Buddhist Scholars Warn Us To Be Aware Of McMindfulness

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Professional ‘Mindfulness’ teachers who lack adequate training are turning the mindfulness movement into a commodity that can be traded on the free market.

At a Buddhist Society conference the delegates were told of a lack of regulations regarding mindfulness techniques, and the danger of it being turned into a commodity by unregulated teachers within an ‘increasingly professionalized domain.’ According to some people in the mindfulness movement: Awareness of McMindfulness (semi-mindfulness) is itself mindfulness.

The Guardian reports:

“People are becoming professionally mindful,” Steven Stanley, a social psychologist at Cardiff University, told an audience of Buddhists and secular mindfulness practitioners on Wednesday.

It was possible to make a living from mindfulness, with growing opportunities for research, teaching and speaking, he said, adding that it is becoming an “increasingly professionalised domain” with a tendency towards standardised instruction.

The conference, Mindfulness: Secular, Religious, Both or Neither?, heard that more than 500 scientific papers on mindfulness were being published every year, and that more than two dozen UK universities now offer mindfulness courses. Global corporations such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and American Express have introduced mindfulness training for their staff.

However, amid the extraordinary growth of the secular mindfulness movement, there was rising concern about lack of regulation of the training of meditation teachers, the conference heard.

“Anyone can pop up and say they’re a mindfulness teacher, so there is a lot of anxiety within the mindfulness community,” said Madeleine Bunting, an adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on mindfulness and a former Guardian journalist.

By way of comparison, Bunting cited the growth of psychotherapy and the challenges of regulating its practitioners. British universities working to develop best practice on mindfulness teacher training had “grave concerns”, she said. “We have a ‘wild west’ at the moment.”

But, she added: “Whatever our anxieties – and there are plenty of legitimate ones – this is responding to a real need, and is relieving human suffering.”

An all-party group of MPs last week urged the government to fund the training of 1,200 new mindfulness teachers over the next five years to meet sharply rising demand for the technique in both the public and private sectors. This number of teachers would cover 15% of the 580,000 adults at risk of recurrent depression every year, said their report, Mindful Nation UK.

“The training of teachers is critical,” it added. “There is considerable and justifiable concern about the quality of teachers and how to ensure integrity.”

An estimated 2,200 mindfulness teachers have been trained to minimum standards over the past 10 years, but only about 700 were both active and had professional clinical training that qualified them to teach mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to people with depression, said the report.

Some mindfulness teaching gave cause for concern. “For example, some practitioners are delivering mindfulness courses without adequate personal or professional preparation; training in workplace settings has erred towards goal-oriented, institutionally-favoured ends, rather than addressing the causes of individual and collective distress,” outlined the report.

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, whose adherents have practiced meditation for 2,400 years. But in recent decades, a secular movement has exploded with hundreds of courses offered around the country and scores of books published.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is now widely used in the UK to treat mental illness, and mindfulness training has been introduced into schools, prisons and workplaces. In the US, it is being introduced into the military.

Mindfulness was seen by some as a “secular-religious movement”, said Stanley, proselytised with “evangelical fervour”. But, he added, it was essential “to acknowledge the debt to Buddhist scholars”.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts medical school, warned last week that some people feared 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”.

Edmondo Burr
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