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New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming
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Join date : 2010-11-13
Age : 66
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|Subject: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:04 am|| |
Letter from California JULY 6, 2015 ISSUE - New Yorker Magazine
The Higher Life
A mindfulness guru for the tech set. BY LIZZIE WIDDICOMBE
Last April, in New York City, three thousand people gathered for THRIVE, yet another TED-style ideas conference offering mental and spiritual rejuvenation to the business world. It was organized by the “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski and the new-media mogul Arianna Huffington, and conceived, Huffington said, to correct a problem that she had perceived in herself and other harried strivers. According to the event’s Web site, “The relentless pursuit of the traditional measures of success—money and power”—had resulted in an “epidemic of burnout”: stress-related illnesses, relationship problems. In addition to frantically pursuing the traditional measures, it was time to introduce a “ ‘Third Metric’—a combination of well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.”
THRIVE’s speakers included women with expertise in the first two metrics: Katie Couric, Tory Burch. But a keynote address was delivered by a Third Metric expert: Andy Puddicombe, a forty-two-year-old British meditation teacher. Puddicombe trained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk before creating an iPhone app called Headspace, which teaches meditation and mindfulness techniques. Since 2012, when the app launched, Headspace has been downloaded by three million users. Among its acolytes are Richard Branson, who put the company’s meditation exercises on Virgin Airlines flights, and the Seattle Seahawks. The Times has written that Puddicombe is “doing for meditation what someone like Jamie Oliver has done for food.”
The main stage at THRIVE, which accompanied Huffington’s best-selling book of the same title, resembled a living room, with soothing lighting, couches heaped with silk pillows, and sprays of cherry blossoms. In between speakers, Huffington and Brzezinski bantered with the audience about habits that keep Type A women from thriving. “Judging yourself,” Brzezinski said. The audience groaned in recognition.
Finally, Huffington introduced Puddicombe, whose name made her stumble: “Addie Paddicombe is here to demystify meditation and help us get deeper into life.”
Brzezinski added, to titters, “You’re not going to think ‘monk’ when he walks onstage!”
Puddicombe emerged to a flourish of piano music, holding a set of juggling balls. He is bald, with blue eyes and a deep tan, and he looks as much like a personal trainer as like a personal guru. (Headspace bills itself as a “gym membership for the mind.”) He speaks with the kind of Estuary English accent that you might encounter in a London pub. Puddicombe started off by taking an informal poll. “How many of you meditate?” he asked. Many hands went up.
“Wow!” he said. “A very enlightened audience!”
Puddicombe’s surprise might have been exaggerated. For several years now, the overlapping worlds of business and self-help have been abuzz about mindfulness meditation. (In February, an executive coach opined in the Harvard Business Review that mindfulness “is close to taking on cult status in the business world.”) The World Economic Forum, in Davos, opens with daily meditation sessions; Fortune 500 companies like General Mills, General Motors, and Target offer their employees contemplative programs, embracing Huffington’s message that enlightenment need not be at odds with the pursuit of profit. Goldman Sachs and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have bought bulk subscriptions to Headspace for their employees.
As with many contemporary trends, Silicon Valley was there first. Meditation was one of the habits that seeped from San Francisco’s counterculture into its hacker culture. For years, its high priest was Steve Jobs, a Zen enthusiast. These days, it’s Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer who, in 2007, helped create Search Inside Yourself, a “mindfulness-based emotional intelligence” course that has since been taken by thousands of the company’s employees. Tan told David Gelles, the author of “Mindful Work,” that Google’s program represents “the fourth turning of the wheel of the dharma.” Eastern spirituality seasons much of today’s techno-utopianism. HBO’s “Silicon Valley” includes a C.E.O. who consults a guru and says things like “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.”*
Silicon Valley’s interest in meditation is, in some respects, adaptive. “We’re at the epicenter of being stimulated with digital stuff,” Mamood Hamid, a venture investor at Social Capital, told me. “Five years ago, it was just e-mail. Now if you’re not on Twitter, if you don’t know how to use social, you’re a Luddite. And then you add the Apple Watch that’s going to be giving you notifications every five minutes—text messages, e-mails. It’s going to drive you insane.” Stewart Butterfield, the C.E.O. of Slack, noted that this is a fate that awaits us all. “I feel like we’re in the early stages of a species-level change with devices,” he told me.
All of this has led to a strange but perhaps inevitable oxymoron: digital therapy. A new class of app has emerged on iPhone screens, promising to relieve the mental afflictions—stress, distraction—that have been exacerbated by its neighbors. A venture-funded company called Big Health is developing a suite of cognitive-behavioral-therapy apps. (Its first product, Sleepio, treats insomnia.) And though Hamid considers Headspace to be the best mindfulness-meditation app, in terms of its “content and sophistication,” there are many others, including buddhify, which collects data via daily “mood check-ins”; Calm, which offers meditation exercises set to soothing nature scenes; and Insight Timer, which provides Tibetan bell sounds. Huffington has an app, too, called GPS for the Soul.
At THRIVE, Puddicombe brought up the health benefits sought by some meditators—better sleep, lower blood pressure—before getting to the heart of the matter: attention. He cited a 2010 Harvard study about mind-wandering: “Forty-seven per cent of our life is spent lost in thought. Distracted!” If we meditate a lot, “it’s almost like there’s a little more room, a bit of space in the mind.” Then he moved into a juggling routine meant to illustrate the advantages of the meditated mind. The hosts joined him for a Q. & A. that included his life story, Brzezinski’s iPhone addiction, and inspirational quotes, supplied by Huffington. (Rumi: “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”)
“Meditation” is hard to define, because the word can apply to so many things. In the broadest sense, it is any method used to train the mind or to achieve a special state of consciousness. Many Westerners were introduced to the concept in 1968, when the Beatles took up Transcendental Meditation, the mantra-based technique created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Mindfulness, the technique du jour, derives from Buddhist practices. Instead of focussing on a mantra, you try to pay attention to bodily sensations and the breath. By doing this regularly, practitioners say, you begin to cultivate an attentive, nonjudgmental mind-set—mindfulness—that can be applied to activities beyond meditation; hence the proliferation of the word in everything from parenting groups to Weight Watchers meetings. Last year, the Huffington Post ran an article titled “Mindfulness for Mind-Blowing Sex.”
The popularity of mindfulness has, inevitably, provoked a backlash. Skeptics dismiss it as the new aromatherapy, portraying Puddicombe and his ilk as snake-oil salesmen in religious robes. But Headspace has attracted a passionate fan base; its users tend to stay with the app, and their numbers are growing at a rate of fifteen per cent a month. Catherine Kerr, a neuroscientist at Brown, told me, “Just in the last five months, I’ve talked to several people using Headspace. They’ve all reported these hard-to-quantify benefits that have to do with attention, equanimity, alertness, and being able to deal with daily life.” Among my friends in New York, I’d noticed something similar. A d.j. told me that it had cured his anxiety: “It’s like having a monk in your pocket.”
Last year, following a period during which a combination of stress, caffeine, and Instagram addiction had me in a constant state of low-level hysteria, I downloaded Headspace. The app begins with a free sample program: ten minutes of meditation exercises for ten days. After that, it costs thirteen dollars a month, for meditation “packs” with titles like “Focus” and “Self-Esteem.” The app has a slick, pastel-colored interface—no Buddhas or rushing waterfalls. Instead, you get Puddicombe’s voice—“Hi, my name’s Andy”—chatting amiably about “training the mind,” which sounds at least as wholesome as a juice cleanse.
The rest of the Headspace app consists of three hundred and fifty hours’ worth of guided meditation lessons, delivered by Puddicombe. The basics of mindfulness meditation are easy to find—you can download instructions from the Web. But, Puddicombe told Brzezinski at THRIVE, “I liken it to driving a car. It’s helpful to have someone sit there with you at first.” With noise-cancelling headphones, the app creates a surprisingly intimate experience—Puddicombe could be whispering in your ear. He starts each session with a “checking in” routine, the contemplative equivalent of buckling your seat belt and adjusting the rearview mirror. He tells you to take a few deep breaths, to notice any background noise (instead of blocking it out, or screaming at its creator to shut up), and to become aware of “the different physical sensations . . . the weight of the body, the contact between the body and the chair.” Slowly, he draws attention to your breath, which you count in sets of ten. Puddicombe savors the breath the way some people do wine. He talks about it appreciatively, pointing out its protozoan wisdom (“Remember, the body knows how to breathe”), its soothing rhythm, its oceanic rise and fall.
The seconds pass slowly. You seem to drop, briefly, into another dimension—the realm of quiet walks and kindergarten nap time. Like travel, the chief boon of meditation might be the way that it throws the place you came from into relief. I’d never noticed what an incredible racket was going on in my mind: to-do lists, scraps of conversation, ancient memories. Sometimes Puddicombe’s voice would register as a distant peep. As calm set in, I’d occasionally achieve a few seconds of relaxed concentration—the meditative grail—which felt as if I were walking on a balance beam. Just as often, I’d lose the thread and nod off completely, or begin composing angry e-mails. Puddicombe’s voice would interject. “It’s perfectly normal to be distracted,” he’d say. “Just bring the attention gently back to the breath.”
Meditative techniques were widespread in northern India by the time that Gautama Buddha was born, around 480 B.C. Ascetics roamed the countryside, wearing rags and begging for their meals, and the Buddha became one of them. He famously achieved enlightenment—his insights about the cause of suffering and the way to end it—while meditating under a pipal tree. The Buddha taught his followers that practicing meditation was crucial to preparing their minds for enlightenment.
For most of Buddhism’s history, however, meditation wasn’t actually practiced that much, outside of monasteries. “There’s an expression in Burmese Buddhism, ‘A thousand lives away,’ ” Erik Braun, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, told me. Buddhists generally believed that the world was so corrupt that the average person couldn’t hope to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime. Monks were on a spiritual fast track—so meditation was great for them—but ordinary people focussed on praying and making donations to monasteries, in the hope of increasing their karma and being reborn as more spiritual beings.
This changed in the late nineteenth century, when the British invaded Burma, and Christian missionaries set about converting the populace. Fearing that their religion was being destroyed, Buddhist monks began to teach laypeople the practices of the monasteries, in order to preserve them. One monk, the Ledi Sayadaw, travelled the country, encouraging people to study complicated philosophical texts, and to try meditation for themselves. Traditionally, meditation followed a rigorous curriculum, but the Sayadaw created a pared-down version for the masses. He argued that laypeople might not be ready for enlightenment, but they could still cultivate “insight,” by practicing moment-to-moment awareness.
