There’s an interesting article in today’s Guardian on the British Parliamentary Inquiry into mindfulness. (Mindfulness has recently taken the UK by storm, and is increasingly being practiced in a variety of setting - including the corporate world.)
As I reflected on the article, it struck me that the questions that are arising, the criticisms being posed, and the concerns being explored are similar to the types of questions that arise, or that ought to arise, whenever a new technology/approach is taken out of the context it developed in and applied to a new one.
- Purpose: what purpose does this technology/approach serve, and how can it be optimized to realize those results in differing contexts?
- Room for growth/evolution: we live in a world where the only real constant is change. In light of our changing world, and our evolving needs and contexts, where and how might the technology/approach also need to grow and evolve? And how might this be done wisely and responsibly, so that the essence of the technology/approach - particularly its power and purpose, is not lost? And how might it evolve in ways that expand its power and purpose?
- Risks and unintended consequences: adaptation to context is a necessary aspect of the application of any new technology/approach, so it is important to assess what the risks and unintended consequences (positive and negative) may be when this technology/approach is brought into a new context.
There is an inherent tension between points 2 and 3 above. Point 3 may lead some towards a control-based approach, while point 2 calls for a more open/adaptive/experimental approach. Perhaps it is this very tension that will spur the evolution and adoption of mindfulness and other meditation approaches so that they can become even more useful and powerful tools for our times. Indeed, I would go so far as saying that noting and working with this tension, is an essential challenge for most our current local and global challenges.
As a final note, there are a variety of meditation tools and techniques. While mindfulness has made some of these tools and techniques more accessible and less daunting, perhaps it is time that we also looked more seriously at other meditation tools and techniques that might have value - whether they arise from Buddhism or other wisdom traditions. For what these wisdom traditions have long understood is the connection between inner and outer transformation.