Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training. Mindfulness is derived from sati, a significant element of Buddhist traditions, and based on Zen, Vipassanā, and Tibetan meditation techniques.
Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people experiencing a variety of psychological conditions.
Mindfulness practice has been employed to reduce symptoms of depression, to reduce stress, anxiety, and in the treatment of drug addiction.
Although the numerous benefits of practicing Mindfulness have been discussed and demonstrated, there still is a veil of mystery and prejudice surrounding the practice. Let’s look at the most common mindfulness preconceptions, conveniently personified in four different characters. The aim is to better understand what Mindfulness really is and is not.
The Scientist stereotype reviews the effects of practicing Mindfulness from an experimental and pragmatic point of view, taking into consideration the psychological consequences of the practice observed in its subjects.
It studies the practice as a technique with a therapeutical purpose in helping people cope with emotional distress, but, also, with the power of enhancing some positive aspects related to the general quality of one’s life such as time management and attention distribution, to name a few. This mindfulness preconception image is the bearer of a wide range of negative preconceptions that involve Mindfulness’s religious and geographical origins, as well as correlations to a fragment of society that does not share the same respect for science, namely, the Hippie subculture.
The Buddhist Monk
The Buddhist Monk stereotype represents the ultimate aspirational achievement of enlightenment.
The wisdom this image promises for the dedicated practitioners of Mindfulness comes, however, at a great cost: losing the practical knowledge and everyday expertise required to function in today’s society. Being constantly aware of the more profound and meaningful aspects of the universe, the sage is discounted from world desires and obsessions of the commonly accepted reality and considers them to be trivial and vacuous of true substance. The difficulty of deliberately refusing to function in the contemporary commercial system coupled with the tremendous amounts of dedication, discipline and cultivation gives this mindfulness preconception stereotype a special aura of purity and holiness.
Much of the negative aspects of this image revolve around the origin of the practice, namely Oriental Buddhism, and its apparent incompatibility with the Western culture and religions. Part of these is the belief that in order to practice Mindfulness properly, one must perform long series of requirements such as special positions, burning incense, sitting on the top of a mountain, chanting a mantra and so on.
The Ninja stereotype is closely related to the image of the warrior who managed to acquire total control over his or hers attention, awareness and emotional state, all in the name of a purpose which is higher and more meaningful than his or hers personal desires or ambitions.
The commitment to being in the service of the greater good implies abandoning the sense of self and attracts an image of psychic and moral integrity.
This ideal representation resembles the monk stereotype in their devotion and commitment to a higher truth in a society that promotes ego-driven desires together with the indulgence of the mind, body and spirit.
The Ninja considers pain and suffering as means to strengthen their often torturous discipline and, as a result of that, disregard other mindfulness opinions which state that joy and compassion are central to the practice. Another negative mindfulness preconception the warrior image attracted is the problem of magic, practically illustrated by false promises of achieving esoteric powers like superhuman fighting abilities and levitation.
The Zombie, unlike the other mostly-positive stereotypes, is a truly negative and almost apocalyptical embodiment of the fears with aspect to the practice of Mindfulness. It is an icon of dread and hideousness that also seems to have a political role in the depreciating, villainizing and denigration of the concept.
The most prominent preconception this image symbolises is the humiliating dehumanisation as a result of ego eradication that lead to the death of one’s conscience and identity, a sort of retardation to a less-developed human form.
Another aspect orbits around losing all rational thoughts and together with them, the impulse to be proactive and to change the world around one as to better fit one’s needs.
In some, ways, the Zombie can be seen as a negative evaluation of the transformative effects of Mindfulness, opposed to the images of the Monk and the Ninja, where they are regarded as positive.
Nevertheless, despite all the horror predictions this stereotype seems to offer, it does confirm the power of deep transformation that practicing Mindfulness has.