Along with his successors—including S. N. Goenka, the creator of Vipassana, or “insight” meditation—the Sayadaw and other Burmese teachers transformed Buddhism. “They rebranded it, in essence,” David McMahan, the author of “The Making of Buddhist Modernism,” told me. (This transformation is sometimes referred to as Buddhist Protestantism.) Lay-Buddhist meditation began to spread across Asia in the nineteen-twenties. By the sixties, it had made its way to the West, where it became embedded in the era’s counterculture.
In the West, a lot of credit for the modern mindfulness movement goes to one person: Jon Kabat-Zinn. In 1965, Kabat-Zinn, a graduate student in molecular biology at M.I.T., attended a lecture by the American-born Zen teacher Philip Kapleau. “I started my meditation practice that day, virtually,” he told me. Later, while working in a lab at the University of Massachusetts, he developed an eight-week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or M.B.S.R., to help patients at the university hospital who were being treated for severe medical conditions. The program incorporates both formal and informal mindfulness techniques: yoga, body scans, and such practices as mindful eating.
According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness teaches people to “find new ways to be in relationship to their pain”—mainly, to separate physical sensations from the emotions and fears surrounding them. “So when the thought arises, for instance, This is killing me!, instead of believing it, you investigate it. Is this killing me? No. Really, what you’re doing is worrying.” M.B.S.R. is now widely used in the medical field to help people suffering from everything from asthma to depression. Because it’s standardized—and secular—it’s become the method of choice for scientists studying meditation.
This isn’t to say that M.B.S.R. feels clinical. At a class that I attended in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I tried out short meditation sessions before spending about fifteen minutes mindfully eating a raisin—touching it, investigating it, biting off a tiny piece. The class was populated by young professionals. One student observed that the raisin “made me think of grapes, which made me think of wine and how I’d like to have a glass after this.”
Puddicombe grew up in a town called Keynsham, between Bristol and Bath, where he had no access to Zen masters. “My friends’ parents were either working in the local print shop or they were builders, electricians, plumbers,” he told me. His father worked at a nursing home. Puddicombe’s parents divorced when he was eleven, and his mother, an acupuncturist, took a meditation class in an effort to cope with the stress. Andy tried it, too, and, he said, “everything went kind of quiet for a few minutes.” He meditated for several years before his interests gravitated toward more traditional areas: “Sports—football, rugby, tennis, gymnastics—girls, and booze.”
On Christmas Eve of 1992, Puddicombe was eighteen*, and studying sports science at De Montfort University, when he left a party with a group of friends. A drunk driver plowed into the crowd, killing several people and putting twelve others in intensive care. Puddicombe wasn’t hurt, but he witnessed everything. Soon afterward, his stepsister died in a bicycling accident. He couldn’t shake the tragedies. “They lurked in the mind,” he told me. Back at school, sports no longer interested him; neither did partying. One day, in his dorm room, Puddicombe had a strange experience. “It’s a very difficult thing to put into words,” he told me. “I felt—the only way I can say it is ‘deeply moved.’ ” The feeling lasted for several hours, Puddicombe said. When it ended, he knew what to do with his life: become a Buddhist monk. “It didn’t feel like a choice,” he said.
Puddicombe left college and, for the next ten years, lived in Buddhist monasteries. He started out in Nepal and India, and made his way to a monastery in Burma, where he became a novice monk in the Theravadan tradition, which is “quite strict,” he said. His first retreat involved nine hours of walking meditation and nine hours of sitting meditation every day. His teacher was a Burmese monk who spoke no English, and Puddicombe didn’t speak Burmese, but they met for daily check-ins. “Some days he’d smile, and I’d smile back. Sometimes my face would be drawn, like, Meditation. And he’d nod.”
On a trip back to England, Puddicombe visited Samyeling, a Tibetan monastery in Scotland, where he met Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, a bearded, stout Tibetan with a bright personality. “He was almost mischievous,” Puddicombe said. Yeshe had spent twelve years in retreat and was known for his zealous commitment to meditation. “He was inspired by the great yogis in Tibet,” Puddicombe said. Chief among them was Milarepa—a tenth-century aristocrat who began meditating so that he could learn sorcery, to get back at his neighbors. He ended up going down a contemplative rabbit hole, dedicating his life to meditation, writing poetry, and living in a cave.
In 2001, Puddicombe did a year-long cloistered retreat at Samyeling, which included four-hour meditation sessions, four times a day. He discovered a new feeling. “The only way I can describe it is as a subtlety of mind,” he said. He experienced “a dissolution of self and other, where I no longer felt so separate from the world.” It took about two years for the experience to “settle,” but when it did, Puddicombe said, he was a different person. “I found I was no longer searching for anything,” he told me. He was thirty years old.
Headspace recently set up its headquarters in Venice Beach, Los Angeles—around the corner from Google’s offices and the wellness mecca Moon Juice. When I visited, on a seventy-degree day this winter, I wondered briefly if I’d arrived in Nirvana. Puddicombe walks to work, at an indoor-outdoor space that’s filled with relaxed Millennials, typing on laptops. He is married to a British woman named Lucinda, who is an exercise physiologist, and they recently had a baby. His days are spent writing a book about mindful pregnancy—users requested it—and teaching meditation, alone in a recording booth.
Among a certain set, Puddicombe is a celebrity—although what people tend to recognize is his voice. When I met him for lunch, at a Venice café, I noticed that the couple at the next table kept staring at us. Finally, the man said, “Excuse me—are you Andy?” He turned out to be a Headspace devotee; he had once worked as a derivatives trader at Goldman Sachs, and had recently retired. “I wish I’d found this stuff when I was younger. Maybe I’d still be working.” He said that meditation had eased his anxiety. “You know how you can spiral on things and keep repeating things? It’s very helpful with that.”
Puddicombe smiled. “I love hearing how people are using it,” he said.
The man muttered, dreamily, “It’s so surreal to hear your voice.”
The next morning, at eight-thirty, Puddicombe picked me up, along with Rich Pierson, his business partner, a thirty-four-year-old British man, who wore sneakers and shorts. They’d wanted to take me surfing; according to Puddicombe, the sport is one reason that Headspace is based in California. After years of sitting, he was eager to move around again. The partners now discuss company issues during surf sessions every morning, off Santa Monica Beach. (After meditating, of course. Puddicombe meditates for about an hour, using a combination of “visualization and awareness techniques” that he learned at the monastery, and vowed to practice every day for the rest of his life.) It had rained, however, and the water was too polluted for surfing, so, to my secret relief, we went on a hike instead. On the Los Leones trail, Puddicombe set off bouncily through the brush. He took a mindful breath and said, “The air is so lovely and clear after the rain!”
Headspace was created in London. Puddicombe, who in 2004 had handed in his monk’s robes, was working at a medical clinic, teaching meditation to patients who were being treated for such problems as high blood pressure and insomnia. The clinic was situated in the City, and the financial crisis was in full swing, so many of his patients were stressed-out bankers. He shrank his monastic teachings to fit a ten-week meditation course. The bankers could be a tough audience, and Puddicombe soon realized that, if he wanted to engage them, he’d have to make some changes. He translated Sanskrit and Tibetan terms into English, and eliminated some of the trippier exercises, like “visualizing bright white lights,” he said. “It gets into a space, for some people, where it feels a bit frightening.” In the monastery, an hour of meditation was considered a brief session, but that didn’t fly with Puddicombe’s clients. “I realized early on that it had to feel manageable,” he said. He set about condensing the exercises into short chunks: twenty or even ten minutes. It worked—perhaps too well. By the end of the course, several traders had quit their jobs, one to start a landscaping business, another to open a yoga studio.
Pierson was one of his students. When he came to see Puddicombe, he was a young director at BBH, a corporate ad firm, with an anxiety problem. He took to meditation right away. “It sounds glib, but it did change my life pretty quickly,” Pierson said. Before long, he, too, had quit his job, and he and Puddicombe went into business together, borrowing fifty thousand dollars from Pierson’s father. Pierson recalled, “He said he thought it was the worst business idea he had heard, but he believed if anyone could do it Andy and I could.” (Apart from Headspace employees, the two men, and their friends and family, are the only owners of the business.)
Pierson brings out the non-monk side of Puddicombe. They call each other old nicknames, Richie and Pudsy, or just “mate.” “We have similar types of friends,” Pierson said. “They’re, like, blokes.” He argued that this background—blokedom—had prepared them for one of Headspace’s challenges: marketing meditation to men. Pierson said that many males are closet meditators. “The beauty of having an app is that I can do it anywhere, and I don’t have to tell anyone about it.” He talked about the social isolation he’d experienced after “coming out” as a meditation enthusiast. Puddicombe snorted. “Try talking to your mates in a pub when you’re wearing a skirt,” he said.
By now, we were high on the mountain trail. We stopped to look out at the ocean, which was rough after the storm. Puddicombe salivated over the waves. “That’s some corduroy,” he said to Pierson. “Look at it peeling!”
I asked if it was possible to be a mindful surfing addict. “I think surfing lends itself particularly well to being present,” Puddicombe said. He thought some more. “And there’s an analogy for life. Sometimes there will be waves, you know? Sometimes just little ones, sometimes big and exciting ones, sometimes really big, terrifying ones.” But, he added, we can’t live for waves alone. “A lot of life, actually, is spent just being in the water.” Puddicombe is full of these kinds of insights and analogies, which, though earnestly delivered, have a way of sounding as if they were lifted from a decorative pillow. I mentioned this, as delicately as possible. Puddicombe sighed. “I know,” he said. “It can sound incredibly trite. Be present, let go, don’t judge. Without the experience”—of meditation—“they’re kind of meaningless.”
Headspace has better luck appealing to skeptics by, as Puddicombe said, “pulling the science lever.” As technologies for studying the brain have improved, a new field of inquiry has emerged, sometimes called contemplative neuroscience, which examines the effects of meditation on the brain. The preliminary findings of the studies are reported breathlessly: recent headlines in the Times include “MEDITATION FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP” and “EXERCISING THE MIND TO TREAT ATTENTION DEFICITS.” Headspace, which employs a chief medical officer, Dr. David Cox, has a promotional pamphlet that relates an array of “Quantifiable Positive Outcomes of Mindfulness Training.” These range from “stress and anxiety reduction” to “immune function,” “compassion,” and “heart health.” When it comes to psoriasis, Headspace notes, referring to a paper co-authored by Kabat-Zinn, “the meditators’ skin cleared around four times faster than the non-meditators.” This can make meditation seem like a wonder drug: Adderall, Prozac, and Proactiv rolled into one.
