Meditation goes mainstream

When did meditation become so conventional?   I have been interested in it for many years, dipping into practice on and off.  Always saying to myself I will do more of this “when I have time”.  As one guru said, though : “Too busy for meditation? Huh, that’s what lazy people say.”  I have every sympathy, meditation is good for you and intelligent people make space for it in their lives, often getting up that little bit earlier to ensure that they start their day fruitfully.

When I first became interested in meditation it was very “New Age”, I am not sure you admitted to being attracted to it in serious company. Now all that has changed.  Why?

It is mainly due to an American medical doctor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who married together his personal and professional learning and practices in a simple but hugely transformative way. Having become a practitioner of Buddhist meditation himself, he realised its potential benefits for his patients and in 1979 started a programme called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR) in his workplace at The University of Massachusetts Medical School.

This programme has become incredibly popular around the world, and has made meditative practices acceptable to the western mind1.     As Mindful.org2 proudly and confidently proclaims:  “Being mindful is an idea – actually a way of being – whose time has come.”    (Tell that to Buddhists, who have been ‘mindful’ for generations!)

All the descriptions of mindfulness which I have read sound exactly the same as the meditation practice and founding principles of the organisation that I have followed for years. Save for the fact that my mine has a spiritual dimension if you wish to consider it which the Mindfulness movement avoids.

Now there is mindfulness in schools, in business, and in the boardroom, even advocated by accountants in their professional magazines – and recently by the Daily Mail.  It does not get more mainstream than that, with the Daily Mail giving Mindfulness its seal of approval by asserting that :      “While it has its roots in meditation, there’s nothing hippy-ish about it.”3        Oh, that’s okay then.

If one had suggested in the past that schoolchildren or business people should meditate during their working day you would have been regarded very suspiciously and it would, of course, never have been accepted. Now the West is starting to discover what Eastern countries have known all along – meditation is good for you.

What do I see as the benefits?  On a superficial level it is simply calming and relaxing. It slows down your mind and body, so that in the midst of the demands of your everyday life you find a moment to de-stress. It also sets you up to be less affected by other people’s negative assaults on your mood and thinking. When I meet people who meditate diligently I always see them moving tranquilly through life, unruffled by disagreeable people or events they come across. Yes, really.  They have learned the magic of imperturbably living “in the moment” and avoiding ruminations on past errors and future concerns.

On another level, science is now beginning to understand that meditation has significant beneficial effects on our bodies, emotions, and brains. I’ll write about this more fully another time.

So roll on Mindfulness. If it introduces more people to this peaceful practice so much the better for their mental and physical health.  They will reap the rewards – and so will we if the people around us are treating us more patiently and considerately.

So whether I call it meditation or mindfulness I am mindful that I too must get back to it on a regular basis.  In fact, I think I shall go and have a quiet moment of mindfulness right now…..

 

1. The Stress Reduction Program : http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/stress/index.aspx

2. http://www.mindful.org

3. The Daily Mail 26th May 2014

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