Mindful does as mindful is

Baroness Lister of Burtersett

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.

9 comments for “Mindful does as mindful is

  1. Gareth Howell
    10/05/2014 at 8:02 pm

    What an interesting post to relay to your admirers here Baroness! Mind, Soul, spirit, and other words too are often used indiscriminately. The idea that “Mind” has a long history would be a mistake. It is a Freudian/psychological concept which is very well used by the departments of state to “keep people down”. In the Health service, in education, and in business too by the relevant psychological disciplines.

    Soul and spirit are rather more religious concepts dating back centuries, if not since the time of Our Lord JC, and before.

    Mentioning “Mindfulness” in such a way is a reminder that all three may be powerfully associated with prayer, but nobdy likes to mention the word prayer, especially those who were brought up to state education and state health services. Mind means something to them. The Soul and the spirit a good deal less.

    One of the principall purposes of the political process , and legislation, is to provide unity of thought about how to proceed with our lives in relation to others in the nation state.
    That thought is frequently a form of prayer.

    Whilst writing this I am listening to the simple but effective songs of the late Pete Seeger. Now he was mindful!

    “Now we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes!
    coming round the mountain when she comes!”

    And yet in the same breath
    “We shall overcome!”

    is just as simple but profoundly Mindful, and in the context a profound political statement.

    He got 9 months for disrupting Congress, but also worked
    in the Libary , possibly by way of atonement!

  2. Gareth Howell
    10/05/2014 at 8:21 pm

    I thought equally that the Campaign for mental health by a society for Mental health, which lasted for some years , the battling cry of which was

    “Mind Out!”

    was a very powerful one and helped a good many people with their understanding of themselves and the way in which language is used to undermine the morale of law abiding people.

    “Mind” is part of the apparatus of the state, and can be drastically mis used. Sometimes any similar word is better used than the word “mind”. Being mindful may not be a s bad!

  3. Honoris Causa
    12/05/2014 at 12:46 pm

    Some thought required for this particular thread, and the interest Baroness says it provoked in parliament. Raising the question of “Mind” is a way of controlling people, of making people comply to norms without there being any strict rule to go by. A crazy streaker in the high street may be sectioned under the Mental health act.

    The Mental Health act of about 5 years ago, is said to have had an adverse effect on the corpus of mental health acts over the years. I wonder how much attention the meeting paid to
    that act, and the excessive use that for example, the general practicioner and the surgeon make of it, to require compliance with their frequently faulty diagnosis, sometimes at the cost of the life of the “mind less” patient? The mindful surgeon may be
    committed to mindless bureaucracy and medical ethics;

    the mindful committing the mindful mindlessly!

    In schools the Educational psychologist is more concerned with
    the sub-normal not the abnormal, but in every day life the case of Alan Turing, who took his own life, would presumably be a good example of “Mindlessness” and yet today we see a campaign for his posthumous pardon, in anage which sees being gay as not very far from normal at all, as the Napoleonic code has seen it for 200 years. In state education, Mental health is used more for consigning teachers to the scrap heap.

  4. Baroness Lister of Burtersett
    Baroness Lister of Burtersett
    14/05/2014 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you both for your thoughtful responses and for your kind words Gareth Howell. Great to see a quote from Pete Seeger – perhaps a first for this blog site?
    I agree ‘mind’ will mean different things for different people. But I don’t see mindfulness as a means of controlling people – the opposite if anything.

  5. Andy Bellenie
    15/05/2014 at 12:42 pm

    A great post and a welcome reminder of the great work bringing mindfulness into the very top levels of our government.

    I think your concerns about social justice are well founded. As individuals we use mindfulness to develop our own capacity for greater balance, focus, and kindness, and in doing so we increase our own contribution to social justice, which is all we ever can do. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Coming to Our Senses, “each time we sit, we change the world.”

    • Baroness Lister of Burtersett
      Baroness Lister of Burtersett
      19/05/2014 at 12:02 pm

      Thank you for this response. I loved the quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn. But I guess I would argue that we can do more to try to achieve social justice by taking our mindful practices into more political (with a small p) work. What is important is that those of us who choose to do so, do so mindfully. Thanks again.

  6. MilesJSD
    20/05/2014 at 1:45 am

    But there is an even more life-effective practice than that Serious Mindfulness(*).

    In short, this newer {yet more essential and ‘ancient’] underlying foundation is Somatics;

    and it is founded firstly in your own here-and-now actual body-movements
    secondly improving your awarenessings thereof and
    thirdly progressing your better self-control thereof;
    all ‘seamlessly’
    [but nonetheless, I have found, best done ‘in that sort of order’].

    Reading about it helps,
    but to truly comprehend and understand Somatics’s knowledge and know-hows one has to start following the practical guidances and doing the self-explorations
    (I prefer the word ‘guidances’ to ‘instructions’ just to keepthis Activity ‘new’ and free from the established gym-exercising and Life-Centres olympic competitive ‘speed and strength building’).

    Recommended manuals:
    (1) “The Listening Hand” (Ilana Rubenfeld).
    (2) “The Body of Life” (Thomas Hanna).
    (3) “Relaxercise” (Bersin, Bersin & Reese).
    (4) “Inner Focus Outer Strength” (Eric Franklin).
    (5) “Reclaiming Vitality and Presence” (the work of Selver & Brooks).
    (6) “Wisdom of the Body Moving” (Linda Hartley).
    (7) “Mindfulness Meditation” (incl CD) (Mark Williams).
    * the serious major Mindfulness movement is, I have found, positively effective when followed by such as Mark Williams’s CD in the back of his book ;
    but it still remains rooted in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
    which in turn remains deeply-reluctant to give up its “mind-over-body”, “workplace over lifeplace”, “divine-right-of-authority”, and “pay-pyramid-seniority” tradition;
    and to shun the newly-growing Somatics foundation and greater educational faculty.

  7. 31/05/2014 at 1:19 pm

    Mindfulness is rooted in the Buddhist Meditation practice of Vipassana (insight meditation). My concern about the ‘scientification’ of Mindfulness is that the practice is so much more than just about finding calmness and peace: being able to re wire the brain to cope with our increasingly chaotic lives. That is part of the benefit of Mindfulness, for sure, but it also does something else, something far more powerful and transformational – it opens the heart, connects you to the ‘oneness’ of the universe, let’s you access wisdom and true compassion. These are spiritual qualities hard to quantify scientifically.
    It intrigues me that the Financial Sector is now using Mindfulness with stressed out bankers. All well and good but there is a paradox here; how can bankers take a Mindfulness course then go back to work and potentially create more financial hardship and suffering for a Third World country? That’s not being Mindful. Mindfulness is more than an 8 week course – it’s a way of being.

  8. Baroness Lister of Burtersett
    Baroness Lister of Burtersett
    04/06/2014 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you to Miles JSD and Kathryn Buxton for those thoughtful posts.
    I agree with what you say Kathryn and indeed originally learnt mindfulness from a Buddhist teacher when I was much younger. But some people are put off by anything smacking of religion or spirituality and therefore I think it can be helpful if they can find a route in through more secular means. That said I agree with your point about the dangers of mindfulness being used to achieve non-mindful ends.

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