|Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash|
by Catharine Hannay
When I started the Mindful Teachers website six years ago, I felt passionate about sharing the benefits of mindfulness with as many teachers as possible. Nowadays, I'm more concerned about not contributing to the over-enthusiasm that's led to, for example,
"teachers who did not have a personal mindfulness practice being asked to deliver MBA’s [mindfulness-based approaches] by their school principals."
Effective Mindfulness-Based Approaches, for Students and Teachers, interview with Keith Horan
I've been working on updating the Benefits of Mindfulness page, and I confess that I've been finding it quite challenging. I'm a firm believer in the benefits of a sincere, long-term practice, but I'm frustrated by the available research and the ways it's typically reported.
In a critique of the current standards of research, Van Dam et al outline some of the major concerns:
- "The term mindfulness has a plethora of meanings."
- "Much popular media fails to accurately represent scientific examination of mindfulness, making rather exaggerated claims about the potential benefits of mindfulness practices."
- "Much more research will be needed before we know for what mental and physical disorders, in which individuals, mindfulness-based interventions are definitely helpful."
Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation
I'd like to share some of my thoughts on these issues, in the hopes that it will contribute to the ongoing conversation about we do and don't know about the benefits of mindfulness.
First of All, What Do We Actually Mean by 'Mindfulness'?
One of the most popular definitions of mindfulness is "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
In fact, this definition has become so widespread that I once saw it attributed to "Dr. Jon-Kabat Zinn, the inventor of mindfulness." (I'm trying to come up with an adjective that conveys feeling simultaneously dismayed and amused. Dis-mused, perhaps?)
For the record, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has never claimed to have 'invented' mindfulness, but he is one of the key figures in bringing a secular form of mindfulness meditation to a western audience. His pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in 1979 has grown into the influential Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.
But as popular as his definition of mindfulness may be,
"Some people have refrained from accepting Kabat-Zinn's definition of mindfulness, or else have interpreted it in different, sometimes conflicting ways. Kabat-Zinn (2011) himself has acknowledged that the term represents (to him) a much broader scope of concepts and practices than what his earlier (1990) definition might suggest."
Van Dam et al, "Mind the Hype"
I'm fascinated by the different ways of understanding and explaining mindfulness, and I try to include as broad a range of perspectives as possible. (See, for example, What Is Mindfulness? and Metaphors for Mindfulness and Meditation.)
This has gotten me into trouble a couple of times.