While it’s true that a recent metastudy found that mindfulness meditation produces effects that are equivalent to those of antidepressants, scientists caution that the research is in its early stages. Most of the studies are pilot studies, and many lack an “active control”—a kind of meditative sugar pill, to guard against the placebo effect. (Headspace is considering developing a fake meditation app.) Bias can cloud the results, too. As one review put it, wryly, “Many researchers are enthusiastic meditators themselves.” Kerr, the neuroscientist, said that if you join “a mindfulness group or get an app like Headspace, you should not assume that your depression will magically lift or your skin will clear up.”
Many Buddhists don’t love the wonder-drug version of meditation, either. They are bothered by the way that it has come to be adaptable to any goal, from training marines to picking investments. (A Reuters article called “Meditation and the Art of Investment” quotes Ray Dalio, of the hundred-and-seventy-billion-dollar hedge fund Bridgewater Associates: “Meditation more than anything in my life was the biggest ingredient for whatever success I’ve had.”) David McMahan, the scholar, pointed out that in Buddhism mindfulness doesn’t quite work that way: “You are supposed to be mindful of something: the teachings of the Buddha!” The teachings of the Buddha are not always warm and fuzzy, nor would they play well at a corporate retreat. The most important precept, after all, is the universal truth of suffering.
Detractors worry that secular mindfulness teachers have whitewashed the technique, dulling its self-critical edge. The management professor and Zen practitioner Ronald Purser pointed to a Stanford study that demonstrated that most workplace stress is caused by things like corporate dysfunction and job insecurity—not by “unmindful employees.” Corporations like mindfulness, he said, because it “keeps us within the fences of the neoliberal capitalist paradigm. It’s saying, ‘It’s your problem, get with the program, fix your stress, and get back to work!’ ”
Mindfulness and Meditation are only two of eight life-style choices that the Buddha instructed his followers to practice, in order to break free from the cycle of suffering and rebirth. The others involve a code of ethics. They include Right Understanding, Right Motivation, Right Livelihood (not making a living in a way that harms other beings), Right Action (not killing or hurting people), Right Speech, and Right Effort (diligence). To pluck some things from the list, while ignoring others, strikes many Buddhists as absurd. McMahan said, “It would be as if somebody went to the Catholic Church and said, ‘I don’t buy all this stuff about Jesus and God, but I really dig this Communion ritual. Would you just teach me how to do that bit? Oh, and I want to start a company marketing wafers.’ ”
Puddicombe bristles at this criticism. “I never teach meditation in isolation,” he told me. “I always teach View, Meditation, and Action. You can’t teach the View without altruism.” Indeed, much of the interstitial material on Headspace—the little chats that Puddicombe gives before and after meditation exercises, about things like listening to others—amount to dharma talks, even if he never mentions Buddhism. “What would be the purpose of doing it?” he said. “Is there any real benefit? I’m not sure there is.” Puddicombe said that his goal is to convey “the heart of the practice.” Should Headspace be selling subscriptions to the Goldman Sachses of the world, or denouncing them? Should he be scolding its Arianna Huffingtons? On these matters, as on many others, Puddicombe prefers not to judge. “I don’t think it’s for any one person to say, ‘This is how you should use this,’ ” he told me. He invoked his hero, Milarepa: “He set out to learn meditation so he could practice black magic!”
Puddicombe is neutral on the subject of the moral status of money, saying, “It’s our relationship to it and how we choose to use it.” According to Puddicombe, one online critic called him a “very greedy monk.” But if Headspace is to bring meditation to every smartphone owner in the world—and do so better than its competitors—the company can’t afford to be unmindful of its finances. Puddicombe and Pierson say they have been approached by more than fifty investors, including most of the prominent names on Sand Hill Road, the hub of venture capital. They haven’t taken any money yet, but Puddicombe said, in a somewhat resigned tone, that “it’s almost inevitable.”
Mamoon Hamid, at Social Capital, said that, despite his admiration for Headspace, he has decided not to invest. His reason was Puddicombe. He told me, “It’s extremely compelling when a Buddhist monk walks in the door. It’s true to brand. It’s authentic.” But, he said, “at the end of the day, we want to create the biggest company around this concept without being shackled by your Buddhist-monk tendencies.” Headspace has an impressive number of users for a product that has spread almost entirely by word of mouth. But, Hamid said, “in order to get to two hundred million users, you have to break a lot of glass along the way. Your company will change over time, and are you O.K. with that?” In the end, he said, “you have to let go”—the dharma of Silicon Valley.
Puddicombe has no backup plan in the event that Headspace fails to become the Uber of mindfulness. But he could always go back to teaching meditation using traditional methods. On the night after our hike, he met with one of his old clients from London: John Sanders, the founder of a British salon chain called Headmasters Hair, who was in Los Angeles for a hairdressers’ convention. Sanders was staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills called the SLS, which had an ornate night-life feel, with club music throbbing. The lobby was packed with British hairdressers decked out for the evening.
Sanders is a tough-looking older man. He was dressed in a tight black T-shirt decorated with an X-ray of a hand, and was accompanied by a colleague named Mark: a large man wearing a skull T-shirt and a giant silver watch. Mark ordered a round of beers, which Puddicombe declined.
Sanders told Mark that the ex-monk had helped him sleep. Mark seemed confused. “How do you make someone sleep?”
It was becoming clear that Sanders isn’t vocal about his practice in the workplace. “I learned meditation,” he said, somewhat haltingly. “You know, relax and calm down.”
Mark rolled his eyes. “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “My idea of relaxing is walking the dog. If I try to meditate—I have tried—I end up with other thoughts. Like—a Danish pastry comes into my head!”
Sanders took a helpful tone. “Well, not that I’m a teacher, but what Andy taught me is that is perfectly normal.”
“Yes,” Puddicombe said. “It’s part of the process.”
“Well, then, in that case I think I’m meditating now,” Mark said. He grinned mischievously, and added, “The Danish pastry was a euphemism for something else!”
“It really helped me sleep, though,” Sanders said.
Sanders and Puddicombe began discussing his practice. “What are you reading?” Puddicombe asked.
“I’ve read most of Pema Chödrön,” Sanders said, referring to the author, the abbess of Gampo Abbey, in Nova Scotia.
Puddicombe nodded. “You read that first Chögyam Trungpa, the ‘Spiritual Materialism’?”
“I did. Difficult book.”
Puddicombe prescribed some additional exercises for Sanders, referring to them by their Tibetan names. “They’re called the Four Ordinary Foundations,” he said. “Because they precede the Four Extraordinary Foundations. Tibetans are quite grand.”
The exercises, which are performed at the beginning of monastic training, involve asking yourself a question about each of a series of important topics before you meditate. Puddicombe has renamed the topics in English: Appreciation, Change, Cause and Effect.
“The final one sounds bleak when you do the Tibetan translation,” he said. “I think it’s the Truth of Suffering.”
Sanders exclaimed, “Ha!”
Puddicombe smiled. “I changed it to Acceptance.” ♦
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Join date : 2010-11-13
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:07 am|| |
Mindfulness: Capitalism's New Favorite Tool for Maintaining the Status Quo
By Kali Holloway  / AlterNet - July 11, 2015
I stumbled across mindfulness, the meditation practice now favored by titans of tech, sensitive C-suiters, new media gurus and celebrities, without even really knowing it.
A couple of years ago, I was deeply mired in an insane schedule that involved almost everything (compulsive list-making at 4am, vacations mostly spent working, lots of being “on”) except for one desperately missed item (sleep; pretty much just sleep). A friend suggested I download Headspace, a meditation app he swore would calm the thoughts buzzing incessantly in my head, relax my anxious energy and help me be more present. I took his advice, noting the app’s first 10 trial sessions — to be done at the same time over 10 consecutive days — were free. When I found the time to do it, it was, at best, incredibly relaxing; at worst, it barely made a dent in my frazzled synapses. When I didn’t find the time (because again, schedule), the effort to somehow make time became its own source of stress. In the end, I got an equally hectic yet far more satisfying career, took up running and forgot Headspace existed.
That is, until the term “mindfulness” reached a tipping point of near ubiquity. As it turned out, what I’d regarded as just a digitized form of guided meditation was actually a “mindfulness technique,” part of a bigger, buzzy, Buddhism-derived movement toward some version of corporate enlightenment. As long ago as 2012, Forbes  reported that Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank and several other corporate behemoths already had mindfulness programs in place for employees. Phil Jackson , the basketball coach with a record-setting 11 NBA titles, tacitly praised mindfulness for his wins, telling Oprah he’d incorporated the technique into player practice regiments. Arianna Huffington, empress of media, not only sings the praises of mindfulness in speeches around the country, but she and Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski just hosted an entire conference  dedicated to it this past April. And perhaps least surprising of all, Gwyneth Paltrow is a proselytizing adherent, giving mindfulness in general, and Headspace in particular, a shout-out on her lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-beautiful website, Goop .
You can tell a lot about trendy new concepts by who embraces them, and why. In the case of mindfulness, business leaders cite a number of reasons why they’ve adopted the concept so wholeheartedly. Studies  have found that mindfulness meditation reduces stress, thereby making it a safeguard against employee burnout. Research  finds that mindfulness bolsters memory retention and reading comprehension, which means employees can be more accurate in processing information. One Dutch study  found that mindfulness makes practitioners more creative, helping ensure workers remain a fount of ideas. And some schools  for children as young as first grade have begun teaching mindfulness meditation, based on studies that suggest it helps maintain focus , a resource in constant threat of short supply for those multitasking their way through so many mundane, workaday obligations.
The idea is that mindfulness helps cleanse cerebral clutter and hush neural distractions so we can redirect that brain power into being our most in-the-moment selves.
But really, we already knew this. Long before mindfulness became the path toward corporate good vibes — back when Westerners were getting into what was then simply called Zen meditation — millions were already offering unsolicited testaments to the restorative powers of the technique. (To modify an old joke about vegans, Q: How do you know someone’s into meditation? A: Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.) The pesky problem with meditation, now dubbed “mindfulness,” was its connection with Buddhism. Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely credited with introducing the concept of mindfulness to America in the 1970s, reportedly recognized the spread of the concept might be helped by loosening its religious ties. As a New York Times  article on the practice explains, Kabat-Zinn redefined the technique, giving it a secular makeover and describing it as “[t]he awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Without all that dogma attached, the opportunities for use were suddenly endless.
And there’s nothing business loves better than a good opportunity. Silicon Valley, which sits in the shadow of San Francisco and its countercultural influence, was first to recognize the benefits of mindfulness. In a New Yorker  piece that explores the history of the phenomenon, Lizzie Widdicombe cites Steve Jobs — who traveled India  as a teen and was an avid practitioner of meditation — as the first tech industry icon to weave mindfulness with business practices. His heir apparent in this arena is Chade-Meng Tan, whose title at Google is, no kidding, Jolly Good Fellow , or alternately, the slightly more formal Head of Personal Growth. Originally hired in 1999 as an engineer, in 2007 Tan headed up the company’s first "Search Inside Yourself” course, a two-day mindfulness-focused program. Since then, the corporate adopters of mindfulness, which also include Procter & Gamble, General Mills and Aetna, have grown to include companies in every area of business, stretching far beyond tech to banking, law, advertising, and even the United States military . (Although, it should be noted, deep meditation may actually be damaging  for some PTSD sufferers, exacerbating the condition.)
