Dear friends, colleagues, students
I was reading an interview with Daniel Goleman (of EQ fame) about his most recent book ‘Focus’:Will mindfulness change the world? Daniel Goleman isn’t sure.
I loved the bit where the interviewer said to Goleman:
I was struck by something you said recently that there’s a fork in the road, between mindfulness for stress reduction and mindfulness for liberation and wisdom.
The interviewer seemed to think the paths might converge, I don’t think Goleman was so sure and I am not sure I am either.
It does seem to me that something has been lost as David Loy suggests. Loy has written on nondual mindfulness and how this was present in early Western philosophy but lost along the way only to be picked up by the West later on through our interest in Eastern religions and philosophies. Kingsley writes about this too and cautions that we can only really understand the religion of another culture if we understand our own. Kingsley also shows that the pre- Socratics understood that mindfulness was not practiced for self-development but for the whole culture, the whole race, before the western rational mind took over and created the notion of an individual thinking/feeling/wanting/selfish self something many of us are now attempting to divest ourselves of!
Loy is concerned that the contemporary mindfulness movement has gone somewhat off course from its original roots, perhaps this is what happens when a philosophy arising out of a collectivist culture is transplanted to an individualistic one. Suddenly mindfulness meditation becomes understood as a program of psychological development to assist with personal problems, stress levels and reactive thoughts and emotions. I agree with Loy that on some level there are some benefits to this but in his words:
What we might call the “psychologization” of Buddhism tends to de-emphasize its ethical precepts, community life and awakening itself, all of which are central aspects of Buddhism in its Asian context. This is especially true of the mindfulness movement, which extracts one technique from a tradition that has so much more to offer, including a deeper transformative insight into one’s true nature.
He puts it so well I continue the quote:
Without denigrating such practices, we need to ask: Do psychological and mindfulness approaches help to develop an awakened society that pursues social and ecological justice? How do they address the challenge of growth-oriented corporations that are damaging the sustainability of life on Earth? Is Western Buddhism being commodified into a self-help and stress-reduction program that does not raise questions about consumerism and our dysfunctional economic system, but helps us adapt to them?
To me Loy is raising some important questions, ones I will continue to explore. It seems I have found my spiritual home at last – well I had it before on an inner level but it was so ineffable that I found it difficult to frame intellectually. I feel a great sense of relief and now understand why I have never felt ‘at home’ with certain lineages of mindfulness such as the ones working from a ‘mindfulness science’ orientation include mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness based cognitive behavior therapy (MBCBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
These programs are in the main created around mindfulness of the breath sitting practices that take effort, time, practice and preparation and have been have been described by Dunne (2004) as ‘systematic’, ‘technical’ and ‘manualised’ with set practices, timelines and developmental trajectories.
I have always struggled with linear approaches – to anything. I need something that is more flexible, accessible, with space for complexity,contradiction, realisation, synchronicity. I know that many people really need order, structure, consistency and that is where they can flower. Not for me, I feel stifled. I guess this connects with learning styles too, we do have preferences, it’s not a one-size fits all situation. Of course one style does tend to be more powerful, recognised and valued as being somehow more rigorous or consistent and it always helps if you can measure something if you are seeking funding!
I am so much more comfortable with an alternative approach to mindfulness already deeply familiar to me as a long time meditator is ‘non dual’ mindfulness which Dunne (2004) sees as somewhat ‘contrarian’, standing as it does outside mainstream concepts of mindfulness. I think I have been referred to as ‘contrarian’ on more than one occasion actually! I guess to me it was so alternative I didn’t see how I could bring it in to the mainstream. It is however given its own chapter in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s latest edited book on mindfulness so it has a place at the academic table!
Non-dualism is oriented towards a change of perspective or a different way of seeing (Pillar, 2007). Practices are adjusted to suit individual propensities and capacities, with an inherent suspicion of systematizing and an openness to the process being intuitive and effortless, something I am certainly drawn to.
In the non dual approach mindfulness capacity is understood to already be present within the individual waiting to be catalyzed by the presence of someone who has already had experience of the state of non duality – a’ primordial, natural awareness’ (http://undividedjournal.com/about-the-journal)- in which all things are understood to be connected and not separate, while at the same time retaining their individuality.
In the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti’s words:
To bring about a radical transformation in society and oneself, the observer must undergo a tremendous change- that is to realize that the observer and the observed are one (1970, p 97).
In scientific fields there has been a recognition of the ‘observer’ effect but this does not seem to have yet been taken up in mainstream psychology which is embracing mindfulness at a rate that exceeds understanding in my view.
It is good to see though that there is some nuance appearing in the field with some critical discussion. I look forward to contributing to the literature on non dual mindfulness in education, I found a lovely book the other day on non dualism and drama and theatre in education (Pillay, K. (2007). Nondualism and educational drama and theatre. South Africa: Noumenon Press).
I can now see that participants in my latest mindfulness research did not only experience a shift in their thinking and behavior but also tapped into their own innate wisdom, and as well, experienced greater openness and refinement of their entire being. I now want to take my mindfulness research to the next stage, since I have found that once the process has been catalyzed and it has sufficiently taken hold a new consciousness gradually begins to pervade one’s internal and external experience as a unified whole, transcending the boundary of the individual self.
Of course I have also experienced changes through the process of conducting the research (into the literature and in the field) – since as Bentz and Rehorick (2008) found through their transformative phenomenological research, the inquirer is also changed in the research process. This has continued to deepen within me which is reflected in my writings in this blog over the last 15 months or so.
thanks for reading!