Mindfulness is popping up all over the place at the moment. Is it just another ‘trendy’ fad or is something deeper going on, reflecting in part a growing feeling of insecurity and anxiety? I pose the question because yesterday I attended a packed launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness. The launch builds on the experience of a growing number of parliamentarians who have undertaken an 8 week mindfulness course in parliament itself with the support of the Oxford University Mindfulness Centre.
Some of you may dismiss mindfulness as ‘airy fairy’ nonsense. But it’s anything but. It is about being grounded in the moment – no easy thing as our minds flit like butterflies between past and future and rarely it seems alighting on the now. But as our mindfulness teachers keep reminding us, that’s what minds do. Nevertheless by paying attention to the body and the breath, it’s possible just occasionally to see how that elusive butterfly can settle in the present moment. And that can bring a sense of calm and even joy.
At the launch we heard from a panel of professionals and experts about the positive impact of mindfulness teaching in the areas of mental health, education, criminal justice and the workplace. The big draw was Ruby Wax who has studied mindfulness herself. But the real stars were four schoolchildren who spoke powerfully of how mindfulness is helping them at school and at home.
As one of the panel reminded us, however, mindfulness is no panacea. While it can help us to cope better and live our lives more fully, it cannot alter the underlying social and economic conditions that shape our lives and our life chances so unequally. So for me, the promotion of mindfulness has to be yoked to a politics of social justice. But in pursuing that politics I’m mindful that the means shape the ends and if we were able to conduct our politics in a more mindful fashion, perhaps politicians would regain some of the trust and respect they have lost in recent years.