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McDonaldizing Spirituality: Mindfulness, Education and Consumerism

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Abstract

The exponential growth of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in recent years has resulted in a marketisation and commodification of practice – popularly labeled ‘McMindfulness’ – which divorces mindfulness from its spiritual and ethical origins in Buddhist traditions. Such commodification is criticized by utilising ideas and insights drawn from work in educational philosophy and policy analysis. The ‘McDonaldization’ process is applied to the emerging populist versions of mindfulness, and analysed in some detail, alongside the capitalization and marketisation of MBIs on the ‘McMindfulness’ model. The central argument is that the crucial educational function of MBIs needs to be informed by the moral virtues which are at the heart of Buddhist mindfulness. Without such an ethical and educational foundation – actively connected with engaged Buddhist foundations aimed at individual and social transformation - mindfulness becomes just another fashionable self-help gimmick that is unlikely to be of any lasting individual or social benefit.
Published in the Journal of Transformative Education – March 2017 –
DOI: 10.1177/1541344617696972
McDonaldizing Spirituality: Mindfulness, Education and Consumerism
Professor Terry Hyland Free University of Ireland, Dublin 7, Ireland
[hylandterry@ymail.com]
_________________________________________________________________________
Abstract
The exponential growth of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in recent years has
resulted in a marketisation and commodification of practice – popularly labeled
‘McMindfulness’ which divorces mindfulness from its spiritual and ethical origins in
Buddhist traditions. Such commodification is criticized by utilising ideas and insights drawn
from work in educational philosophy and policy analysis. The ‘McDonaldization’ process is
applied to the emerging populist versions of mindfulness, and analysed in some detail,
alongside the capitalization and marketisation of MBIs on the ‘McMindfulness’ model. The
central argument is that the crucial educational function of MBIs needs to be informed by the
moral virtues which are at the heart of Buddhist mindfulness. Without such an ethical and
educational foundation actively connected with engaged Buddhist foundations aimed at
individual and social transformation - mindfulness becomes just another fashionable self-
help gimmick that is unlikely to be of any lasting individual or social benefit.
Keywords: mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs); McMindfulness; commodification;
McDonaldization; Buddhist ethics; education philosophy; education policy, social
transformation
1
Introduction
In a recent article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, Jon Kabat-Zinn (2015) arguably,
the person most responsible for the ‘mindfulness revolution’ (Boyce, 2011) which has
influenced so many aspects of academia and popular culture in the last decade or so noted
the emergence of
concerns that a sort of superficial “McMindfulness” is taking over which ignores the ethical
foundations of the meditative practices and traditions from which mindfulness has emerged,
and divorces it from its profoundly transformative potential (p.1).
Kabat-Zinn was fully justified in referring to such concerns though his fairly anodyne
remarks about the dangers of seeing mindfulness as a panacea fail to do justice to the
enormity of the problems raised by the exponential growth of mindfulness-based
interventions (MBIs) in recent years.
The Guardian piece was intended to coincide with the publication of Mindful Nation UK by
the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG, 2015) in Britain.
Recommendations all generally favourable to mindfulness practices were made in the
Report for the introduction of MBIs in four key areas: health, education, the workplace and
the criminal justice system. The fact that in a time of economic austerity and severe
cutbacks in public services a group of British parliamentarians considered it worthwhile to
promote mindfulness in this way is in itself ample testimony to the extent to which
mindfulness has swept virus-like through academia, public life and popular culture over the
last decade or so (Author, 2016). In 2011 Wallis was bemoaning the fact that the
mindfulness juggernaut continues to roll joyously throughout the wounded world of late-
capitalism’ (p.1). Five years later mindfulness has now become a massively influential
meme, a valuable product, a fashionable spiritual commodity with enormous market potential
2
and, in its populist forms, has been transmuted into an all-pervasive ‘McMindfulness’ (Purser
& Loy, 2013) phenomenon.
The Commodification of Mindfulness
The reductionist, commodified forms of mindfulness practice – popularly known as
McMindfulness have been brought about by a number of processes operating within
academia and the public socio-economic sphere. In the academic sphere, mindfulness has
been taken up most energetically by psychologists, psychotherapists and educators, and there
has been an exponential growth of publications measuring the impact of MBSR and related
mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) programmes on anxiety, depression and
chronic pain sufferers, on addictions of various kinds, and to enhance mind/body well-being
generally (Author, 2015a). Since his original MBSR programme has played such a large part
in generating much of this research activity, Kabat-Zinn’s criticisms of contemporary
developments are understandably nuanced. Acknowledging the ‘challenging circumstances
relating to the major cultural and epistemological shifts’ as Buddhist meditation was
introduced into clinical and psychological settings, Williams & Kabat-Zinn (2013) observe
that:
Buddhist scholars, in particular, may feel that the essential meaning of mindfulness may have
been exploited, or distorted, or abstracted from its essential ecological niche in ways that may
threaten its deep meaning, its integrity, and its potential value (p.11).
