WHEN IT COMES to their effectiveness as mental techniques — offering calm, stress relief and some positive health results — the science is in on mindfulness and meditation. They work and they’re good for you.
And that’s one reason why they are being offered in the corporate world (at the World Bank, Google and Twitter, to name a few), in parts of the UN and in a number of government departments and state-owned enterprises across the world, including China.
It’s incredible how quickly these techniques, brought to us by Buddhism, have become mainstream.
But there’s a snag.
And that’s the fact that mindfulness and meditation techniques might indeed have been given to us by Buddhism, but Buddhism “is not, contrary to popular reports … primarily about stress reduction for middle management”,” as Curtis White and Andrew Cooper put it in Salon.com.
Not that it isn’t terrific that our corporate warriors can now be, thanks to some essentialised Buddhist mindfulness and meditation techniques, more chilled out than they might otherwise. But, the simple fact is that the underlying motivation for why institutions and corporations are making them increasingly available isn’t necessarily compatible with the core message of the wisdom tradition the techniques came from.
Like training people to function better in “extreme stress environments” such as fighting wars or, as Leon Wieseltier argues in New Republic, smoothing white collar strategies and practising industrial psychology. A tactic he calls “managerial promulgation of doctrines of the mind that will pacify workers and motivate them for ‘high performance’.”
“There is always the risk of using mindfulness merely as a tool to increase concentration and focus directed at achieving ethically questionable goals,” adds Matthieu Ricard in the Huffington Post.
Originally trained as a scientist Ricard is a Buddhist Monk and an international best-selling author and has been at the cutting edge of the interface between neuroscience and meditation.
As Ricard points out mindfulness as a contemporary movement was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn but it is important to underline that at the essence of his methods are notions of benevolence, altruism and compassion.
“A calm and clear mind is not, in and of itself, a guarantee for ethical behavior,” says Ricard. “There can be mindful snipers and mindful psychopaths who maintain a calm and stable mind. But there cannot be caring snipers and caring psychopaths.”
Mindfulness, says Ricard, with altruism embedded in it from the start — something he calls “caring mindfulness” — brings compassion, focus and clarity and offers a “very potent, secular way to cultivate benevolence and promote a more altruistic society”.
“By practicing caring mindfulness, we get two for the price of one since, in order to cultivate compassion, we need to be attentive and mindful,” he says. “When our mind is drifting all over the world, we are not cultivating anything.”
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