Author Topic: Mindfulness: the altered state of America  (Read 3334 times)

Ensapa

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Mindfulness: the altered state of America
« on: September 20, 2012, 11:34:39 AM »
Meditation is now accepted in mainstream america as a method to stabilize the mind. I dont know if this is a good thing or a bad thing because a teaching that can bring people to enlightenment is now used to do something so mundane as settling down the mind....

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Mindfulness: the altered state of America
Mindfulness meditation was once a tool of the counter-culture. But now it's transforming the minds of conservative America


US marines stationed near Fallujah, in Iraq. 'Meditation practice improved working memory and mood among US marines in the period before deployment to Iraq.' Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
"A quiet revolution is happening in America." So says Tim Ryan, Ohio congressman and author of A Mindful Nation, which documents the spread of mindfulness meditation across the US, and argues for its widespread adoption as a way to favourably affect the country's healthcare system, economy, schools and military.

Just published, the book is significant not so much for what's being said – evidence for the benefits of mindfulness has been piling up in scientific journals over recent years – but for who's saying it and how: an elected politician in Washington passionately advocating meditation as a way to face some of the most serious issues facing his country. Ryan himself jokes of hearing about a conversation that took place at a recent mindfulness conference as he walked by: "That's the congressman who's written a book about meditation," remarked one bystander. "Oh, really?" said another. "Will he still be a congressman after the book comes out?"

Ryan may not have to worry. The practices he recommends are drawn from Buddhism, but commonly taught as secular disciplines, and (unless I missed it) the B-word isn't mentioned once in A Mindful Nation. Ryan is a Catholic, and positions his plea squarely in the context of western, rather than eastern, tradition – his book is subtitled "How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance and Recapture the American Spirit". He aligns mindfulness with no-nonsense values such as "self-reliance, stick-to-itiveness, perseverance and getting the job done", as well as the softer sounding "connection, kindness, caring and compassion". The book draws on plentiful neuroscientific and clinical data supporting his claims, as well as interviews with scientists who have tested mindfulness on hospital patients, schoolchildren and even the armed forces (meditation practice improved working memory and mood among US marines in the period before deployment to Iraq).

Some Buddhists are uneasy about the mainstream co-option of mindfulness. Whereas meditators in the 60s and 70s allied themselves with counter-cultures, this movement is happening right in the heart of some very conservative institutions – bankers, government officials, doctors and management consultants are among those being sponsored to pay attention to raisins (a typical opening meditation practice) as a way to enhance not just wellbeing but also productivity and creativity.

Buddhism's second noble truth states that the cause of suffering is craving; is the power of mindfulness diluted when taught as part of the culture in contexts that may support craving? Could it even come to be perverted when employed as an instrument for the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, which from a Buddhist perspective might be viewed as a contradiction? Might happiness come from letting go of attachment even to happiness itself? And isn't mindfulness just one spoke of the wheel in the Eightfold Path – what has happened to right intention, right action, right livelihood and the rest?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the developer of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programme, and a pioneer of secular mindfulness practice in America, was asked at the same conference that Ryan attended about differences between Buddhism and the MBSR approach. Pressed for time in his reply, he elected for two words: "No difference." He then tracked back, and added a third: "No essential difference." The genius of his programme has been to take core Buddhist teachings and practices and offer them in a way that connects with the realities of suffering in western 21st century life – while not compromising on their basic content, and inviting them to be tested through scientific study as well as personal experience.

Whether you call it Buddhism, mindfulness-based stress reduction or something else, if these methods are shown to alleviate suffering then they are worth our attention. If they don't, or if they lose their potency through compromise and dilution, they aren't. Jonty Heaversedge and I refer to this as The Mindful Manifesto, meant not in the sense of an overt programme of meditation-based policymaking, but in the original spirit of the word as something manifest, or plainly appearing. This is also basically what meditation helps cultivate – a plain showing of our patterns of being, which leads to greater freedom to change them, if we wish.

Despite the assertion of traditional American values, Ryan may actually be an important radical, willing to use his influence to trigger a shift in cultural attitudes and practices, leading perhaps to less pursuit and more happiness. Having looked at the science, and experienced the effects of meditation in his own life, he is convinced that mindfulness "will be the next great movement in the United States", and declares that: "I would be derelict in my duty as a congressman if I didn't do my part to make mindfulness accessible to as many people as possible in our nation." As the first mainstream US politician nails his colours to the meditation mast, it'll be interesting to see what happens next, both to Ryan and to American mindfulness.

Dorje Pakmo

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Re: Mindfulness: the altered state of America
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2012, 06:16:55 AM »
Dear Ensapa,
Thank you for sharing this interesting article about meditation being adopted by America as a method to stabilise the mind. After reading this article, I personally feel that there is nothing wrong with Americans practising mindfulness as a way to stabilise and calm the mind. Although the practice of "Mindfulness" is derived from the Four Noble Truths and may be only one out of the eight, from the Noble Eightfold Path which leads one out of Samsara.

The Noble Eightfold Path:
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

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Some Buddhists are uneasy about the mainstream co-option of mindfulness. Whereas meditators in the 60s and 70s allied themselves with counter-cultures, this movement is happening right in the heart of some very conservative institutions – bankers, government officials, doctors and management consultants are among those being sponsored to pay attention to raisins (a typical opening meditation practice) as a way to enhance not just well-being but also productivity and creativity.

Buddhism's second noble truth states that the cause of suffering is craving; is the power of mindfulness diluted when taught as part of the culture in contexts that may support craving? Could it even come to be perverted when employed as an instrument for the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, which from a Buddhist perspective might be viewed as a contradiction? Might happiness come from letting go of attachment even to happiness itself? And isn't mindfulness just one spoke of the wheel in the Eightfold Path – what has happened to right intention, right action, right livelihood and the rest?