Kabat-Zinn (2015) has latterly acknowledged that there are ‘opportunistic elements’ for
whom ‘mindfulness has become a business that can only disappoint the vulnerable consumers
who look to it as a panacea’ (p.1). Committed mindfulness practitioners would want to
endorse the conception of mindfulness as a ‘way of being’ which needs to be grounded in the
‘meditative practices and traditions from which mindfulness has emerged’ (ibid.). However,
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the ‘opportunistic elements’ warned against by Kabat-Zinn are surely underestimated here,
and there is insufficient attention given to the ways in which such forces have managed to
produce a grossly mutated version of mindfulness until it has now become a commodified
consumerist product used to sell everything from colouring books and musical relaxation
CDs to “apps” for mindful gardening, cooking and driving. Such commercial activity
arguably a paradigm case of McMindfulness results in the misuse of mindfulness, whereas
the inclusion of mindfulness in US army training regimes and by Google in staff development
programmes (Stone 2014) clearly raises issues about the outright abuse of MBIs since
foundational mindfulness values such as right livelihood, loving-kindness, compassion and
non-materialism are self-evidently and fundamentally at odds with aspects of the core
business of corporations and the military. As a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness in
adult education contexts, I find that such misuse/abuse of practice causes much consternation
and soul-searching in participants.
McDonaldizing Mindfulness
The process by which McMindfulness has been produced McDonaldization was
originally coined and developed by Ritzer (2000 edn) in the construction of a model informed
by Weber’s writings to describe and explain the increasing technical rationalization and
standardization of more and more aspects of social, economic, political life and culture. As a
form of policy analysis, Ritzer’s model has been used extensively to critique developments in
education (Hartley, 1995; Author, 1999) and other spheres of public life and culture (Alfino,
Caputo & Wynyard, 1998) and its main stages can be usefully employed to map the
emergence of McMindfulness. There are four main elements, and they are worth examining
in some detail in relation to the evolution of the commodified versions of mindfulness
practices.
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Efficiency
Defined by Ritzer (2000) as ‘choosing the optimum means to a given end’ (p.40), efficiency
results in streamlining, standardization and simplification of both the product and its delivery
to customers. In terms of items sold under the mindfulness label, this process is relatively
simple. If you want to maximize sales of a colouring book, you just put mindfulness on the
front cover (e.g. Farrarons, 2014), and the same principle applies to all cultural products such
as self-help and health/well-being manuals (arguably, the most lucrative sphere) and leisure
activities such as cooking, gardening and sport. When it comes to mindfulness courses, the
standardization process is greatly helped by having handy bite-sized MBSR/MBCT
programmes to hand ready for delivery to potential consumers. Such courses are, of course,
the original core vehicles for employing mindfulness practice to deal with depression,
addiction, pain, and general mind/body afflictions. It is not suggested here that they are
typical examples of McMindfulness. However, their 8-week structure – particularly as this is
reduced, condensed and transmuted into “apps” and online programmes (see ‘Control’
element below) - clearly lends itself to these efficiency conditions and is undoubtedly
complicit if not directly responsible for the exponential growth of MBIs and the
McMindfulness brand over the last decade or so.
Calculability
This element of the process involves ‘calculating, counting, quantifying’ such that this
‘becomes a surrogate for quality’ (Ritzer, 2000, p.62). Ritzer decribes how the business of
reducing ‘production and service to numbers’ examples of higher education, health care
and politics are offered in illustration (ibid.,pp.68-77) – results in regression to mediocre and
lowest common denominator production and produce. The competence-based education and
5
training (CBET) techniques informed by behaviourist principles provide a graphic illustration
of how this obsession with measuring outcomes at the expense of process and underlying
principles – can distort, de-skill and de-professionalize education and training from school to
university learning (Author, 1994, 2014). In a similar way, the drive to measure the outcomes
of mindfulness has led to similar negative transmutations. . Since the exponential
development of the mindfulness industry, Grossman (2011) has been forceful in his criticisms
of mindfulness measurement scales, particularly those relying upon self-reports by MBI
course participants. The key weaknesses are that they de-contextualise mindfulness from its
ethical and attitudinal foundations, measure only specific aspects of mindfulness such as the
capacity to stay in the present moment, attention span or transitory emotional state and, in
general terms, present a false and adulterated perspective on what mindfulness really is. Such
developments are of precious little benefit to any of the interested parties whether they are,
learners, teachers, mindfulness practitioners or external agencies interested in the potential
benefits of MBIs. The position is summed up well by Grossman:
Our apparent rush to measure and reify mindfulness—before attaining a certain depth of
understanding—may prevent us from transcending worn and familiar views and concepts that
only trivialize and limit what we think mindfulness is. The scientific method, with its iterative
process of re-evaluation and improvement, cannot correct such fundamental conceptual
misunderstandings but may actually serve to fortify them (2011, p.1038).
