recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : rhysdavid   1

The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’ - NYTimes.com
"Most newly stylish coinages carry with them some evidence of grammatical trauma. Consider “affluencer,” “selfie,” “impactful.” Notes of cynicism and cutesiness come through. But every now and then a bright exception to this dispiriting routine appears. A rookie word makes its big-league debut, a stadium of pedants prepares to peg it with tomatoes and — nothing. A halfhearted heckle. The new word looks only passably pathetic. Maddeningly, it has heft.

“Mindfulness” may be that hefty word now, one that can’t readily be dismissed as trivia or propaganda. Yes, it’s current among jaw-grinding Fortune 500 executives who take sleeping pills and have “leadership coaches,” as well as with the moneyed earnest, who shop at Whole Foods, where Mindful magazine is on the newsstand alongside glossies about woodworking and the environment. It looks like nothing more than the noun form of “mindful” — the proper attitude toward the London subway’s gaps — but “mindfulness” has more exotic origins. In the late 19th century, the heyday of both the British Empire and Victorian Orientalism, a British magistrate in Galle, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with the formidable name of Thomas William Rhys Davids, found himself charged with adjudicating Buddhist ecclesiastical disputes. He set out to learn Pali, a Middle Indo-Aryan tongue and the liturgical language of Theravada, an early branch of Buddhism. In 1881, he thus pulled out “mindfulness” — a synonym for “attention” from 1530 — as an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati.

The translation was indeed rough. Sati, which Buddhists consider the first of seven factors of enlightenment, means, more nearly, “memory of the present,” which didn’t track in tense-preoccupied English. “Mindfulness” stuck — but may have saddled the subtle sati with false-note connotations of Victorian caution, or even obedience. (“Mind your manners!”)

“Mindfulness” finally became an American brand, however, a hundred years later, when the be-here-now, Eastern-inflected explorations of the ’60s came to dovetail with self-improvement regimes. In the 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist in New England and a longtime meditator in the Zen Buddhist tradition, saw in Rhys Davids’s word a chance to scrub meditation of its religious origins. Kabat-Zinn believed that many of the secular people who could most benefit from meditation were being turned off by the whiffs of reincarnation and other religious esoterica that clung to it. So he devised a new and pleasing definition of “mindfulness,” one that now makes no mention of enlightenment: “The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”"



"If it’s a revolution, it’s not a grass-roots one. Although mindfulness teachers regularly offer the practice in disenfranchised communities in the United States and abroad, the powerful have really made mindfulness their own, exacting from the delicate idea concrete promises of longer lives and greater productivity. In January, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kabat-Zinn led executives and 1 percenters in a mindfulness meditation meant to promote general well-being. Many in pinstripes and conference lanyards also took time away from panels on Bitcoin and cybersecurity to communally breathe, and to attend a packed session called The Human Brain: Deconstructing Mindfulness, led by Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health."



"Mindfulness as “keeping in tune” has a nice ring to it. But it’s “focused on the task at hand” that appeals to managers, like Jackson, who are conscious of performance goals. Might workplace mindfulness — in the cubicle or on the court — be just another way to keep employees undistracted and to get them to work harder for nothing but airy rewards? In this context of performance enhancement, “mindfulness” seems perilously close to doggerel from the same playbook that brought us corny affirmations, inner children and vision boards.

Maybe the word “mindfulness” is like the Prius emblem, a badge of enlightened and self-satisfied consumerism, and of success and achievement. If so, not deploying mindfulness — taking pills or naps for anxiety, say, or going out to church or cocktails — makes you look sort of backward or classless. Like driving a Hummer.

As usual with modish and ideologically freighted words, this one has also come to inform high-minded prescriptions for raising children. Evidently they’re no longer expected to mind their manners; we are expected instead to mind their emotional states. Recently, Hanna Rosin, in Slate, argued that mindful parenting might be a Trojan horse: Though the mindful mother claims to stay open-minded about her child’s every action and communication, she ends up being hospitable to only the kid’s hippie, peacenik side — the side she comes to prefer.

In Rosin’s example, a mother supposedly mindful of her son’s capacity for violence nonetheless doesn’t rest until he gives a peaceable, sympathetic explanation for it — that he was hurt and overreacted. “I was mad, and he had it coming,” which might be the lad’s own truth, doesn’t fly. The mother’s “mindful attention,” rather than representing freedom from judgment, puts a thumb on the scale.

It’s profoundly tempting to dismiss as cant any word current with Davos, the N.B.A. and the motherhood guilt complex. Mindful fracking: Could that be next? Putting a neuroscience halo around a byword for both uppers (“productivity”) and downers (“relaxation”) — to ensure a more compliant work force and a more prosperous C-suite — also seems twisted. No one word, however shiny, however intriguingly Eastern, however bolstered by science, can ever fix the human condition. And that’s what commercial mindfulness may have lost from the most rigorous Buddhist tenets it replaced: the implication that suffering cannot be escaped but must be faced. Of that shift in meaning — in the Westernization of sati — we should be especially mindful."
mindfulness  2015  productivity  labor  words  virginiaheffernan  sati  buddhism  jonkabat-zinn  rhysdavid  meditiation  posturing  trends  openmindedness  parenting  davos  mentalhealth  awareness  via:ablerism 
april 2015 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read