on mindfulness, muggles, & crying wolf

I try. Really, I do.

This month has been bubbling with various posts on Eastern scholars decrying Western Mindfulness. It began with Ron Purser and David Loy’s HuffPo article, Beyond McMindfulness which is likely the first time anyone from the Buddhist scholarship community has overtly taken on the therapeutic, coaching Mindfulness machine. In brief, Purser & Loy expressed concerns that the current movement of Mindfulness is not only denaturing the dharma but also lending power to corporations so that already-beleaguered employees can be lulled into a somnolent state through practices like “nonjudgmental awareness.”

The results of the Purser & Loy article were not what I would have expected: linguistic mudslinging. Protests from what may be called the “secular” mindfulness groups were no less than defensive and somewhat histrionic.  Sadly, there were worthy points in the protests but mostly lost in the defensiveness and the mutually admiring comments that followed. (There’s a difference between acknowledging a good point and hopping on the bandwagon.)

Heavy hitters like Elisha Goldstein and Jeremy Hunter responded on blogs and websites. They make some good points but the overall tone is dismissive and there’s a lot of “they just don’t understand” commentary. I can’t blame the secular/therapeutic folks for the reactionary stance although I do have to ask: if you’re teaching mindfulness, how the heck do you end up being reactionary?

Ted Meissner of Secular Buddhist conducted an interview with Purser & Loy which I’d recommend – if only to hear how it should be done.  Announced in the podcast, Ted’s new venture Present Moment: Mindfulness practice and science is a nice out-growth of his interest in making Buddhist teachings more accessible. I like that Ted points out in the Purser-Loy interview that the issue of watering down the dharma may be confounded on both sides (he was referring to the religious-secular Buddhist issues he encounters) because “we’re not even doing the same thing.”

These are important and difficult issues to address. A long tradition of doing it one way has morphed into what seems on the surface as a travesty, a commodification of something sacred. As a Buddhist and a therapist who finds tremendous value in the Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs), I find myself constantly caught in the middle of the battle for ownership of this precious resource. However, having come to terms with my own personal and professional dilemma around the use and potential abuse of the practice of mindfulness, I have to say this particular round of arguments has been maddening. So I wrote an article that summarizes the concerns of the Mindfulness Muggles and Wizards with no expectations that either will embrace the other.

Ted Meissner’s comment resonated with me on many levels. Perhaps this is not quite what he intended but I wondered: Are we not doing the same thing? The intention of Buddhist practice is the alleviation of suffering. So yes, regardless of whether you are part of the traditional school of mindfulness training or the pragmatic school, we are trying to lift the veil of suffering. I think the more piercing question is whether we are doing it the same way.

Are we doing it the same way? No. Traditional approaches to mindfulness are embedded in a religious/spiritual process that is not always relevant or necessary in a pragmatic sense. Moreover, the application of MBIs occurs in arenas where religious overtones can prevent them from being used or where a specific religion’s approach would be disrespectful to the indigenous religion. And no, we cannot argue that Buddhism is so adaptive that it can fold into any religious milieu. That’s like having your rice cake and communion host too.

Are we talking about the same thing? Perhaps. Christopher Titmuss wrote a terrific post that effectively said, Stop crying wolf!  A generally good rejoinder to the worries of creating corporate sheep or super-soldiers, Titmuss points out that there really is no evidence of this happening. However, I was struck by the way he (and others in the Buddhist writing world) zoned in on the language. Specifically, Titmuss and others have jumped on terminology like “nonjudgmental awareness,” “bare awareness,” etc. to argue that therein lay the magical seed of corruption. In other articles, the key words picked on to evoke the wolf are “not having emotions drive behavior,” “psychologically armour-up.” Let’s face it, if we want to spin an argument, we will spin it to our advantage no matter what side we’re on. An honest reading of all these terms may be helpful. Perhaps “nonjudgmental awareness” means attending to things without getting caught in the interpretative process. Perhaps there is a difference between “being judgmental” and “being discerning.” Perhaps “not having emotions drive behavior” refers to not acting impulsively or without consideration of the relational aspects of the situation.  Perhaps if we apply mindful listening, we would hear each side’s meaning and transcend the hot button words.

