This Thing called ‘Mindfulness’ – De-Mystifying Mindfulness by Universiteit Leiden #2

This Thing called ‘Mindfulness’ – De-Mystifying Mindfulness by Universiteit Leiden #2


So hello and welcome. Since you’ve made it this far, that’s into
the first session of the first module of this course, you’ve already made the
series of momentous decisions and choices. Most importantly, for whatever reason,
you’ve decided that you want to know a little bit more about what this
thing called mindfulness actually is. And you’ve even decided,
whether you’re fully aware of this or not, that you’d like to
experiment on yourself a little in order to explore what this thing
called mindfulness feels like for you. In fact, one of the things
that’s really exciting for me is that you’re here
because you want to be here. Now, you could be doing all kinds
of other things with your time but, you’re doing this. So, I’m guessing that you’re not
being forced to do this although maybe you are and probably you haven’t
been prescribed this by your doctor or that maybe you have. So, there’s something about this thing
called mindfulness that has caught your interest and made you think that this
might be a good way to spend some of your very precious time. As it happens, taking some time to think
about why we’re here is actually a pretty good place to start. The reasons why people become
interested in mindfulness can be fascinating in themselves. Not only, but also because it’s not
immediately obvious to most people. Or perhaps even to anyone, what this
thing called mindfulness actually means. What is this thing called Mindfulness,
and why are you interested in it? As you might expect,
I’ve asked this question of quite a few people in the past,
some of them students at university, some of them colleagues at conferences,
and some of them participants in stress reduction in our cognitive therapy courses
that I’ve taught in various contexts. The answers have been myriad. Indeed, the answers to this question
are so interesting, that entire research projects have been run in order to survey
and catalogue the various reasons. You’ll get the chance to explain
your reasons to your classmates and to me during this module, but
I’d like to spend a little time today talking about some of the reasons
that seem to emerge most often. Perhaps, you will recognize some of them. It’s interesting to see what we can learn
about the representation of mindfulness today from these reasons. Recent studies have asked
participants on mindfulness courses to explain their motivations for
attendance. In most cases, participants are given a
list of options that the researchers have pre-selected as reasons that
they think should explain the motivations of participants in
formal mindfulness interventions. In general, the results suggests that the vast
majority of people who take up mindfulness do so because they feel that it will help
them to reduce negative experiences. In fact, about 95% of people recognize
this as their motivation for participation. This category also includes the aspiration
to be calmer to regulate their emotion more effectively and so on. About 30% of people hope that mindfulness
will allow them to enhance their sense of well-being which also includes
aspects such as feeling happier, being more fulfilled,
being more self-aware. And perhaps, even having better
concentration and focus. And indeed a similar proportion of people
really become involved because somebody else has told them that
they might like it, or they might enjoy it,
it might interest them in some way. And a minority of people, about 6%,
take up mindfulness because they associate it with religious or spiritual cultivation
and in particular with Buddhism. These general responses by people
who are taking formally approved and accredited mindfulness courses like
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, its MBSR, or Mindfulness Based
Cognitive Therapy or MBCT do capture quite a few of the most important ways
that mindfulness is represented today. In fact, perhaps you already have
a sense of mindfulness as a technique or technology that might
help you to cope with or deal with various negative
aspects of your life. And in fact, it might also help you to enhance
various positive aspects of your life. And given how pervasive and popular mindfulness has become in recent
years, it’s quite likely that you already know people who have told you about their
experiences of mindfulness in these terms. But one result from these formal studies
that surprises me is the relatively small proportion of people who
apparently come to mindfulness for reasons associated with spirituality or
religion. Given the amount of mindfulness taught
in Buddhist contexts including so-called secular Buddhist contexts, including vipasana or
insight meditation centers. This is especially surprising. There are lots of popular reasons for
this, which include, for instance, the fact that data like this
is usually drawn from populations who attending formal eight week
secular mindfulness programs of the kinds that we’ll discuss
in module two of this course. So the population is at
these to some extent preselected based on their
instrumental motivations that is people learning Buddhist mindfulness