Strip away all the fuzzy wuzzy, and one glaring fact stands out about mindfulness’s proliferation across the corporate world: At the end of the day, the name of the game is increased productivity. In other words, the practice has become a capitalist tool for squeezing even more work out of an already overworked  workforce. Buddhism’s anti-materialist ethos seems in direct odds with this application of one of its key practices, even if it has been divorced from its Zen roots. In an article about “McMindfulness ,” the pejorative term indicting the commodified, secularized, corporatized version of the meditative practice, David Loy states “[m]indfulness training has wide appeal because it has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo, and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals.”
A 2013 piece from the Economist titled “The Mindfulness Business ” compares mindfulness to the culture of self-help, previously held as the cure-all for a business culture looking to maximize worker usefulness. The piece points out that this recontextualized version of meditation seems, cynically, to miss the point of the practice’s original intent:
“Gurus talk about 'the competitive advantage of meditation.' Pupils come to see it as a way to get ahead in life. And the point of the whole exercise is lost. What has parading around in pricey Lululemon outfits got to do with the Buddhist ethic of non-attachment to material goods? And what has staring at a computer-generated dot got to do with the ancient art of meditation? Western capitalism seems to be doing rather more to change eastern religion than eastern religion is doing to change Western capitalism.”
It’s a valid point that drives home the schism between the roots of the practice and the warped interpretation of it.
For now, there seems no end to the spread of mindfulness — which isn’t such a bad idea. The notion of self-care in an era of constant digital distractions, as well as midnight and weekend work email exchanges, is a welcome one. But what of the halfhearted appropriation of a noble, anti-capitalist practice to thicken the bottom line? As Loy notes in his Huffington Post piece, American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi warns that "absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism." That’s a pretty good summation of what’s already happening. Until corporate America discovers its next trendy panacea, the practice will continue to spread, its miraculous effects touted — and often overstated— as a booster of profits and more. It’s a bit like oms for making better worker drones; or rather, Zen done the American way.
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:22 am|| |
Large-scale trial will assess effectiveness of teaching mindfulness in UK schools
16 July 2015
MF Small A major Wellcome Trust study to assess whether mindfulness training for teenagers can improve their mental health launches today.
The three-part study includes the first large randomised control trial of mindfulness training compared with ‘teaching as usual’ in 76 schools, which will involve nearly six thousand students aged 11 to 14.
Other parts of the study are a programme of experimental research to establish whether and how mindfulness improves the mental resilience of teenagers, and an evaluation of the most effective way to train teachers to deliver mindfulness classes to students.
The £6.4 million research programme will be carried out by teams at the University of Oxford, UCL (University College London) and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, over seven years.
Teenage years are a vulnerable time in terms of onset of mental illness, with over 75% of mental disorders beginning before the age of 24 and half by the age of 15. This programme of research is based on the theory that, just as physical training is associated with improved physical health, psychological resilience training is associated with better mental health outcomes. By promoting good mental health and intervening early, i.e. in crucial teenage years, researchers are seeking to understand whether they can build young people’s resilience and help to prevent mental illness developing.
Mindfulness training is a very popular technique that has been found to be very effective in preventing depression and promoting mental health in adults (see ‘What is Mindfulness’ box below). This programme of research seeks to answer whether mindfulness reduces the incidence of depression and associated mental disorders in teenagers by improving their ability to employ problem solving skills in the face of emotional distress, intrusive thoughts or behavioural impulses. This ability is known by researchers as ‘executive control’.
The trial will involve children in classrooms across 76 mainstream schools recruited to the study. 38 schools will train 11-14 year old students in mindfulness and 38 schools will act as a ‘control’, teaching standard personal, health and social education lessons. Mindfulness training, which takes place over 10 lessons within a school term, will be offered to all students as part of their normal school curriculum. The trial is expected to begin in late 2016 and will run for 5 years, including a follow-up period of 2 years for each student.
Mindfulness training is designed to be of benefit across a spectrum of mental health vulnerability, from those at high risk, to those that are low risk and/or flourishing – as you might see across any typical classroom. The goal is to evaluate mindfulness training across the whole population, and researchers want to assess both mental health problems and positive mental health. Key outcomes researchers will be looking for are: risk of depression, social and behavioural skills, and well-being.
Researchers are also looking at secondary outcomes of mindfulness training including peer relationships, anxiety, student attainment and teacher well-being.
In the second, lab-based, part of the study researchers from UCL and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit are testing exactly how mindfulness affects wellbeing and whether mindfulness training is more beneficial at some stages of adolescence than others. Over 24 months researchers will assess whether mindfulness training in nearly 600 participants aged 11 to16 improves their self-control and emotion regulation.
In the third strand of the study, researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Exeter are assessing how best to train teachers to deliver mindfulness to their students. The study involves 200 teachers and is evaluating different training methods (intensive mindfulness short course versus guided self-help mindfulness training and web-learning) and how easily and cost effectively teacher training can be scaled up. The team is also looking at barriers to implementing mindfulness in schools, although pilot work indicates that mindfulness has high rates of acceptability among teachers and students. This strand of research began in November 2014 and is informing the large-scale school trial.
Professor Willem Kuyken, a principal investigator from the University of Oxford, said: “Mindfulness is a form of ‘mind exercise’ as it’s a way that we can improve our mental health. Just as brushing your teeth or going for a run are well known ways of protecting general physical health, mindfulness exercises develop mental fitness and resilience. What this project is trying to establish is whether teaching teenagers mindfulness techniques can improve their attention and resilience, two key skills for maintaining good mental health. We are launching a programme of research to find out how best to support the resilience and well-being of 11 to 14 year olds, working with teachers and young people in mainstream schools. We are interested in the full range of outcomes, including social relationships, school attendance and attainment, as well at teacher well-being and school culture.”
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a principal investigator from UCL, said: “It is becoming clear to neuroscientists that the early teenage years are a crucial time for brain development, particularly in brain regions responsible for decision-making, emotion regulation and social understanding. Alongside the trial in schools, we are trying to find out experimentally whether mindfulness improves cognitive and emotional resilience in young people aged 11 to 16. Using experimental tasks in the lab, we will study whether mindfulness affects how young people think and feel and make decisions under stressful or emotional conditions. We are trying to establish whether mindfulness training, compared with a control intervention, has different effects at different stages of development, and therefore if there is a ‘best’ time for teenagers to be trained in the technique.”
Paula Kearney, a geography teacher at the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage, London, who has given mindfulness training to her students, said: “I’ve had very positive feedback from students at the UCL Academy who have done mindfulness training. I find that mindfulness techniques are used by different students in different ways, for example some might prefer breathing techniques, whereas others find visualising thoughts more helpful. Mindfulness gives my students specific skills and tools which they can use if they want to, it’s not about making them advanced practitioners or making time for mindfulness compulsory. A lot of my students use the techniques they like, for example the ‘thought bus’, more often than just during lessons or times of stress, but also at home.”
Dr Raliza Stoyanova, Senior Portfolio Developer in the Neuroscience and Mental Health team at the Wellcome Trust, said: “Mindfulness as a technique has become very popular, with a large number of people downloading mindfulness apps and taking part in short courses. We want to take that enthusiasm for mindfulness, but delve deeper into the scientific basis for the technique. This study, which will recruit more than six thousand school students in the UK, should give us a reliable answer as to whether mindfulness has a positive effect on the mental health of teenagers. The lab-based studies will also provide critical insight into how mindfulness works. Given the great social and personal toll of mental illness, building up the evidence base for preventative interventions such as mindfulness is absolutely crucial. ”
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:26 am|| |
Health - Taking mindfulness into the game
MCDONNELL/The Washington Post - Vaughn Gray
Published: 13 July 2015 10:10 PM
Vaughn Gray recalled what changed for him. Over the past couple of basketball seasons, the former George Mason University forward found he was able to “see the game slower … react to things more efficiently” during contests.
“I felt like I was maximizing my motions, and my play-making abilities were more heightened through the breathing techniques,” Gray said.
Where had he learned the techniques? In classes he and his teammates had taken in July and August 2013, as part of a GMU study on the benefits of a mindfulness-based intervention. That study, published last year, built on a nascent body of research into how mindfulness (defined in the study as “bringing conscious attention to the present moment in a receptive, curious manner”) may prove more effective for athletes than traditional sports psychology.
But it’s one thing for a group of athletes to learn some of those concepts; it’s another for them to put them to good use. To bridge that gap, the GMU study introduced a novel element: yoga.
“We wanted to add yoga because athletes are accustomed to physical exercise, and we thought it would be a nice complement to the mindfulness intervention, which traditionally is basically talking for 90 minutes,” said Fallon Goodman, the doctoral researcher at the school’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being who oversaw the study. “There are some experiential exercises, but yoga added that physical component that athletes are used to.”
Goodman’s project involved taking a team and administering the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment program, which was established by other researchers within the past decade, then comparing the results to those of a control group of club athletes from the school. Both groups filled out questionnaires at the start of a five-week period and again at the end of it. But while the control group was left to go about its normal business, the Patriots basketball team underwent eight 90-minute mindfulness intervention sessions. The sessions were followed by an hour of hatha yoga, a gentle form of the discipline that emphasizes getting into certain postures and focusing on breathing.
At the end of the five weeks, the team reported less perceived stress. Compared with the control group, the basketball players reported greater mindfulness and “greater goal-directed energy” — an ability to purposefully pursue values, both on and off the court, that were in line with what kind of players and people the athletes wanted to be, rather than just reacting to pressures.
How much of those gains were attributable to the addition of yoga to the mindfulness program? Well, that’s hard to say, even for Goodman, who hopes to find out more in another study. “That’s something we would do differently, trying to distill that out a little bit better.”
Certainly, Gray found benefits in both classes he took, saying that “it was good to add the yoga side,” which the coaching staff had already been planning on implementing to the mental training. Gray recently graduated and hopes to play professionally overseas; meanwhile, he still does yoga “every once in a while … because I like the way it loosens my body up.” He prefers to do it in the morning: “It wakes you up mentally, and it kind of focuses you in, gets you kind of centered in your body and your mind.”
The Patriots went on to have difficult seasons, as they made the move into a much tougher basketball league, the Atlantic 10.