In fact, the biggest problem is from the language used on the Buddhist side. Everyone (and I find myself guilty as charged) zooms into the problem as not teaching “Right Mindfulness.” Search any post or interview and it will be the bête noire of pragmatic mindfulness that is raised to prove it is being done wrong.  I was especially disappointed in a recent interview with Alan Senauke on Tricycle in which he too commented that Mindfulness-Based Interventions are not Right Mindfulness. I admire Senauke and wonder how the interviewer managed to troll and hook him into this specious argument. Right Mindfulness is not the issue because if we take Bhikkhu Bodhi’s definition of Right Mindfulness, MBIs contain all the elements of his definition. What is at issue is mindfulness as a mental factor wherein it becomes the means to discern wholesome from unwholesome mental states. So the question really is whether we are assessing pragmatic mindfulness appropriately. Is it Right Mindfulness? Yes. Is it cultivating the mental factor of mindfulness? That may be arguable because it doesn’t hold the practice of sila in the foreground.

Let’s get back to that wolf at the temple door. Titmuss is correct in pointing out that there is no evidence of mindfulness being used for evil ends. Having worked in this field for 10 years, I have yet to be asked to turn corporate citizens into sheep or had participants in our military program turn into Terminators. Then again, we weave into the program practices that reflect the sila aspect of mindfulness.  However, it is important to examine these concerns. A Google search of “use of mindfulness in the military” turns up a number of hits.  None are related to making better “baby-killers.” As someone who works with the military, I find it astonishing that typically clear thinkers forget something fundamental. Given the exponential increase in mental illness from overseas deployments, we might argue that even intense military training can’t make super-soldiers who go out, do heinous things, and return unaffected. [Edit: This article on mindfulness in the military was just posted and is excellent.]

As for the corporate wolf, that’s an important one. My concerns are more about the sellers in the temple than in the product being supposedly commodified. It is true that anyone with a semblance of marketing skills can package mindfulness and flog it. Do we have control over this? None whatsoever. Particularly because there are no constraints on what most professionals can do and even less so in the unregulated professions. But here’s a more important question: Can mindfulness can be commodified? It always was, has been and will be. The exchange of goods for services has been part of every culture no matter whether we dress it up in robes or three-piece suits. Are we reacting to this because of the spiritual aspect of mindfulness? Most likely.

And that’s the final question: Why are there sides? I suppose it’s human. We all love our gurus and ideological stances. If the comments on posts around the blogosphere and speciality groups like LinkedIn are any indication, there are enough of these to love. What worries me most is just that; we are so caught on supporting our favourite personalities and celebrities that our forebrain has gone well offline. These are important questions being raised by both sides and the answers will not be easily surrendered from the clouds of greed, anger, and ignorance. What I wish I saw was more critical thinking from all sides and perhaps we will discover that there are no Muggles or Wizards, just magic.

40 thoughts on “on mindfulness, muggles, & crying wolf

    • Apologies for missing this comment,nardalee. It was lodged in the spam filter!

      The answer to your question is another question: What is there to hold onto?

    • Yes, what is everyone trying to hold on to. It’s liberating to know that everyone around us is suffering, but at the same time it needs to be understood that we see no joy in comparing happiness and/or joy of others vis-a-vis ourselves. It’s quite a paradox to both empathize that everyone is suffering while not judging those living in the now.

      My Oklahoma grandmother used to say in a humble way when asked for directions, “I don’t know how to get there, but I’ll tell you the way I go.” She was incredibly wise, even in these sayings that I now realize were profound.

  1. I think part of the problem here is that commentators come from different experiential bases. You, for example, have been concerned about the teaching of mindfulness divorced from sila. This is, no doubt, because of your personal experiences with various programs that have employed mindfulness training without situating it within an ethical frame. My own personal experience has been quite different — I’ve never personally encountered a mindfulness program that failed to embed its teachings within the framework of humanist ethics. So it’s hard for me to see where the critique is coming from. (On the other hand, I have encountered Zen teishos which have de-emphasized the importance of the precepts and privileged nonjudgmental experience of the moment over discerning wisdom. If this is a problem, it’s not necessarily a problem for secular approaches alone.) Since our experiences are quite different, our concerns will be different too. Of course, if we could just sit down in a room together and talk it over, we would pretty soon come to see that we were in basic agreement about what good practice is.