The proliferation of mindfulness scales which has accompanied the exponential growth of
programmes has exacerbated this denaturing of the original conception, and it is now no
longer clear precisely what is being measured. As Grossman & Van Dam (2011) note, such
developments may prove counter-productive and unhelpful to all those working in the field.
They argue further that:
Definitions and operationalizations of mindfulness that do not take into account the gradual
nature of training attention, the gradual progression in terms of greater stability of attention
6
and vividness of experience or the enormous challenges inherent in living more mindfully,
are very likely to misconstrue and banalize the construct of mindfulness, which is really not a
construct as we traditionally understand it in Western psychology, but at depth, a way of
being (ibid.,p.234).
Along with the gradualness of mindfulness development, this ‘way of being’ is not
susceptible to summative psychological testing. Instead, Grossman & Van Dam
recommend formative assessment techniques employing longitudinal interviews and
observations of MBI participants in specific contexts. More significantly, they go on to
make the eminently sensible suggestion that ‘one viable option for preserving the integrity
and richness of the Buddhist understanding of mindfulness might be to call those various
qualities now purporting to be mindfulness by names much closer to what they actually
represent’ (ibid.,p.234). There are also issues about the failure to record drop-out (hidden
failure) rates of MBIs, and also the reporting of negative impacts of mindfulness experiences
(Burkeman, 2016: Foster, 2016). On this crucial point, recent meta-analytical studies have
discerned the positive skewing of results in 124 mindfulness treatment trials with the
suggestion that wishful thinking may have led to negative outcomes going unpublished
(Nowogrodzki, 2016). The dangers and pitfalls of summative measurement are returned to in
later sections in relation to MBIs in educational contexts.
Predictability
In order to produce uniformity of outcomes in line with customer expectations, systems must
be reasonably predictable and, to achieve this, a ‘rationalized society emphasizes discipline,
order, systematization, formalization, routine, consistency, and methodical operation’ (Ritzer,
2000, p. 83). The standardization of MBSR/MBCT programmes fully satisfies these
predictability criteria. Kabat-Zinn’s orginal 8-week course has been modified slightly over
the years but remains essentially similar to the 1979 MBSR version. This includes as
7
Williams and Penman (2011) describethe standard ideas about switching off the autopilot,
moving from ‘doing’ to being’, and so on, realized through breath meditation, body scan,
noting pleasant/unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and the like. Similar ‘predictability’
elements can be discerned in the strict control of teacher training for all those wishing to
deliver such programmes (McCown, Reibel & Micozzi, 2011). Of course such ‘routinization’
and standardization is ultimately justified in pragmatic terms of what has been shown to
‘work’ in the sense of preventing relapse in depression sufferers, alleviating suffering for
patients with chronic pain, and the other positive outcomes claimed for course participants.
However, there is too little analysis of why it is just these standards and routines which need
to be implemented and not potential alternatives. Why, for instance, is a course 8 but not 6
or 12 weeks long, and why so little attention given to the positive benefits of illness and the
darker aspects of the human condition (Kashwan & Biswas-Diener, 2014)? There are also
issues about the failure to record drop-out (hidden failure) rates of MBIs, and also the
reporting of negative impacts of mindfulness experiences (Burkeman, 2016: Foster, 2016).
Moreover, from an educational point of view, it may be more conducive to effective learning
if flexibility of content and methods was allowed in accordance with the fostering of learner
independence. Inflexibility linked to the strict adherence to prescribed routines, for example,
has been cited as one of the reasons for the failure by the American Philosophy for Children
programme to make any substantial impact on European educational systems (Murris, 1994;
Author, 2003).