“There was never any negativity in the locker room,” Gray said. “We were able to push through adversity. Even though things may have been rough at the time, when we were losing or whatever, we tried to always stay as a family, because we kind of knew all of each other’s personal issues” from the mindfulness interventions.
Gray’s experiences line up with what Goodman described as the benefits of mindfulness. “Instead of acting in a reactive way of trying to get rid of that stress, or maybe acting in a way that’s not in line with what you want to do, by accepting it and becoming more aware of it, the hope is that your behaviors will then be more in line with things you care about.”
Des Bieler, The Washington Post
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:36 am|| |
Newton’s George Mumford teaches basketball greats — and everyday people — the power of flow By Daniel McGinn MAY 27, 2015
SOMETIMES THE MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS in our lives take place when we’re not even present. For George Mumford, a Newton-based mindfulness teacher, one such moment took place in 1993, at the Omega Institute, a holistic learning center in Rhinebeck, New York.
The center was hosting a retreat devoted to mindfulness meditation, the clear-your-head habit in which participants sit quietly and focus on their breathing. Leading the session: meditation megastar Jon Kabat-Zinn. Originally trained as a molecular biologist at MIT, Kabat-Zinn had gone on to revolutionize the meditation world in the 1970s by creating a more secularized version of the practice, one focused less on Buddhism and more on stress reduction and other health benefits.
After dinner one night, Kabat-Zinn was giving a talk about his work, clicking through a slide show to give the audience something to look at. At one point he displayed a slide of Mumford. Mumford had been a star high school basketball player who’d subsequently hit hard times as a heroin addict, Kabat-Zinn explained. By the early 1980s, however, he’d embraced meditation and gotten sober. Now Mumford taught meditation to prison inmates and other unlikely students. Kabat-Zinn explained how they were able to relate to Mumford because of his tough upbringing, his openness about his addiction — and because, like many inmates, he’s African-American.
Kabat-Zinn’s description of Mumford didn’t seem to affect most Omega visitors, but one participant immediately took notice: June Jackson, whose husband had just coached the Chicago Bulls to their third consecutive NBA championship. Phil Jackson had spent years studying Buddhism and Native American spirituality and was a devoted meditator. Yet his efforts to get Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and their teammates to embrace mindfulness was meeting with only limited success. “June took one look at George and said, ‘He could totally connect with Phil’s players,’ ” Kabat-Zinn recalls. So he provided an introduction.
Soon Mumford was in Chicago, gathering some of the world’s most famous athletes in a darkened room and telling them to focus on their breathing. Mumford spent the next five years working with the Bulls, frequently sitting behind the bench, as they won three more championships. In 1999 Mumford followed Phil Jackson to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he helped turn Kobe Bryant into an outspoken adherent of meditation. Last year, as Jackson began rebuilding the moribund New York Knicks as president, Mumford signed on for a third tour of duty. He won’t speak about the specific work he’s doing in New York, but it surely involves helping a new team adjust to Jackson’s sensibilities, his controversial triangle offense, and the particular stress that comes with compiling the worst record in the NBA.
Late one April afternoon just as the NBA playoffs are beginning, Mumford is sitting at a table in O’Hara’s, a Newton pub. Sober for more than 30 years, he sips Perrier. It’s Marathon Monday, and as police begin allowing traffic back onto Commonwealth Avenue, early finishers surround us, un-showered and drinking beer.
No one recognizes Mumford, but that’s hardly unusual. While most NBA fans are aware that Jackson is serious about meditation — his nickname is the Zen Master — few outside his locker rooms can name the consultant he employs. And Mumford hasn’t done much to change that. He has no office and does no marketing, and his recently launched website, mindfulathlete.org, is mired deep in search-engine results. Mumford has worked with teams that have won six championships, but, one friend jokes, he remains the world’s most famous completely unknown meditation teacher.
That may soon change. This month, Mumford published his first book, The Mindful Athlete,
which is part memoir and part instruction guide, and he has agreed to give a series of talks and book signings in Massachusetts and beyond. The book comes at a perfect moment: Once dismissed as a peripheral New Age practice, mindfulness is now everywhere. It’s being taught at companies from Google to Target; famous practitioners now include Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, and George Stephanopoulos. While Mumford is visibly uncomfortable with the idea of marketing himself as the Man Who Taught Michael Jordan to Meditate, he’s taking baby steps down the route traveled by so many celebrity trainers and gurus. “I haven’t advertised or put myself out there,” the 63-year-old Mumford says over a plate of fish and chips. “One of the reasons I did [the book] is it’s the best way to get out there.”
And as he does, he’s giving us a glimpse into the usually secretive mental training practices of elite athletes. Professional teams are ordinarily very protective of what they do to help players be focused and confident — they see it as a key source of competitive advantage. Mumford toes that line, stopping short of describing exactly what goes on in the locker room. But by piecing together descriptions in the new book, Mumford’s own explanation of his work from interviews, and accounts from athletes and coaches who’ve hired him, it’s possible to gain some insight into the pioneering work Mumford has done with athletes over the last two decades.Introduced to heroin as a young man in Boston, George Mumford used Alcoholics Anonymous and meditation to help turn his life around.
GEORGE MUMFORD WAS BORN 10th in a family of 13 children. He grew up in poverty in Dorchester, his father an alcoholic. Mumford was a good athlete — particularly basketball — but he was injury-prone, which he attributes partly to the stress of his chaotic home life. He won an academic scholarship to the University of Massachusetts but didn’t make the basketball team; instead, he spent his years in Amherst playing in pickup games, teaching himself guitar, and earning a degree in finance.
“I think George could have played on the college level,” says Julius Erving, who lived with Mumford at UMass and often played ball with him at Boyden Gymnasium and elsewhere. But Dr. J, who of course went on to become a Hall of Famer, was most impressed by Mumford’s seriousness of purpose. “George was certainly a quiet guy in terms of his personality and demeanor, but he was a deep thinker. He was definitely concerned about being successful, and we migrated toward each other.” The friendship gave Mumford insight into the pressures of being a world-class basketball player, which helped him relate to the superstars he began counseling two decades later.
At UMass and in his post-college job as a financial analyst at a defense contractor, however, Mumford was living a double life. As a teenager in Dorchester, he’d begun drinking and doing heroin, and by his 20s had developed a raging habit. “I had a security clearance on my badge and track marks on my forearm,” he writes in his book. “I always made sure to wear long sleeves.” In 1984, after Mumford was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection caused by intravenous drug use, a friend took him to Alcoholics Anonymous and he entered a 21-day detox program. Soon afterward, a therapist referred him to a stress management program that included meditation.
Mumford found that meditation offered drug-free relief from the chronic pain of his many sports injuries, and soon he was practicing it daily. At night, he began to pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Cambridge College; when he wasn’t studying or working, he was often attending silent retreats or talks at theInsight Meditation Society in Barre and the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, where he later took up residence.
By the end of the 1980s, Mumford had begun working with Kabat-Zinn in Worcester. “George was a unique person,” recalls Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director at UMass’s Center for Mindfulness. “Part of it was his own personal history — he’s not shy about telling people he had his own drug issues and all sorts of personal challenges growing up.” Race was also a factor. There was a “paucity of diversity” in meditation circles of the time, Kabat-Zinn says, and Mumford was a pioneer in taking the practice on in a deep way and translating it for other African-Americans.
Mumford says his ability to connect goes far deeper than color. “I don’t relate to people on race,” he says. “I relate to them on a soul level.” But when he began working with the Chicago Bulls, in the fall of 1993, that connection was hardly instantaneous. Michael Jordan had just quit basketball to play minor league baseball (badly, it would turn out), and the Bulls were in crisis. Sacrificing valuable practice time to have the team listen to some guy talk about breathing was unusual, but Jackson felt it was worthwhile.
“George had a gift for demystifying meditation and was able to explain it in language that made sense to the players,” Jackson wrote in his 2013 memoir, Eleven Rings.
“He also had an intuitive feel for the issues they were grappling with because of his friendship with Dr. J and other elite athletes.”
After Jordan quit baseball and returned to the Bulls, Mumford focused on teaching the superstar a new way to lead. “Jordan, in particular, was very skeptical, but over time he began to understand the clarity, the mindfulness, and the importance of learning to focus and perform in the moment,” says Roland Lazenby, a veteran NBA writer who authored biographies of Jordan and Jackson. The players began to realize that Mumford’s work was transforming the team — particularly in helping Jordan play unselfishly. Today Mumford recalls MJ as one of his best students. “He got what I was doing, and he understood,” Mumford says.
George Mumford and Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant arrive at the Staples Center on January 7 this year.
When Jackson moved to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999, Mumford went with him. Over time, the same pattern emerged: initial skepticism, followed by widespread acceptance. “Michael Jackson tried to get me to meditate,” Kobe Bryant once told an interviewer, “but I couldn’t sit still for 20 minutes.” Under the tutelage of Phil Jackson and Mumford, however, meditation became a key to game preparation for Bryant — and for his teammate (and feud counterpart) Shaquille O’Neal.
“There weren’t a lot of things that Shaq and Kobe agreed on,” says Lazenby, “but they both agreed on the effectiveness of George Mumford.”
Around the same time, Mumford had expanded beyond the NBA. He began working with the Boston College men’s basketball team, coached by Al Skinner, another UMass basketball player who lived with Mumford after Dr. J left school for the pros. From 2010 until this March, when a new coach was appointed, Mumford taught mindfulness to the Holy Cross basketball team.
Mumford also worked with individual athletes — volleyball players, lacrosse players, soccer players, golfers — and even dabbled in executive coaching. Dan Gerstman, who owns a national retail sales agency based on Long Island, met Mumford at a conference and spent two years speaking with him during weekly phone calls. (Gerstman says that Mumford would sometimes take calls at 4:30 a.m. when he was in Los Angeles working with the Lakers.) “It was mind-opening in ways — it really helped me to concentrate better,” Gerstman says, “and I started to see that my life’s results at work and at home became better overall.”
Mumford says his work with a client often resembles assembling a large and complex jigsaw puzzle. “You have all the pieces spread out, then you start putting the pieces together one by one,” he says. “It takes awhile, but at some point you see what’s happening. . . . It’s ‘circular learning,’ where you go over the same thing . . . and each time, you pick up something.” At a certain point, he says, it just clicks.
IF THAT STRIKES YOU as a maddeningly vague description, you’re not alone. In talking with Mumford, it’s hard to get a clear sense of what it is he does. That’s partly because Mumford’s work is built on discretion and trust — he’s loath to discuss specifics of his famous clients, in person or in the book — and partly because the nature of the work can resist description.
Even clients sometimes have trouble characterizing Mumford’s job. After dominating the Celtics in an August 2013 game, Andrew Bynum told reporters he had Mumford to thank for motivating him. But when asked to provide Mumford’s title, Bynum had to fish into his pocket to retrieve his teacher’s business card. It read “personal/organizational development consultant.”