    Another point of divergence is one of ideology. Folks like David Loy infuse a neo-Marxist critique into their Buddhism (as do many other Buddhist leftists — the BPF, the speculative non-Buddhists, etc.) and view capitalism as a negative force in people’s lives. While I recognize the problems inherent in unbridled capitalism, I also think that the free market, as awful as it is, is still, in the long run, the best economic system there is for reducing the overall misery level of the world. It’s awful, but every other system is even more awful. I think the problems that come with capitalism are best countered by constraining capitalist activity within a broader ethical-spiritual framework with corporations coming to consider stakeholders as well as share-holders. This will require a new kind of spiritual social reawakening, but not a new set of economic relations. The Catholic church, for all its faults, has been particularly eloquent in raising this issue.

    Using mindfulness to help corporations is not per se problematic, as corporate activity is not, in and of itself, evil. The idea that mindfulness is being used to lull the proletariat into becoming mindless corporate minions seems not only a bit stretched, but also tied to a particular ideology that is not particularly Buddhist in its essence. Suffering exists in every work place — not only in Walmart and McDonald’s, but also on the cooperative farm, the commune, and the kibbutz. Greed, hatred, and delusion exist in capitalism, but they are equally manifest in socialist, mercantilist, feudal, and hunter-gatherer societies as well. They are the nature of the untamed, unenlightened human condition. That’s why we need Buddhism. And Mindfulness. Anything anywhere that reduces suffering is a good thing.

    • Hi Seth, Your reply came on the tail of an email I received from a colleague who is a longtime MBSR teacher. I find it interesting that my adherence to the need for an explicit teaching of sila in a mindfulness program is interpreted in ways that make suggestions about my personal stance. (Not upset by it at all; just find it curious.)

      I actually began with MBCT and found it (still do) an incredibly potent intervention but only under certain conditions. In that case, I don’t worry so much about sila because MBCT has never presented itself as anything but a transmutation of CBT. Consistent with that model, it makes no sense to bring in a set of concepts and complexities that are not part of its intention. I actually resisted getting into the MBSR movement. The people I met were without exception arrogant and spouted the dharma in ways that were truly upsetting. At the time, I was an ordained member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s OI community and in keeping with Thay’s teachings, we developed a program that incorporated therapeutic mindfulness and elements of Thay’s teachings. When I finally got to the MBSR training (pressure from all the name droppers who loved to talk about their “training with Jon” – Jon is quite clear he doesn’t train anyone), it was a terrific experience for meeting Melissa Blacker but certainly I had concerns that arose from my CBT training as well as my own Buddhist training. By then we already had our program and simply worked side-by-side with CFM supporting them by sending our teachers there to train.

      So no, my work of sila in our program has nothing to do with my exposure to other programs (I’ve actually never taken an MBSR program other than the training nor does it have anything to do with (as my colleague suggested) my reluctance to be with not knowing and needing control (which the Five Skillful Habits) supposedly gives me).

      Ultimately however, I do believe we would agree on the bigger picture.

  2. Pingback: Random Linkage: Open Heart Podcasting, Sweeping Zen, McMuggleMindfulness, Buddhist Geeks Geeking, | Full Contact Enlightenment

  3. “Greed, hatred, and delusion exist in capitalism, but they are equally manifest in socialist, mercantilist, feudal, and hunter-gatherer societies as well. They are the nature of the untamed, unenlightened human condition. That’s why we need Buddhism. And Mindfulness. Anything anywhere that reduces suffering is a good thing.”

    All possible arrangements of economic relations have the same outputs for human happiness, misery, etc? Is that what you mean here? Really? The paragraph before seems to imply a preference for the one currently ravaging the world’s poor at present – rampant aggressive late capitalism. If the material conditions of the world’s poor, social inequality and fighting rampant profiteering are *secondary* to some form of happiness obtainable by mindfulness, this seems like the kind of ‘inner-path’ Buddhism I’d want no part of. Buddhist ethics cannot exist as some realm not fully engaged with the real day-to-day realities of politics – in detail – or they are not really ethics.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for the reblog and your comment! I think there is a point in your reply which I may miss by the interpretation of what Seth *may* have meant or not meant. Unless we ask him to clarify his words, of course, we won’t know.

