Buddhist Society Conference in UK Examines the Commoditization of Mindfulness
A recent Buddhist Society conference in Britain entitled “Mindfulness: Secular, Religious, Both or Neither?,” which examined the remarkable growth of the secular mindfulness movement, sounded a note of caution about a lack of regulation in the training of mindfulness meditation teachers. The mindfulness movement is in danger of being turned into a commodity, the audience of Buddhists and secular mindfulness practitioners was told—“a product to be bought and sold on the free market.” (The Guardian)
The global mindfulness movement, which has taken a particularly strong hold in Western societies in recent decades, has its roots in Buddhist meditation practices that date back thousand of years. This popularization has resulted in a secular bandwagon, with mindfulness courses and workshops popping up in towns and cities across the world and hundreds of book titles published every year.
“Whatever our anxieties—and there are plenty of legitimate ones—this is responding to a real need, and is relieving human suffering,” said Madeleine Bunting, an adviser on mindfulness to the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG). However, citing the growth of psychotherapy and the challenges of regulating its practitioners, she cautioned: “Anyone can pop up and say they’re a mindfulness teacher, so there is a lot of anxiety within the mindfulness community.” (The Guardian)
In Britain, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is now widely used to treat mental illness, and mindfulness has begun to be taught in schools, prisons, and workplaces. In the US, it is even being introduced into the military. According to a presentation at the conference, more than 500 scientific papers on mindfulness are published each year, and more than two dozen British universities offer mindfulness courses. Even multinational corporations typically associated with the pursuit of more quantifiable objectives, such as American Express, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan, have introduced mindfulness training for their employees.
“It is effectively a brand, a multimillion-pound industry that thrives on ever more people buying books, apps and courses,” said psychologist Catherine Wikholm, co-author of the book The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?. “But, primarily, there’s a problem with the way that scientific studies are reported. Beneficial findings are overstated in some media reports, whereas studies without the expected results go under the radar. This leads to a skewed picture wherein the enthusiasm may be ahead of the evidence.” (The Telegraph)
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, also offers a word of warning, cautioning that some people are afraid that a “sort of superficial ‘McMindfulness’ is taking over, which ignores the ethical foundations of the meditative practices and traditions from which mindfulness has emerged, and divorces it from its profoundly transformative potential.” (The Guardian)
Despite the air of scepticism surounding the mass-market approach employed in some segments of the movement, the benefits of mindfulness when correctly practiced are undeniable. A landmark British report, “Mindful Nation UK,” published earlier this month by the MAPPG, presents an examination of the benefits of mindfulness and lays out recommendations for the provision of mindfulness services. After an 18-month inquiry into mindfulness and based on evidence from leading scientists, practitioners, and policymakers, the MAPPG concluded that secular meditation courses should be made available to 580,000 people in Britain who experience recurrent depression, that the state should train 1,200 new meditation teachers, and that more mindfulness should be taught in British schools, as it has been shown to improve student behavior and enhance academic performance. The MAPPG has also recommended that prisons and probation services test mindfulness programs to reduce recidivism.
Mindfulness at risk of being ‘turned into a free market commodity’ (The Guardian)
Mindfulness in the mainstream: an old solution to modern problems (The Guardian)
Mindfulness has huge health potential – but McMindfulness is no panacea (The Guardian)
Could ‘mindfulness’ make Britain happier? (The Scotsman)
Mindfulness backlash: Could meditation be bad for your health? (The Telegraph)
Mindful Nation UK