When pressed, Mumford himself describes his approach as nonlinear, non-formulaic, and driven by context and personal dynamics — not something that can be outlined in Seven Simple Steps. If he’s working with a team, he’ll ask: What are the individual players’ challenges and how do they relate to one another? If he’s working with one person, the key question might be: How can she quiet the negative voices inside her head? (“You’re going to miss this foul shot and your teammates will hate you.”) His goal is to help athletes experience the utterly focused, time-stands-still state that psychologists refer to as “flow.”
“What George offers is an esoteric, ethereal thing — it’s very hard to pin down,” says Roland Lazenby.
Some of Mumford’s services involve traditional guided meditation — and those skills are on display on a Sunday morning at the South Shore Insight Meditation Center in Hanover, where he is on the board of directors. He sits upright in a chair at the front of the room, a statue of Buddha on a raised platform behind him. Around him sit six recovering substance abusers, most of them in their 50s and sober for decades. Mumford begins this session by passing around a typewritten sheet, and participants take turns reading aloud each of AA’s famed 12 steps. Then he has everyone close their eyes and he instructs them to focus on their breaths, in and out. Unlike many meditation instructors, whose voices change to a singsong cadence when they guide a group, Mumford speaks in normal tones. It’s the height of allergy season, and he tells the group to modify the in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth procedure if clogged sinuses make it necessary. For a quarter hour, a calm descends on the room, with periods of silence broken by Mumford’s instructions. At the end, he rings a bell, and everyone opens their eyes.
Next the group takes turns talking about recent challenges, which range from a struggle for identity to a stressful relationship with an aging parent. To each, Mumford listens attentively (even as the stories drag on) and then offers a response — sometimes humorous, sometimes wise, always compassionate. He quotes Yogi Berra and Robert Frost, among others. (He’s read a book a week since getting sober, and The Mindful Athlete
abounds with literary, psychological, and spiritual references.)
“George can take any audience and just be there for them and express the truth of how to stay present in the moment,” says Madeline Klyne, cofounder of the meditation center in Hanover, who first worked with Mumford in prisons during the early 1990s. “People just respond to him.”Mumford, photographed when the BC men’s basketball team was a client, leading players in a meditation exercise.
That is also true of college players. “He relaxed you,” says Steve Hailey, who met Mumford as a freshman basketball player at Boston College in 2003. “You’d block out everything that went on that day — where you were, the pressures of the next game, and the people around you.”
But even when he works with a college team, Mumford spends much time one-on-one. He begins by handing out to each player a 100-question assessment, which gives him a sense of the team’s mental strengths and weaknesses. Meeting privately, he’ll talk to players about stresses and anxieties, conflicts with coaches or teammates, or other emotions that may hurt their play.
“George just has a way of knowing and relating to you — where you understand him and can talk to him, and it’s kind of comfortable right from the start — it’s strange,” says Hailey, who’s now a Boston-based private basketball trainer who refers some of his high school and college players to Mumford. Unlike traditional therapists who practice in regimented 50-minute sessions, Mumford prefers unstructured hanging out. He’ll often watch a team practice, then pull aside one or two players for three-minute chats. When he works with a team on retainer, he watches every game, either in person or on tape. With pro athletes, he’ll also watch postgame interviews on TV, closely observing body language. “There are some things he can see from the outside looking in that as the coach you would miss,” says Milan Brown, the former Holy Cross men’s basketball coach.
Mumford shows a special understanding of the unique stresses facing elite athletes. Every Division I college player was probably the best on his or her high school team; now they’re fighting for playing time and a starting position — knowing that even if they become starters, next year’s freshman recruits hope to knock them off. In the NBA, where millions of dollars ride on a player’s individual statistics, the pressures are even greater.
Mumford recalls that when he began working with the Bulls, he was surprised by how much time and energy players spent in the key moments before big games dealing with requests for tickets from friends and hangers-on. It’s an illustration, Mumford says, of how the more successful a team or an individual becomes, the more distractions there are. “It takes away from your ability to train and maintain,” he says. His job is to help them block out the distractions — to help be in the moment, on the court and off.
Some of the qualities Mumford seeks to instill in athletes — self-confidence and a reduction in negative self-talk — are goals of traditional sports psychology. But Mumford’s approach is different. “There are sports psychologists, but they never participated in sports, and they don’t really get it, in my opinion,” says Al Skinner, the former BC basketball coach who was recently hired as coach at Kennesaw State University. “They’re book-read; they’re sitting on the perimeter asking questions . . . [and often] they’re not very good in the locker room.”
WHEN MUMFORD BEGAN working with the Chicago Bulls in 1993, meditating in a professional sports locker room was extremely unusual. But the practice has grown, pacing the success of Jackson’s teams and the thinking of new-generation professional coaches less focused on old-school styles of motivation and more open to new ideas. For instance, Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, has had a sports psychologist lead locker-room meditation sessions with his football team. Closer to home, the Red Sox have also shown a growing interest in mindfulness training. In January, Globe
baseball writer Alex Speier reported that the Sox had hired Richard Ginsburg, a sports psychologist from Mass. General, who will lead a new department of “behavioral health.” Speier wrote: “The staff plans to place an emphasis on the emerging field of ‘mindfulness,’ in which individuals consciously identify and take stock of the circumstances surrounding them to avoid getting overwhelmed or distracted.”
In an e-mail earlier this month, Sox spokeswoman Zineb Curran confirms that the new behavioral health program involves consultation with MGH’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, whose primary benefactor is John Henry, the Sox’ principal owner (who also owns The Boston Globe
). But she declined to provide more details, since “the program is still in its early stages of development.” (The Patriots and Celtics declined to discuss whether they employ psychologists or other mental-skills professionals.)
Still, it’s surprising mindfulness training hasn’t caught on more broadly. It’s a cliche that many sports are more mental than physical, or that as elite athletes (like Olympians) optimize training to achieve a physical parity, mental preparedness makes all the difference. Despite the cliche, many teams do little to help their players improve in this area. Mumford cites various hurdles facing teams that want to hire him. At the college level, tight university athletic budgets and strict NCAA regulations limiting how many hours athletes can practice (meditation sessions can cut into practice time) are factors. So is some coaches’ concern that Mumford might come between the coach and his players — a longstanding issue that’s faced sports psychologists.
Some observers see signs that may change. Coaches point out that as recently as the 1960s, college and pro football players rarely lifted weights — and those who did worked out with informal guidance from the head coach. Then one college hired a “strength and conditioning coach” and experienced success; today every large football program has one. Competitive sports is an arms race, and if teams that embrace mindfulness continue to experience success, the practice will continue to spread.
There’s also room for growth among individual athletes. In an era when affluent parents spend thousands of dollars on AAU teams and private instruction for teenage athletes, it’s easy to imagine “mental skills training” becoming a bigger part of the adolescent sports regimen. After all, who wouldn’t want their child’s mental skills honed by Jordan’s former guru? That hasn’t happened yet, perhaps because of a lingering stigma over taking a child to a psychologist — but also, in Mumford’s case, because of a lack of marketing. Indeed, when he’s not working with the Knicks, Mumford sounds a bit underemployed — not that he’s particularly concerned about it. “I’m not [booked up], but I’m not sure I want to be,” he says. “I’m not in it for the money.”
That attitude extends to his billing. Mumford doesn’t believe in hourly charges, he says, because he doesn’t stick to rigid therapy-like appointments. He also eschews the “quick fix.” “There are people out there who are willing to do one or two sessions, and I’m not,” he says. He prefers clients who will commit to working together for three months or more, during which they’ll have some set appointments plus 24/7 access by phone. When I press him on the cost, he says it depends on his sense of a client’s ability to pay. It could cost hundreds of dollars or several thousand dollars, or he might just ask the person to make a donation to a good cause.
Mumford’s fans hope that if his profile does expand as a result of the book, the primary beneficiaries won’t be big-time athletes. There’s growing evidence that mindfulness can help in many areas of life, from overall health to academic performance. In fact, the Benson-Henry Institute has launched a program that teaches mindfulness to teens, to help with test-taking and other stressors. Kids everywhere show a willingness to mimic their sports heroes, who influence fans’ choice of footwear, sports drinks, and musical tastes, and some mindfulness pros hope that the more young people can learn about how NBA stars utilize meditation, the more open they’ll be to trying the practice themselves.
Says Jon Kabat-Zinn: “George has found a niche that’s incredibly important. [His clients] are huge role models for kids in the inner city, and if [these kids] begin training their minds to create mindfulness and a sense of being fully present, that’s the way you really create opportunity.” And if this new generation aspires to Be Mindful Like Mike, George Mumford stands ready to assist.Daniel McGinn is a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review. Send comments to email@example.com.ZEN MOMENTS IN BASKETBALL
“The crowd gets quiet, and the moment starts to become the moment for me . . . that’s part of that Zen Buddhism stuff. Once you get into the moment, you know when you are there. Things start to move slowly, you start to see the court very well. You start reading what the defense is trying to do.” – Chicago Bull Michael Jordan
, after making the game-winning shot to clinch the 1998 championship, his sixth
Michael Jordan, left, in 1997.
“When you get in that zone, it’s just a supreme confidence that you know it’s going in. It’s not a matter of if – it’s going in. . . . Everything slows down. You just have supreme confidence. When that happens, you really do not try to focus on what’s going on [around you], because you could lose it in a second. . . . You have to really try to stay in the present, not let anything break that rhythm. . . . You get in the zone and just try to stay here. You don’t think about your surroundings, or what’s going on with the crowd or the team. You’re kind of locked in.” – 5-time world champion Laker Kobe Bryant
, on his 81-point game in 2006
HANNAH FOSLIEN/GETTY IMAGES
Kobe Bryant in 2014.
“Every so often a Celtics game would heat up, so that it became more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. . . . At that special level, all sorts of odd things happened: The game would be in the white heat of competition, and yet somehow I wouldn’t feel competitive, which is a miracle in itself. I’d be putting out the maximum effort, straining, coughing up parts of my lungs as we ran, and yet I never felt the pain.” – 11-time world champion Celtic Bill Russell
in Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Jul 17, 2015 6:00 am|| |
Monday, June 29, 2015
Novak Djokovic and the power of meditation
By Mark Hodgkinson
Special to ESPN.com
Only by kicking off your shoes and speaking to a monk inside a Buddhist temple -- a place of great calm and serenity just half a mile from the hum of the All England Club -- can you fully appreciate the strength of Novak Djokovic's mind. It is here at the Buddhapadipa Temple that the Wimbledon champion comes to meditate under a tree -- or on the lawn next to a small lake.