      As well, with respect to what Seth raised in the paragraph before, can you offer what in your opinion might be a better system than the free market system you feel is untenable?

      And no, I don’t read anything about anyone “ravaging the world’s poor” in Seth’s comment so how about we stay with the data.

      As for what mindfulness can be in the transformation of social inequality etc, I’ve given some examples in my reply to Nathan.

      • David, I agree with you that Buddhist practice leaves nothing out, and that there is a Buddhist way to engage the political realm. Everything we do is informed by our Buddhist practice, including how we vote, how we spend and invest, how we volunteer our time, and what we choose to petition our government about. We probably share many goals in common — I consider myself a political progressive. The issue is, how best to address lifting people out of poverty, ameliorating global warming, etc. This blog is not the place to address complex economic issues. I would only like to point out that there are differing opinions as to what constitutes skillful means in this arena, and that some, like myself, who remain very conscious of the problems of inequality and poverty and very eager to ameliorate them, do not find “neo-Marxist” critiques particularly useful as a guide for how to proceed. Those societies that have adopted free-market approaches to economic development have, with all their myriad and troubling problems, done a better job at lifting substantial numbers of their population out of squalor, misery and grinding poverty than have those that sought an alternative route. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, for example, have done remarkably well. China has accomplished miracles since abandoning socialism in all but name and exploring market solutions, as has India since abandoning its own particular love affair with non-market economics. Are their major problems in China with growing inequality, pollution, and corruption? You bet. But hundreds of millions of Chinese are living lives their grandparents could scarcely have dreamed of. Are the poor better off in North Korea or South Korea? I expect you may disagree with my perspective, and that’s all right. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let’s not turn Genju’s lovely Buddhist blog into an economic forum. I simply want to emphasize that their are other forms of Buddhist political engagement than Marxist-informed ones, and that Buddhists may disagree over what constitutes skillful means. ‘Nuff Said.

        • If capitalism and the colonialism that spawned it are the “best” we can do, as you seem to suggest, we’re doomed as a species. The material progress you emphasize comes at the expense of genocide, the destruction of indigenous cultures, the near elimination of the commons, the privatization of everything right down to our food and water, and exponential heightening of the world’s war machines. Phrases like “squalor, misery and grinding poverty” have been applied to native cultures for centuries by colonialist minds who couldn’t and still can’t see the beauty, wisdom, and internal logic of the communities they speak of. It’s not all been awful, and capitalism hasn’t come without some benefits, but I think it’s highly problematic to suggest that most folks are better off because of “free market economies.”

  4. “Suffering exists in every work place — not only in Walmart and McDonald’s, but also on the cooperative farm, the commune, and the kibbutz. Greed, hatred, and delusion exist in capitalism, but they are equally manifest in socialist, mercantilist, feudal, and hunter-gatherer societies as well.” That seems like a nice, tidy statement that doesn’t hold up in my book. Capitalism is essentially built to foster greed, create scarcity (or perceived scarcity) where there wasn’t any, and make divisions between people that are entirely unnecessary. You’d probably pigeon hole me as a neo-Marxist for that statement, but that’s a 20th century notion. Marxism was a reaction to capitalism, and both are utterly lacking in awareness around our interconnected nature. Particularly when it comes to human relationships with the planet we live on – and are of.

