Tag Archives: mindlessness

Make it the practice: Mindful driving

Meg Barker writes about bringing mindfulness to driving, and the value of engaging mindfully at times when it is most difficult.

Mindfulness is huge at the moment. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Counsellors and therapists train in mindfulness techniques in order to offer them to their clients. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness therapies for depression. And the amount of research on mindfulness as a treatment for stress, pain, anxiety, depression, and a range of other health and emotional difficulties, has increased exponentially in the past two decades. The word ‘mindfulness’ brings up around 4000 hits on Amazon because self-help books, CDs and DVDs on the topic have also proliferated in recent years.

Meditation: A central focus?

Central to most therapies, programmes and books on mindfulness is meditation. Generally this takes the form of sitting quietly and focusing your attention on your breath. When your attention wanders (to a thought, feeling, or sensation, for example), you bring it back to your breathing. Through such meditation it is said to be possible to notice the kinds of habits that you often get stuck in, such as identifying with a pain that you feel, or telling a story about why you are feeling angry or sad. The practice of bringing your awareness back to the here-and-now of breathing in and out can shift such habits. Such meditation can also expand our attention so that we notice everything that is going on in and around us (rather than focusing on one thought, memory, or sound), and we may also see that everything is impermanent (the thing that was niggling us when we started meditating has gone by the end).

However, the focus on meditation in mindfulness approaches has recently come under criticism. Wakoh Shannon Hickey points out that the Buddhist traditions which mindfulness was drawn from only advocated meditation for monks and nuns, not for lay people, and also that it was generally a practice which was located in a community for ethical purposes, not something that people did by themselves to make them feel better. She, like many Buddhist scholars, questions the cherry-picking approach to ancient traditions, locating it in the history of colonialism. In addition to such criticisms, some of the main leaders to bring their ideas to western audiences have emphasised aspects other than mindful meditation. For example Hickey writes that the Dalai Lama advocates other forms of meditation, or sound sleep, over mindfulness. And Thich Nhat Hanh writes a lot about community work and about practising mindfully in everyday life.

Make it the practice

It is this kind of everyday mindfulness which I have been thinking about a great deal as I write my own book on mindful counselling and psychotherapy. I felt that I should really commit to regular meditation if I was advocating it to other people, so I have been meditating for around ten minutes every night. Whilst there is a lot that I’ve found useful about this practice, for all the reasons mentioned, I’ve also noticed that it is easy to separate it off from the rest of my life: for meditation to be the only point in the day when I’m being attentive in that way.

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Mindlessness and the Riots

In this post, Meg Barker writes about the Summer 2011 UK riots and mindfulness:

Following the news reports over the last few days I, like many people, have struggled over what, if any, response I can make that would be useful. As the rioting and looting which started in Tottenham spread across London and then to other large cities, it became clear that something complex was happening which could not be wrapped up in any singular, generalised, explanation. Even as a social psychologist, I don’t feel that I know enough about all the economic, social and political aspects of the situation to comment wisely about this. Similarly, I can’t claim enough understanding of how the current circumstances are playing out through the experience of those directly involved to talk in anything other than a patronising way about what this might feel like on an individual level.

So what can I offer? In the news reporting, one word has jumped out at me time and time again, and that is ‘mindless’. As an article in the New Statesman pointed out, this is the ‘explanatory cliché’ that politicians and journalists are constantly falling back on: ‘”mindless acts of violence and destruction” and “mindless criminality” carried out by “mindless thugs”‘.

As someone who is currently writing a book about mindfulness, mindlessness does seem like something that I am knowledgeable enough to comment upon, so here are my thoughts.

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