For the past few years now, the world No. 1 has been a regular visitor to the temple, which he describes as a quiet and beautiful environment where he can switch off and recharge between matches and training sessions.
"When I'm staying in Wimbledon Village, I like to relax between matches by being with nature," said Djokovic, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 winner against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the opening round of Wimbledon. The Serbian also disclosed how he enjoys "hearing the peaceful sounds of the water and seeing people just relax and connect with nature."
Will the power of meditation help Djokovic win a third Wimbledon title by -- as one monk explained it -- "clearing his mind of worry and anxiety"?
"Meditation will help you if you are playing tennis, just as it will help you if you are playing other sports or if you [are] working in an office," said Phramaha Bhatsakorn Piyobhaso, who was dressed in an orange robe and speaking amid a room brimming with golden Buddha statues. "Meditation helps you to keep focused and to train your mind. With proper training, you can improve your concentration and that will keep you focused on what you are doing."
While the monks run meditation classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on the weekends, Djokovic prefers to meditate alone, usually on weekday mornings.
"Novak is an easygoing guy," Piyobhaso said. "We're glad that he comes here to enjoy the calm and the relaxation. The first time he came, there was no need for him to introduce himself to the monks. We knew who he was. Novak walked in, said hello and then went to meditate on his own. We have known him for a while now."
When Djokovic strolls around the five-acre site, he will read the Buddhist sayings on wooden boards. "All things are not self," reads the first of the boards. "When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification." Another reads: "Wisdom springs from meditation. Without meditation, wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, one should so conduct oneself that wisdom may increase."
Maybe, as the best tennis player in the world, Djokovic feels that this is the board that speaks to him: "Though one may conquer a thousand men in battle, the one who conquers himself is the greater warrior."
On a still day, the sound from Centre Court carries to the temple, but only, Piyobhaso said as we walked around the garden, "when someone has played a very good shot and the crowd make a lot of noise." They don't have a television in the temple, so the seven monks who live there won't be able to watch Djokovic's progress through the fortnight, when he will try to equal his coach, Boris Becker, as well as John McEnroe, with three Wimbledon titles.
"It's not that we can't have a television," Piyobhaso said. "And we are not forbidden from watching tennis. We just shouldn't be watching anything that arouses the mind and inspires lust or greed. But we just choose not to have a television. But that's OK, as we can follow Novak on the Internet. We can have a look at the computer and see how he is doing."
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Sun Sep 27, 2015 3:46 pm|| |
Corporate mindfulness is bulls**t: Zen or no Zen, you’re working harder and being paid less
Mindfulness matters, but make no mistake: Corporations are co-opting the idea to disguise the ways they kill usRONALD PURSER AND EDWIN NG()Mindfulness has become a household word. [size=16]Time magazine’s cover of a youthful blond woman peacefully blissing out anchors the feature story, ‘Mindful Revolution.’ From endorsements by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn, to monks, neuroscientists, and meditation coaches rubbing shoulders with CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it is clear that mindfulness has gone mainstream.But is the mindfulness boom really a revolution? If it is, what exactly has been overturned or radically transformed to garner such grand status?
[/size]Wall Street and corporations are still conducting business as usual, special interests and political corruption goes unchallenged, public schools are still suffering from massive underfunding and neglect, the concentration of wealth and inequality has reached record levels, mass incarceration and prison overcrowding has become the new social plague, indiscriminate shooting of Blacks by police and the demonizing of the poor remains commonplace, America’s militaristic imperialism continues to spread, and the impending disasters of global warming are already rearing their ugly heads.To consider only the corporate sector: with over [size=16]$300 billion in losses due to stress-related absences, and nearly $550 billion in losses due to a lack of “employee engagement,” it is unsurprising why it has jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon. Such losses in production and efficiency threaten the logic of profit-making. For capitalism to survive, as Nicole Ashoff points out in “The New Prophets of Capital,” “people must willingly participate in and reproduce its structures and norms,” and in times of crisis, “capitalism must draw upon cultural ideas that exist outside of the circuits of profit-making.” Mindfulness is one such new cultural idea serving this purpose.
[/size]However, those celebrating the mindfulness boom have avoided any serious consideration of why stress is so pervasive in corporations and society. According to New York Times business reporter [size=16]David Gelles, author of “Mindful Work,” “Stress isn’t something imposed on us. It’s something we impose on ourselves.” The New York Times recently featured an exposé on the toxic, sociopathic work culture at Amazon. A former employee was quoted as saying that he saw nearly everyone he worked with cry at their desk. Would Gelles offer his advice with a straight face to these employees of Amazon, telling them that they have imposed stress on themselves, that they could have chosen not to cry?
[/size]For Gelles, the causes of stress are located inside our heads, from our own lack of emotional self-regulation, from our habitual patterns of thinking—and if fMRI images are revealing the neural correlates of stress, then surely our misery must be self-created. We only have ourselves – our own mindlessness – to blame. This is not to deny that experiences of stress and misery are partly due to our habitual reactivity, but Gelles goes too far. His victim-blaming philosophy echoes the corporate mindfulness ethos: shift the burden and locus of psychological stress and structural insecurities onto the individual employee, frame stress as a personal problem, and then offer mindfulness as the panacea. Critical psychologist [size=16]David Smail referred to this philosophy as “magical voluntarism,” because it blames individuals for their own stress, ignoring the social and economic conditions which may have contributed to it.
[/size]A recent [size=16]Stanford-Harvard study, however, tells a different story. A meta-analysis of 228 studies showed that employee stress is not self-imposed nor due to a lack of mindfulness. On the contrary, major workplace stressors were associated with a lack of health insurance, threats of constant layoffs and job insecurity, lack of discretion and autonomy in decision-making, long work hours, low organizational justice, and unrealistic job demands. Yet, individualized mindfulness programs pay virtually no attention to how stress is shaped by a complex set of interacting power relations, networks of interests, and explanatory narratives. Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer argue in “The Wellness Syndrome” that the mindfulness movement exemplifies an ideological shift, which turns an obsessive focus on wellness and happiness into a moral imperative. This “biomorality” urges the individual to find responsibility via the “right” life choices—whether through exercise, food, or meditation—to optimize the self.
[/size]Buddhist teachings about awakening to the reality of impermanence “as it is” become inverted in corporate mindfulness. Instead of cultivating awareness of the contingencies of present reality that cause suffering, and thereby developing the capacity to intervene in those conditions of suffering, corporate mindfulness goes no further than encouraging individuals to manage stress so as to optimize performance within existing conditions of precarity—which, curiously, are portrayed as inevitable even as they demand flexibility from individuals. As Gelles said in his interview for [size=16]the Atlantic: “We live in a capitalist economy, and mindfulness can’t change that.” But doesn’t this underscore what Bhikkhu Bodhi, an outspoken Western Buddhist monk, has warned: “absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism”?
[/size]Proponents like [size=16]Jeremy Hunter, however, assure us that mindfulness can act as a “disruptive technology,” reforming even the most dysfunctional companies into kinder, more compassionate and sustainable organizations. Corporate mindfulness teachers who claim that individualized mindfulness programs are subversive often evoke a ‘Trojan horse’ metaphor. They speculate that over time, leaders, managers and employees trained in mindfulness may wake up and effect major transformations in corporate policies and practices. Going by their claim, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto and General Mills, companies that have publicized their successful corporate mindfulness programs, will soon become the poster children for socially and ecologically responsible corporations. But there is no empirical evidence to support these claims: it remains a speculative hypothesis.
[/size]In the absence of evidence for the Trojan horse hypothesis for corporate mindfulness, there is an alternative hypothesis: Corporate Quietism. This hypothesis suggests that offering mindfulness to individuals in corporations will, at best, offer stress relief or create what Kevin Healy has described as “[size=16]integrity bubbles” for select individuals, while systemic corporate dysfunction continue unabated.
[/size]Consider, for example, board member of Goldman Sachs [size=16]William George’s claim: “The main business case for mindfulness is that if you’re more focused on the job, you’ll become a better leader.” George suggested that mindfulness practice could help executives and staff “behave less aggressively.” “Certainly,” he said, “the financial community could use some of that.”
[/size]What might we make, then, of the [size=16]incident where a 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern died of an epileptic seizure after working 72 hours straight? In the wake of the incident, Goldman Sachs announced new rules to cap the intern workday at 17 hours. Where was mindful leadership prior to the introduction of the new rules? And with the implementation of the workday cap—17 hours—are we witnessing mindful leadership? Who or what is really benefiting from a reduction in stress and aggressiveness within the financial community, as it proudly declares its embracing of mindfulness? Was it the intern’s own fault that he died? Was the stress he faced self-imposed? Was his tragic death a consequence of failing to work mindfully?
[/size]The fact is both are hypotheses. On the one hand, the Trojan horse hypothesis predicts that corporate mindfulness programs will encourage whistle-blowing, wise decision-making, more humane work environments, ethical behavior, greater organizational citizenship behaviors, and transformational culture change leading to greater social and environmental responsibility. And on the other hand, the Corporate Quietism hypothesis posits that corporate mindfulness programs will provide privatized glimpses of stress reduction and focused attention, with no significant application of collective attention to systemic conditions of stress and anxiety.The jury is still out. It remains an open question whether training individuals in mindfulness will transform corporations and society, or whether it merely amounts to employee pacification and a form of passive nihilism. As [size=16]Norm Farb notes, “While the idea of mindfulness as a beneficent Trojan horse may appear far-fetched, it seems equally plausible as accounts where mindfulness leads employees to spiral into complacency and subjugation.” This open question of what mindfulness may or may not lead to is really the rub of the matter, which asks that all parties invested in mindfulness collectively inquire into the multifarious forces of altruism and exploitation that might impact on the as-yet-unactualized potentials and dangers of contemporary mindfulness.