    Anyway, back to the post. The two biggest issues I have with a fair amount of secular mindfulness practices are the divorce from social ethics frameworks and the fact that I don’t think they really aim for liberation from suffering. Of the first point, folks conduct corporate trainings at Fortune 500 companies all the time these days. I seriously doubt these classes are focusing on the practices of the company that are causing suffering around the world. Odds are that even practices of the company that cause suffering to the participants themselves (like unjust working conditions) aren’t brought up. Or are put into a framework of “coping” that simply makes things more palatable. There might be a strong component of humanist ethics, but it’s kept in the individual, privatized realm. How to be mindful of your co-workers’ needs. How to be aware of different speaking styles. How to be mindful of your own emotional reactions. Etc. The companies basically want more “productive” workers, not any sort of boat rocking. So any insights that move beyond into collective conditions that might be producing suffering are probably off the table. Which doesn’t mean that mindfulness practices still can’t liberate under such conditions, but it sure creates a lot of barriers. Barriers I really wonder if the average MSBR trainer is even thinking about. The thing is, you can help someone be free of emotional reactions in the workplace, and have much more healthy relationships with their co-workers. But if they go on doing work that destroys the planet, or oppresses others in all sorts of ways, then it’s kind of a hollow “victory”? The relational must come into play, and not simply helping folks be “better spouses” or “co-workers.”

    I wrote this post recently that takes a look at the Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta, a decidedly “social” teaching of the Pali Canon. http://www.buddhistpeacefellowship.org/a-new-sangha-of-social-action-2/ That might add something to this discussion as well.

    Of the second point, how much are these practices truly about liberation from suffering and how often are they – when it boils down to it – about coping with miserable conditions? I ask that not knowing the answer for sure. I can make some guesses, but unlike Loy and Purser, I won’t make a completely sweeping judgement.

    When I read some of the reactions of the secular mindfulness community to the McMindfulness article, they remind me of the zealous yoga teachers who, after a few weeks or months of practice and training, are suddenly going to “save the world.” They think they’ve got the answer to people problems, and their excitement and small bit of knowledge drives all sorts of delusions. Delusions that become “teachings” that can go unchecked for years.

    I will readily agree that some of the reactions on the spiritual/religious side felt riddled in possessiveness and attachment to particular forms. And also a lack of awareness around how ethics are sometimes downplayed in exactly the same ways in Buddhist communities all over.

    • Hi Nathan!

      These are points I would certainly expect you to make given your commitment to social change. There are so many varieties of MB programs that I try to be careful when assigning opinions to them. Fleet Maull is doing amazing work within the prison systems using Mindfulness as are many of the Buddhist Chaplains who graduated from Upaya’s program. Many of them work in impoverished and trauma-ridden areas. Cheri Maples is using it in police corporations with tremendous success. Laurie Leitch and Lori Sutton are using their version at a global level and Elaine Miller-Karas is teaching Trauma Resource Model in seriously challenged ares of Southern CA.

      Our Burnout Resilience program is nowhere near the “coping” picture you paint. Yes we have to start there because the participants come to it beyond worn out and toxic with the demands of abusive managers and unethical corporate demands. Before we can expect people to take stands against the warped principles of their organization, they first must be healed, strong and able to feel their vulnerability. I work with activists in the youth and drug rehab areas who struggle with the pressures and Joanna Macy’s teachings have been indispensable. And yes, mindful skills is also about being better spouses and co-workers because the toxicity of our own anger, greed and delusion creates more toxicity. It is all relational and systems-focused.

      there is no question that we get people who take the course and just continue their lives hoping things will change now that they have an 8-week program under their belt. At the end of the course, we impress on them that the half-life of the program without on-going practice is 3 months. At the end of 3 months, our data shows that people who diminish their practice time lose the gains they make over 8 weeks on measures of depression, anxiety, and stress.

      As for coping with miserable situations, too many people are stuck (wittingly or unwittingly) in the debt cycle to actually take a stand against an employer. Where the alternative is not being able to afford food or medicine (we’re not even talking mortgage), they do have to come to terms with living more skillfully with the devil they know or make a move that may have catastrophic consequences for themselves and their families. I don’t have a solution for this but I’m also not going to apologize for teaching people how to live with evil safely until they can make a move.

      Thanks for your insights! I’ve enjoyed having to think this through.

      • The examples of programs you gave all sound excellent. A common thread it seems being that the folks leading them have had a fair amount of practice experience and work with some form of “traditional” Buddhist teachings/forms under their belt. Or they continue to practice in that way, but offer more secularized approaches to folks in stressful/difficult situations. Members of my own sangha do this in prisons, schools, and other locales. Fleet Maull is actually coming to my zen center this fall to do a workshop, so I’ll be getting a taste of his work firsthand soon. I am actually quite interested because I’d like to work with activists on issues like burnout and dealing with outrage.

