‘We are all implicated’: the need for deep critical reflection in the mindfulness movement

A response to ‘The Mindfulness Conspiracy’ from Dr Patricia Morgan at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

For me there are two central points I think Ron Purser makes in his article “The mindfulness conspiracy” recently published in the Guardian. Firstly, that stripping the practice of mindfulness from Buddhism means it has been removed from, as Purser says: “the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.”  To some extent, new movements now associated with applications of Mindfulness in education such as: Social and Emotional Learning, Compassion Cultivation Training, and Social Justice concepts and practices, aim to ameliorate this though often they too have been quickly codified, commodified and commercialized.  

Secondly, Purser raises concerns about the commercialization of mindfulness, known by some as McMindfulness, where mindfulness is presented as a “tool” to be applied by individuals to themselves when they struggle or burn out, so they can quickly return to full productivity.  The fact that this struggle can be an outcome of pressures applied by the economic structures and institutions of Capitalism is ignored.  Mindfulness therefore becomes, according to Purser, “a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help. Instead of setting practitioners free, it helps them adjust to the very conditions that caused their problems.” 

Importantly, for those working in Contemplative Education and Inquiry, Purser continues: “A truly revolutionary movement would seek to overturn this dysfunctional system, but mindfulness only serves to reinforce its destructive logic.”  He rightly points to the way we are all implicated in the very system producing the problems we are attempting to solve through our work in contemplative inquiry and education.  This is core to the critical mindfulness movement that Purser is a part of and something I believe we need to urgently address.  For me this means moving into critical deep reflection, asking questions such as is my work in Contemplative Education and Inquiry adding to, maintaining or ameliorating the negative impacts of economic rationalism in education?

By Dr Patrica Morgan, University of New South Wales, Sydney

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