are effectively excluded from the data. Another possible reason is the vagueness
of the terms spiritual and religious. Which can mean all kinds
of things positively and negatively to different people, and
it’s not always clear how or whether these differ from concepts like self
cultivation, for instance, which might in turn seem very similar to something like
the cultivation of well-being and so on. Something that is clear from my own
experience is that this last question of spirituality is quite often unresolved in
the minds of mindfulness practitioners and everyone else. When I say that it’s unresolved,
I mean something like this. Some people come to mindfulness
precisely because they’ve been convinced that it has nothing to
do with spirituality. But at the same time fearing that it might
have something to do with spirituality. For these people, the idea of
spirituality signifies something like the absence of scientific reason. So while their motivation is
not about spirituality per se, spirituality is one of their
unresolved concerns about mindfulness. Their fear is that contemporary
Mindfulness is somehow in denial about its relationship with spirituality,
that it both isn’t and is a spiritual discipline
at the same time. In fact, this kind of lack of resolution
is also present in quite a lot of the scholarship about mindfulness
which often navigates uncertainly and nervously around questions of Buddhism and
Buddhist psychology. As though talking too much about
what is sometimes called the B word might undermined the scientific
credibility of the work being done. Underlying this view is a deep seated
cultural scepticism in Western societies that forms of knowledge that
have originated anywhere other than Europe are unscientific and
ultimately muddle-headed. It’s at least partially because
of this that practitioners and scholars remain slightly anxious about
what kind of knowledge we’re interested in when we’re interested in mindfulness. But this is also one of the reasons why
mindfulness is so cutting edge, and so exciting. It relies on and builds bridges between
different traditions of thinking about and experimenting on human consciousness. Today, mindfulness emerges as
the real child of a global modernity, bringing together knowledge, theory, and
method from multiple disciplines, and many regions from around the world. In other words,
when we talk about spirituality and the context of modern mindfulness, we
need not to be talking about new ages and all the hippie movement but
then we might be. And we might also be talking about
a scientist fear of association with this. We need not be talking
about something that opposes scientific method reason or tool. Instead, we could be
talking about the idea that mindfulness is a kind of
consciousness discipline that exists in the intersection
of myriad forms of knowledge and inquiry rooted in the creativity and
openness of contemporary science. In other words, our anxiety about the
tension between scientific rationality and spirituality is one of the ways in which
mindfulness remains rather mysterious and provocative today. So even if you’re not someone who
worries about this personally, the chances are good that you live in a
society in which this is a general concern of modernity. It might be worth actually
pausing at this point to ask yourself about your motivation for
studying this course. In particular,
why not check in with yourself right now before we really get started and
see how you feel about the possibilities. That, for instance, this journey
might be an entirely scientific one. Or that it might also involve
elements of the spiritual journey, however we might define that. Or that it might also be both
of these things at once. How do you feel about that? The rest of this first module, we’re going
to take a brief look at some sketches of what mindfulness means
to different people. We’re going to do this in the form
of exploring three big archetypes or ideal types that represent popular
preconceptions about mindfulness. Including some fears, some prejudices,
but also some romances about it. And then in the rest of this course,
we’re going to slowly and systematically work out which elements of
these preconceptions stand up to scrutiny. And which are simply misconceptions or
fantasies. We’re going to look at the figures of
the monk, the ninja, and the zombie. And today we’ve already considered some
of the preconceptions of the scientist, our fourth model. These sketches which
are sometimes ridiculous also provide us with a way
into the big question. What the heck is this
thing called mindfulness? At the very least, these preconceptions reveal that
there are a number of different and sometimes competing understandings of and
associations with mindfulness today. Which can leave us confused or even
mystified about what it actually is or even whether it’s
actually anything at all. So, having explored some of these terrain. The rest of the course aims to map out and
demystified the landscape explaining what this mindfulness thing
really looks like today and how we can sensibly talk about it in
different ways and in different senses.

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