addressed? If not, what would be the point of responding to his defense of these objections? Mindfulness proponents would simply dismiss my response as an irrelevant straw man argument, even if the straw man was fashioned by one of their own. On reflection, two things occurred to me. First, I have in fact come across these four objections elsewhere, in both formal and informal settings. So, I do think that Repetti is addressing criticisms that mindfulness proponents deem worthy of refutation. Second, it occurred to me that my response will all but certainly be accused of being a flimsy straw man attack anyway. Whether they are aware of it or not, mindfulness proponents are fast gaining the reputation of being people who are less than fully open to the full force of the criticism leveled against them. They employ various rhetorical strategies for evading the brunt of some critical point. It would be a useful project for someone to chart and analyze these strategies. I was considering whether I should take that approach here; namely, present a kind of rhetorical criticism of mindfulness. Then it occurred to me: Repetti’s piece is valuable not because it defends mindfulness against certain objections, but because it exudes the very spirit of the mindfulness community’s engagement with criticism tout court. Along the way, Repetti’s piece exhibits two stock mindfulness rhetorical responses to criticism. I call these two responses respectively conceptual shape-shifting and covert idealism. I’ll say more about each of these strategies below. The point I am making here is that Repetti’s piece is instructive because it performs the rabbit hole that is “mindfulness.”
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