        At the same time, I truly doubt the level of insight and care those you’ve mentioned – as well as yourself – is the norm for these programs. They’re everywhere these days, and I’m guessing many of the folks leading them aren’t from “practice” backgrounds, and really haven’t dug that deeply into even the original teachings on mindfulness – let alone beyond that. Maybe it’s not necessary. I don’t know for sure.

        “As for coping with miserable situations, too many people are stuck (wittingly or unwittingly) in the debt cycle to actually take a stand against an employer. Where the alternative is not being able to afford food or medicine (we’re not even talking mortgage), they do have to come to terms with living more skillfully with the devil they know or make a move that may have catastrophic consequences for themselves and their families. I don’t have a solution for this but I’m also not going to apologize for teaching people how to live with evil safely until they can make a move. ”

        The thing about this, as I see it, is that it’s becoming the majority of people facing this kind of situation. I say that as one of them. I’m barely making it month to month (and I’m taking bare necessities.) Taking a stand against employers must be about building communities of mutual care. About building networks that not only challenge evils together, but also help each other out, and figure out creative ways to “get by” together. This is one of the illnesses of our hyper-individualistic societies (Canada feels only barely better than the US these days). That our responses to things like working at immoral corporations is entirely individualized, and that the burden of caring for is almost entirely placed upon the tiny nuclear family unit. It’s all insane if you ask me. Somehow, there has to be energy given to all this, and how folks might do things differently.

        “Yes we have to start there because the participants come to it beyond worn out and toxic with the demands of abusive managers and unethical corporate demands. Before we can expect people to take stands against the warped principles of their organization, they first must be healed, strong and able to feel their vulnerability.”

        I agree with this … and I think a big part of healing comes from developing strong communities. Healthy networks that empower folks – individually and together. Obviously, you know this. But is the average mindfulness program leader thinking about fostering strong, sustainable groups that might become capable of doing things like challenging unjust corporate practices? Are making direct, out loud connections between those patterns of abuse and the experiences of the workers in their classes? Honestly, we could ask a lot of these questions in our sanghas as well. I don’t think it’s only an issue for mindfulness programs. It’s just a different flavor of challenge.

        • The issue of good teachers coming from deep practice is a very important point. If I have a major concern in terms of the strong momentum of mindfulness practices it is that few have a deep, well-fired practice. And it doesn’t have to be in Buddhism although I ask that my teachers have a good grounding in the Buddhist concepts that drive the secular model.

          We are a government town here so when layoffs hit there is a lot of anger because those affected ever dreamed they would be vulnerable. And there are no jobs in the private sector at all or that have the same pay scale and benefits. It’s a scary time and I am immensely grateful that I get the contracts and referrals I do. We need strong communities and strong commitments to each other. I once thought the Buddhist sanghas here were the ones who would step up but not so.

          The mindfulness programs teaching community here is growing. Whether it will transcend the usual in-group or parochial mentality,who knows. It’s a tough process to change the trajectory of our lives. I’m immensely grateful when I see people come to the Alumni group meditations and hear how they are pushing the edges.

          • ” I once thought the Buddhist sanghas here were the ones who would step up but not so.” This has been disappointing to me as it’s the same here. While I agreed with a fair amount of the criticisms in the Loy/Purser piece, they both failed to offer counter-examples of mindfulness programs like the one’s you’ve mentioned, and also didn’t acknowledge that you all are stepping in more so than the average Buddhist sangha is.

            ” It’s a tough process to change the trajectory of our lives.” Yep, no doubt. I’m often talking about visions that are far ahead of our current reality. I know many steps have to be taken. But someone has to do what I do. The seeds have to be planted and the pot stirred.

