Last week, Eric Rea featured a panel discussion on the secular implementation of mindfulness on his BBC radio show. His guests were Christopher Titmuss Buddhist teacher and founder of Gaia House, Chris Cullen mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist at Oxford Mindfulness Center, and Rebecca Crane founder of the Center for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University. Eric’s questions were challenging and intelligent. I urge you all to listen to the entire 30 minute show.
Below are some highlights:
ER: How would you define mindfulness?
Christopher Titmuss: “To be conscious of what is unfolding and revealing itself, a sense of one’s inner life and outer life; an intimacy and closeness with the ordinary and everyday… I wouldn’t like to emphasize mindfulness exclusively. In Buddhism, mindfulness must contribute to inquiry, understanding of causes and conditions. A healthy right mindfulness contributes to harmony and well-being. Unhealthy mindfulness, for instance a thief is very mindful while burglarizing, but what an unhealthy intention for applying mindfulness.”
Chris Cullen: “The practice of present moment awareness is really what mindfulness is about… We live so much of our lives pre-living and reliving our experience, and mindfulness is an invitation to come back out of the cinema of the mind and its thoughts and be here now. Anyone can do this and taste the benefits of it.”
Rebecca Crane: “Mindfulness releases us from suffering moment-to-moment. I can be unhooked from patterns that might give rise to shame and bring myself back to the immediacy of experience.”
Notice the remarkable difference between the profound definition of a Buddhist teacher and the one-dimensional response of the secular mindfulness teachers who seem focused on the prophylactic effect of ‘present moment awareness’ as a method for symptom reduction. As a clinician and Buddhist teacher I favor Christopher Titmuss’ response because it represents a deepened-in relationship with mindful attending, which merges inquiry, insight and ethical, compassionate responsiveness to actual experience.
ER: What is the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
RC: “Meditation is the method of cultivating mindfulness and mindfulness is the process.”
CC: “Since 2013 eighty-five members of the British Parliament (MP’s) have taken an 8-week mindfulness course to reduce their stress.”
CT: I have some concern about these courses, which at the present time do not include any exploration into the main sources of major stress like war, environmental degradation, or tensions that exist between people and nation states. We are at an early stage in delivering mindfulness practice and it will take courage and conviction by those who offer mindfulness in this context to go deeper and awaken the MP’s.”
CC: “In secular mindfulness courses ethics is implicit rather than explicit, there is a sense as people deepen in mindfulness practice they do wake up to how we live and the consequences of the pressures on society.”
RC: “The way we pay attention with ethics in our mindfulness courses is to train teachers well. We have a huge emphasis on having teachers work with their own experience, their own mindfulness practice and ethical process. These courses should not be attached to any particular tradition.”
CT: “Bravo for the medical use of mindfulness to treat depression, chronic pain, etc. But when we talk about delivering mindfulness in political and corporate world where issues of corruption, violence, exploitation—all of that has to be offered in the context of a dialogue about people of privilege and power developing compassion.”
CC: “If it is not ethical and it is not about a paradigm shift away from greed, hatred and delusion, then it is not mindfulness. Mindfulness is radical and it changes lives if it is practiced properly.”
I will write more on the subject of the supposed ‘implicit ethics’ of mindfulness in my next post.