[/size]When socially engaged Buddhist critics raise concerns about the systemic problems that circumscribe the mindfulness trend, we are doing so in recognition of the [size=16]openness of the radical potentials and real dangers of mindfulness, rather than a dogmatic defense of traditionalist approaches to mindfulness over contemporary ones, or a wholesale dismissal of their therapeutic value. Yet, in response to these concerns, advocates of secular mindfulness repeatedly beg the question, sidestepping the issue at hand by deflecting Buddhist criticisms with the very open question that demands collective engagement in the first place. To highlight some salient quotes (italics added) from prominent commentators:
- Quote :
- “Leaders touched by mindfulness may find innovations to solve real problems and help make a better life.Who knows what a leader—in workplaces from Ford Motor Company to the Los Angeles Fire Department—might do for the greater good with the aid of a little mindfulfulness?” —Barry Boyce
“Mindfulness can be a great boon….widespread meditation practice could make a real difference to the problems of our age. But while some people may be drawn to practice through the scientific promise of betterment, they may end up finding that once they’ve got started, the path is far more interesting than that.” — Ed Halliwell
“And then there’s the possibility that enhanced awareness may result in a disconnect between personal and organizational values. If that happens, of course, an employee might simply leave to find a better fit. On the other hand, if an organization can work creatively with the questions that increased personal awareness can churn up, that could be a great asset.” —Jeremy Hunter
“I think what it [mindfulness] can do, hopefully, is give individuals, influencers of organizations, and maybeeven companies themselves the perspective that’s needed to make decisions and changes, even, that are beneficial, not just to the bottom line but to our emotional, physical, and social well-being.” –David Gelles
These different commentators are effectively saying: who knows? Is this not an act of faith in the face of limited knowledge and unforeseeable change? These are essentially appeals of trust to Buddhist critics to reciprocate in “good faith.” As committed engaged Buddhists, we take very seriously the ever-present potential for change and do not take issue with the question of “who knows?” as such. But precisely because “who knows?” is an open question where its radical potential lies in its openness, that we underscore repeatedly the need to interrogate the dynamics of power shaping contemporary mindfulness—because change for the common good (rather than change simply for individual benefit or personal wellbeing) must come through the disruption of prevailing systems of inequality, exploitation, and injustice.
The question of faith solicited by the appeal of”who knows?”, the challenge of cultivating reciprocal trust or “good faith,” is not only a problem for religiously committed Buddhist, but is rather a question for collective attentiveness, a shared responsibility. To be clear, the type of faith we are referring to should not be reduced to the conventional understanding of faith as dogmatic, unquestioning assent to any particular doctrinal or truth proposition. Rather, we are referring to a generalized, non-doctrine-specific understanding of faith-as-trust. This elementary or basic ‘bare’ faith is not confined to religious activities, since every communicative or interpersonal relation we enter into must necessarily presuppose this element of trust or “good faith.” We emphasize this necessary shared condition of “good faith” because we take seriously the repeated pleas by both Buddhist and secular mindfulness advocates for reciprocal learning between Buddhist teachings and scientific research on mindfulness.
However, while secular mindfulness advocates expect engaged Buddhists to take their claims in good faith, they have largely sidestepped, misrepresented, or summarily dismissed the issues raised in recent critiques, like the now viral article “Beyond McMindfulness.” Mindfulness advocates seem unwilling to engage with the issues at hand, displaying a kind of “bad faith.” Take, for example, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the leading spokesperson for the supposed mindfulness revolution. When he was interviewed about the McMindfulness critique in The Psychologist he replied: “that term came out of one person’s mouth or one person’s mind. When you say it is popping up, of course, every term like that tends to just go viral on the web, but it just came out of one person’s mouth. This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination.”
But which is more of an imaginary outlook? Is it the socially engaged concern about McMindfulness, which can in fact be situated sociologically within the empirical conditions of our present neoliberal capitalist order of things? Or is it the individualistically oriented uncritical celebration of the supposed mindfulness revolution, which, given prevailing systems of inequality, exploitation and injustice, remains a hypothetical scenario for a future that may or may not arrive?
Some may claim that the seeds of a revolution are already being planted, as the uptake of mindfulness across different sectors is bringing therapeutic benefits to individuals. But the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness were never strictly speaking the issue in contention. Let us clarify yet again that we are not dismissing the fact that individualistic, therapeutic approaches to mindfulness in the workplace or at home can contribute to personal wellbeing. Rather, we are stressing the need to collectively address systemic problems that generate stressful conditions in the first place.
What kind of mindful revolution would it be if prevailing conditions of inequality, exploitation and injustice remain unchallenged, or if only the privileged easily access mindfulness to cultivate greater wellbeing while the problematic conditions persist “business as usual”? The revolutionary potential of mindfulness remains an open question.
Others have also displayed the bad faith exhibited by Kabat-Zinn. The featured article in Buddhadharma, “The Mindfulness Movement: What Does It Mean for Buddhism?” interviewed four prominent mindfulness teachers. In her introductory comments, Jenny Wilks noted that it is “unhelpful for the debate to become polarized or for it to be based on a lack of understanding of what is actually going on or the motivations of those in either field. Entrenched positions do nothing to unfangle the views and opinions surrounding mindfulness.” Fair enough. Yet, a lack of understanding of the motivations of others, or rather, a misrepresentation of the motivations behind engaged Buddhist concerns, is precisely what we find in the responses of teachers like Diana Winston, Trudy Goodman and Barry Boyce, all of whom depicted the engaged Buddhist concern as an unfounded fear about the “watering down” of Buddhism.
But this is not the motivation behind the critique of McMindfulness. Yes, engaged Buddhist commentators do evoke Buddhist ideals in their criticisms. But we do so not to enshrine a traditionalist stance over and against attempts to translate and contemporize mindfulness. Nor is it to assert a traditional Buddhist approach as the sole arbiter of truth on mindfulness. Rather, it is to connect Buddhist ideals aboutconscientious compassion, as Bhikkhu Bodhi puts it, with the broader sociopolitical challenges which contemporary mindfulness must necessarily negotiate.
We are not romanticizing some ‘pure’ context of practice, which is now being ‘watered down’. Rather, we fully accept the necessary task of translating and contemporizing mindfulness via dialogues with non-Buddhist systems of understanding. To this end, it is necessary to articulate the relevant Buddhist motivations clearly and invite others to engage with them with intellectual hospitality and good faith. But what we repeatedly encounter is a dismissive bad faith response that misconstrues our invitation to collective inquiry as a ‘fundamentalist’ reaction.
Another glaring example of a bad faith response is an entire chapter devoted to rebutting the McMindfulness critique in David Gelles book, Mindful Work. Gelles states his intention to put concerns regarding the mainstreaming of mindfulness to rest, but engages instead in rhetorical strategies of dismissal, sidestepping, and hyperbolic misrepresentation. He depicts the McMindfulness critique as a ‘seductively nefarious vision’ that paints a simplistic portrait of corporate mindfulness as a covert agenda of ‘brainwashing.’ Skeptics of corporate mindfulness are described as ‘conspiratorial’ ‘alarmists’ who perpetuate the false idea that meditation is ‘harmful’ or that it can ‘make someone a worse person’. But is this what we are saying?
The McMindfulness critique centers on how corporate mindfulness programs are governed by the self-governing logic of neoliberal individual autonomy, the myth that individuals are simply ‘free to choose’ either stress or wellness, misery or happiness. Gelles taps Sharon Salzberg, a popular mindfulness teacher, who suggests that mindfulness at work can provide people ‘clearer choices’—that they may, as she told him, ‘wake up to the fact that they need to leave.’ But maybe not. Again, who knows?
Maybe people don’t wake up at all. Or maybe an individual does wake up to the fact that they are working in an oppressive and toxic corporate culture, whose policies, practices or products are in conflict with her personal values. But maybe she has no other options for leaving her current job, and is stuck. Maybe she doesn’t have the social and cultural capital to simply escape her current circumstances. We might recall here the exposé on Amazon’s work culture, where a number of the people interviewed described the difficulty of leaving the toxic environment, partly because of group pressure and partly because of the moral injunction that they exercise ‘free choice’ to find self-fulfillment and self-worth by performing under duress without complaints. To what extent, then, would the adaptation of mindfulness in accordance with the neoliberal logic of self-governance and entrepreneurial self-improvement countervail oppressive or exploitative regimes, when these regimes are rationalized by the moral imperative of individual autonomy to begin with?
For Gelles and the teachers interviewed in Buddhadharma, the only foreseeable problem with the mindfulness movement is a shortage of ‘good teachers’. As Barry Boyce, the editor of Mindful magazine, asserts in his editorial “It’s Not McMindfulness,” good teachers are those who “show a strong measure of independence” from their corporate sponsors. But is such independence really possible? Do conflicts of interest, collusion and symbiotic relationships with corporate sponsors ensure such programs remain within the bounds of the institutional status quo? Can mindfulness teachers really be expected to be ‘independent’ when their livelihood depends on corporate contracts and paychecks? Why bite the hand that feeds you? Even if corporate mindfulness programs expanded to investigate the causes and conditions of stress and social suffering, would such programs be compatible with the fundamental goals of profit maximization? Wouldn’t such programs be viewed as a threat (especially if top talent were exiting the corporation as a result of mindfulness training) and a liability to corporate interests rather than as an asset?
These are all open questions, the dangers and potentials of which can be summed up with ‘who knows?’ We trust that anyone who is committed to mindfulness would agree that it is impossible to fully anticipate change. Mindfulness is a practice to help us cultivate awareness of the habitual and unacknowledged conditions shaping the motivations and consequences of our actions. It is a practice to help us become receptive to the forces of present reality, to help us make and remake decisions to steer our actions heedfully, over and over again, so as to invite change for a more promising future that may or may not arrive.
The open question of ‘who knows?’—the challenge of cultivating good faith in our decisions and actions and relations with others from moment to moment—is the starting point, the condition of possibility, for the ongoing practice of mindfulness, regardless of whether one takes a Buddhist approach or not. It is our hope that debates about mindfulness would become more mindful of this shared conundrum of ‘who knows?’ that threads through questions about the systemic problems that mutually impact on personal wellbeing. These systemic problems at once pose dangers for the future development of mindfulness, and provide the ground from which the revolutionary potential of mindfulness may be actualized.
‘Who knows?’ is both an obstacle and opening. It becomes an obstacle when advocates of mindfulness evoke ‘who knows?’ as a way to dismiss or sidestep the challenges confronting individualistic, institutional or corporate uses of mindfulness. But it becomes an opening when advocates of mindfulness engage with ‘who knows?’ as a shared conundrum to cultivate the intellectual hospitality and good faith necessary for reciprocal learning between Buddhist and non-Buddhist understandings, and for a promising future for mindfulness—for a true mindfulness revolution.
Regardless of whether one is a religiously or secularly oriented practitioner, mindfulness is nothing less than a practice of faith.
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|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming Fri Oct 02, 2015 6:57 pm|| |
Yeah, as ever as soon as something positive appears someone will first find a way to exploit it to their own ends and then turn it into an ego inflating money machine, and then use it as a method of enslaving and dominating those around them. Turning the truth into The Truth, and using this to obscure and hide from the truth.
I used to be a researcher in Cranfield School of Management and once we had an invited speaker who gave a talk entitled 'Mindfulness and Leadership'. In it he explained how mindfulness would make you superior and a great leader of men. Afterwards during during the discussion I got the blank stare when I queried 'I thought that on the holy ground all were equal?'
Ah well, I'll have to go back to studying the lillies of the field.
|Subject: Re: New Mindfulness Movement - recent articles - and they just keep coming || |