  5. To suggest that MBSR and other programs are concerning because they don’t have an explicit goal of liberation from suffering has two immediate problems:

    1) There is an assumption that traditional Buddhism does end suffering, which is neither evident nor even defined. Extinguishing of the rounds of rebirth? Some would say that’s it. Define suffering first, and then craft measures by which one can know it’s been achieved.
    2) Taking aspirin for a headache doesn’t cure colon cancer, but we still take it for our headache. MBSR does what it does very well, and there is an early body of demonstrable research to validate that. What does traditional Buddhism have to demonstrate its assertions about what its supposedly doing?

    We might find fruitful exploration of an aligned practice like these programs offer.

    • I’m beginning to think that taking on Buddhistic terms is the core problem. The question “What is suffering?” is poorly answered in Buddhist philosophy/psychology and the MBI folks have taken it on by osmosis. However, it does seem operationalized as extinguishing greed, anger, and ignorance. Of course, the problem is that still begs the question of what does the Canon mean by these and what do we now mean by them. I appreciate your operational take on understanding outcome. Of course, that raises all kinds of other issues about measurement which the religion and spiritual folks have been doing battle for years (to no resolution).

      Your second comment is an interesting take. The issue then becomes whether the MBIs believe they too are treating the same thing. I’d guess that most of the changes Buddhist report are personal reports (notoriously unreliable) and primarily reflecting inner experiential changes. I’d like to see some data that measures observable change. Again, that runs into issues of the model, what it predicts, and whether it is measurable. Religious models of change don’t lend themselves to that kind of research.

      Would any of this have been different if Jon Kabat-Zinn had been Catholic and extracted the Novena as a treatment option? (Serious question.)

  6. Maybe psychology is vilified for abusing mindfulness because of the two factors that 1) psychology is very often impotent, weak and worthless insofar as effecting change and 2) mindfulness has the potential to exacerbate negative aspects of one’s life. This point of view would be an attack on psychology on the basic level that it isn’t a legitimate science or profession in the first place.

      • It’s only a theory, not my theory. I could supplement it with explanations, but I think it would be healthier for inquiries’ sake if you attempted to mesh it out. How would you like to give it a try? Assume it is true and see if you can justify it. Lots of people suffer from this impression, so it is perfectly respectable to address it.

        • Well, that’s not quite acceptable on this blog. Everyone gets an opportunity to speak their mind provide they keep it civil, straightforward and back up their views with hard-nosed data when they make statements like “psychology is often impotent, weak and worthless insofar as effecting change.” If it is not your theory, then reference whose it is and back that up with their data.

          You are most welcome to continue this discussion under those rules.

          • What isn’t acceptable on this blog? I don’t see how I’m not civil or straightforward. You’d just rather not do what I’m suggesting. What do you think I’m after…

            Do I have to find a doctorally vetted point of view to discuss this? It’s not even theory, it’s fact. I’ve spoken to numerable people who feel this way. About twenty. Call that anecdotal evidence, their opinion is still a reality.

            Even if we aren’t concerned about those individuals, there is ample room to field this question. There is another fairly common point of view that psychotherapy is “hit or miss”, which implies that yes, it is often unsuccessful.

            I don’t see what’s preventing honorable discussion here. Instead it seems like you’re reading into what I’m saying in an incongruous way.

          • Well, it seems like you’re more than happy to sweep this under the rug. I earnestly do not understand how my post was incendiary. If I had to draw a line between what wasn’t civil between my post and your response, I’d have to chalk up your response as the accountable party. I find it jejune. In the process of being above responding to “low blows”, you ignored the real and serious suffering of people who perceive they’ve been exploited, injured, embezzled, humiliated and more by the field of psychology. There was an opportunity to say something meaningful, but instead you chose to dissipate the comment and all parties that could identify like such in to something bellicose and basically uncouth.

            • I appreciate your belief that I am ignoring your comments, kingcrawl. Sadly, I do have other things that keep me occupied. You are quite correct,however, that suffering is a perception of having been hurt by others. Then the work begins to see how that suffering can be clarified so that the real pain can be healed.

                • Ah. Your perception is that I labelled your post as “uncivil.” So, from a psychological model, we would want to examine the thread for any supporting data that this is an accurate perception. Actually, from a Buddhist model, we would want to do the same thing. Let’s start there. I would recommend going back through the thread and assessing whether you were labelled “uncivil” or whether the term “civil” was used to refer to a set of criteria for discourse applicable to everyone posting on the blog, i.e., a general phrase of commentary.