The Americans having embraced the practice of meditations and mindfulness is a sign of acceptance of the practice of another's religion and it actually paves way to interfaith harmony among the human race. By UNDERSTANDING another's religion and adopting what is good, I really do not see anything wrong with it. Through understanding another's religion practice, one gets constructive ideas and allows positive interactions between people of different religious traditions which creates harmony among the human race and it actually contributes to a very big picture that is WORLD PEACE.

Every positive change will have to start from somewhere or something. Therefore, having embraced meditations and cultivating mindfulness, it is a small and positive step towards the betterment of a single individual and eventually a major portion of the society. Although mindfulness is only a spoke out of the Noble Eightfold Path, but MINDFULNESS when practised will lead one to be AWARE of one's ACTION by having a RIGHT VIEW of his/her surrounding and situations. Which in turn will slowly open up the way to one's RIGHT INTENTION, using the RIGHT SPEECH, making RIGHT LIVELIHOOD with the RIGHT EFFORT and CONCENTRATION will eventually lead one to become a better and happier person.

I think a small positive change or thought will slowly but surely lead one to higher and bigger positive transformation.
DORJE PAKMO

Tenzin K

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Re: Mindfulness: the altered state of America
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2012, 08:09:00 AM »
While mindfulness can be practiced quite well without Buddhism, Buddhism cannot be practiced without mindfulness. In its Buddhist context, mindfulness meditation has three overarching purposes: knowing the mind; training the mind; and freeing the mind.

It is easy to spend an hour, a day, or even a lifetime so caught up with thoughts, concerns, and activities as to preclude understanding deeply what makes us operate the way we do. People can easily be clueless as to what motivates them, the nature of their reactions and feelings, and even, at times, what they are thinking about. The first step in mindfulness practice is to notice and take stock of who we are. What is going on in the body, in the mind, in our emotional life? What underlying dispositions are operating?

This part of mindfulness practice is a simple process of discovery; it is not judging something as good or bad. Meditative discovery is supported by stillness. Whatever our degree of stillness, it acts as a backdrop to highlight what is going on. It doesn’t take much stillness to notice a racing, agitated mind. Discovery means becoming familiar with what a racing mind is like instead of being critical of it. What is the mind itself like, and what is its effect on the body? What emotions are present? What thoughts and beliefs?

The knowing aspect of mindfulness is deliberate and conscious. When you know something this way, not only do you know it, but also a presence of mind grows in which you clearly know that you know. It is like being one of two calm people in an unruly crowd. Neither of you gets caught up in the crowd’s agitation, and a spark of recognition, maybe even a smile, passes between you as you share knowing that both of you are not caught.

When the focus is on knowing, we make no attempt to try to change anything. For people who are always trying to make something happen, just observing the mind can be a radical change and a relief.

The mind is not static. It is a process or, more accurately, a series of interacting processes. As such, the mind is malleable and pliable: it can be trained and shaped in new ways. An important part of Buddhist practice is taking responsibility for the dispositions and activities of our own mind so that it can operate in ways that are beneficial. When we don’t take responsibility for our own mind, external forces will do the shaping: media, advertisements, companions, and other parts of society.

A good starting point is to train the mind in kindness and compassion. Even a little mindfulness will sometimes prove the cliche, “Self-knowledge is seldom good news.” Mindfulness may reveal mental conflict with ourselves, others, or the inconstant nature of life. Such conflict can take the form of aversion, confusion, anger, despair, ambition, or discouragement. Meeting conflict with further conflict will only add to our suffering. Instead, we can begin exploring how to be kinder, more forgiving and spacious with ourselves.

Sometimes how one makes effort in meditation can be counterproductive. Striving too hard, trying to escape something, clinging to views and ideals, meditating as penance or obligation, and measuring every little bit of progress are some of the things that interfere with meditation. An antidote to this struggle is training the mind to be more at ease with how things are. Rather than trying to organize the conditions of the world, we can cultivate an ability to be relaxed with whatever is happening.

Once the mind experiences some ease in meditation, it is easier to train it in other ways. We can develop concentration or mental stability. We can foster the growth of generosity, ethical virtue, courage, discernment, and the capacity to release clinging. Often a Buddhist practitioner will choose one particular quality to cultivate for a period of time.

Central to Buddhist practice is training the capacity to let go of clinging. Sooner or later, the first aspect of Buddhist meditation, knowing the mind, will reveal how and where clinging is present. Some of the more painful forms of grasping are clinging to such things as pleasure, desire, self-image and judgments, opinions and ideals, people, and possessions. All clinging limits the mind’s freedom and peace.

The good news of Buddhism is that we can release clinging. We can free the mind. Or, if you prefer, you can call it “freeing the heart.” The ultimate aim of Buddhist practice is to liberate the heart so there are no barriers, shackles, or constrictions to our heart’s freedom. Usually freeing the heart begins in small steps, each bringing a corresponding peace. Freed completely, the heart is completely at peace. Complete freedom is not easily attained. It requires knowledge and training.

Knowing, training, and freeing the mind develop together. The more we know ourselves, the easier it is both to train ourselves and to know what needs to be released. The more our minds are trained, the easier it is to know ourselves and the more strength and wisdom we have to let go. And the more we let go, the fewer the obstructions to understanding ourselves and the easier it will be to train the mind.

Few people care for their own minds as they do their own bodies, their clothes, or their possessions. Care of the body is a daily task. The mind too needs regular care, exercise, and training. With freedom from suffering as the goal, knowing, training, and freeing are the three Buddhist ways of caring for the mind.