                  Of course, I am also quite happy to return to your original claim that psychology is “worthless” and hear your evidence for that.

                  OTOH, if you’d like to discuss the tenuous claim that Buddhism can in fact relieve suffering, I’m cool with that too.

                  Personally, my favourite is a debate on whether the Buddha’s theories were what came to be known as theoretical physics or whether that is a Western Scientism to give credibility to spirituality and make it more appealing to the sceptical (but not terribly discerning) Western mind.

                  Happy to oblige on any of these topics. 😀

                  • A “civil” set of criteria which you allege my request to you doesn’t qualify for. Yes that would place it outside the umbrella of civility.

                    At least it is very clear that charging the failure of psychology to a whim of perception (thereby imputing that whomever suffers from this is a fool) is enough of an answer for you. It seems you display that you don’t come up against that problem in your practice, or you’re just not concerned with those people.

                    I don’t see how your response derives any merit, and I don’t appreciate the jerrymandering and even bringing in blatantly irrelevant topics…

                  • I think you should reconsider the meaning behind my initial question: it actually wasn’t a chickenshit reactionary reflex against your considerations that buddhism doesn’t solve suffering. That did not factor into even a minute bit of my thought process..

                    • Your initial question – or request – if I understand it was to test for myself whether psychology was ineffective. Bearing in mind that I cannot prove a negative, I can say I have tested it hour by hour for almost 25 years, my answer is that it is effective as an intervention when the protocols are in place and the training appropriate and the patient-therapist match is optimal. In other words, it has its levels of effectiveness and where it is most effective is when there are good matches between modalities and the presenting problem. It is also effective when the therapist is skillful in applying their model of human behaviour. It is also effective when the person seeking therapy is ready to address issues that are key to resolving their suffering. However, all this is observed information. Within the modalities that are designed to deal with specific issues, there is a massive amount a research that says psychotherapy (what most people mean when they say “psychology”) is effective.

                      I refer you to the APA document on the recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness that indicates what is considered an appropriate way to determine the efficacy of therapeutic interventions.: http://www.apa.org/about/policy/resolution-psychotherapy.aspx.

    • Excellent insight, you’re right. We’re speaking different languages today, and that’s causing much of the confusion. This discussion is an opening to a significant degree of passionate response, not just here or on our other SBA and PM sites, but in mindfulness programs that have a strong “dharma door” participant presence and certainly in the traditional communities.

      So, sincerely, thank you for writing this article and hosting another valuable exploration!

  7. This has to be the best response and subsequent discussion I’ve seen regarding the McMindfulness articles. I don’t have much to add as most of my concerns have been addressed much more eloquently than I could ever put them, but I think you captured the bigger picture quite well with, “there are no Muggles or Wizards, just magic.” I like to believe that the rise in popularity in the Western World is bringing far more positive change than negative. The disingenuous will be filtered out by the many great programs, teachers, practitioners, etc. Mindfulness teachings come in many shapes and sizes, and the various “styles” will appeal to various crowds. But there is not one ultimate way – and I personally put up a huge red flag when anyone says otherwise.

    • Thanks, Roddy. I am blessed to have a diverse community around me who keep me un-disingenuous. The poorly equipped and the shysters will always be with us. What’s important is that we hold to our values and have a community who will support us in upholding them.

  8. Pingback: מק-מיינדפולנס וטעמים אחרים | מודעות קשובה

  9. Pingback: 2013 as the Year of Mindfulness: Critics and Defenders

  10. Pingback: 2013 as the Year of Mindfulness: Critics and Defenders - Meditation Classes | Latest News Feeds

  11. Pingback: Ignorance of the Buddhadharma is no excuse: Purser on Monteiro, Musten and Compson | Richard K. Payne

    • Hello, Richard. The article is now correctly linked. The Scribd was a very early draft (which was offered to Ron Purser and David Loy among others for comments). The final version is significantly different.

  12. Pingback: Buddhism under Capitalism: Lifestyle encoding of identity | Richard K. Payne

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