Control Through Non-Human Technology
The chief aim of this control element is to diminish the ‘uncertainties created by people’ and
‘the ultimate is reached when employees are replaced by nonhuman technologies’ (Ritzer,
2000, p.121). On the face of it, MBIs seem to be quite some way from this form of control
since they aim to foster values and dispositions which enhance human agency. However, the
8
use of mindfulness in the military particularly in the form of mindfulness-based mind
fitness training (Purser, 2014) is, arguably, a clear case of control of human capabilities
directed towards particular purposes, in this case the production of efficient national warriors.
Allied with the increasing use of nonhuman drone technology, it is entirely possible that
mindfulness can be implicated here in the production of more effective killing machines,
obviously in direct contradiction of core ethical precepts (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Similarly, the
use of mindfulness techniques by employers to influence employee attitudes and behaviour
may be discerned in certain workplace applications (as discussed further below). Moreover,
the increasing use of mindfulness “apps” such as ‘Buddhify’, ‘Smiling Mind’ and ‘Headspace
(http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/the-10-best-meditation-apps-8947570.html) –
along with increasing use of online versions of MBSR/MBCT programmes – provides ample
evidence of the full satisfaction of Ritzer’s fourth McDonaldization criterion.
The Capitalization of Mindfulness
Within the framework of the McDonaldization process outlined above, the exploitation of
mindfulness by industry and corporate culture has contributed massively to its degeneration
in recent years. The appropriation of MBIs by corporations such as Google has been labelled
the ‘gentrification of the dharma’ by Eaton (2014), who reports that many Buddhists now
fear their religion is turning into a designer drug for the elite’ (p.1). In a similar critical vein,
Stone (2014) has observed that:
Mindfulness meditation has exploded into an industry that ranges from the monastery to the
military. Google, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Monsanto and the U.S. Army are just a
handful of the many enormous institutions that bring meditative practice to their workforce
(p.1)
Arguments that the corporate takeover of mindfulness might work to change the culture and
improve working conditions for employees (see Wilhelmson, et al, 2015, for an account of
9
the problems of introducing transformative methods into the workplace) are challenged by
Purser & Ng (2015) who argue that many of the companies now offering MBIs as forms of
stress reduction are actually responsible for causing such stress in the first place. As they
contend:
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..(p.1)
The manic scramble by corporate organizations and workplace staff development firms to
jump on the mindfulness bandwagon has direct parallels with the expropriation of the
Protestant ethic to serve capitalist interests during the 18th century Industrial Revolution.
Weber (1930/2014) described in some detail how the Calvinistic strands of Protestantism in
particular were ideally suited to transform the ‘other worldly’ ascetic aspects of Christianity
into an enlightened ‘this worldly’ materialistic principle which justified the new
commercialism. Under the influence of the new trends the ‘intensity of the search for the
Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue’ (p.100).
Weber goes on to observe :
With the consciousness of standing in the fullness of God’s grace and being visibly blessed
by him, the citizen business man…could follow his pecuniary interests as he would and feel
that he was fulfilling a duty in doing so. The power of religious asceticism provided him in
addition with sober, conscientious, and unusually industrious workmen, who clung to their
work as to a life purpose willed by God. Finally, it gave him the comforting assurance that
the unequal distribution of the goods of this world was a special dispensation of Divine
Providence…(ibid.,pp.101-2).
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This handy multi-purpose nature of the religious ethic described by Weber is more than
matched by the more recent appropriation of mindfulness spirituality on the part of
contemporary business interests. In contemporary economic culture, corporate mindfulness
McMindfulness – now stands in for the Protestant ethic. As Slvoj Zizek (2001) has suggested
‘if Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume
to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism(p.1).
He goes on to argue that:
although "Western Buddhism" presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of
capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it
actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement (ibid.).
The capitalization of mindfulness achieves a number of desirable objectives for corporate and
industrial users:
Firms offering mindfulness have appreciated the enormous public relations potential
of such provision. Mindfulness sessions in workplaces come to symbolize caring
environments in which all the needs of employees including psychological and
spiritual, alongside the free coffees and employer-friendly arrangements of space
are catered for to the fullest extent. Such a badge of spirituality becomes a valuable
marketing tool as the Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs realized
(http://www.mindfulnessresource.org/category/steve-jobs/) – as well as being a
convenient way of deflecting workers’ claims for compensation for stress-related
illnesses. If employees are stressed, after all, facilities in the form of in-house
therapeutic and mindfulness classes are available to all.
Marx saw clearly how religion famously described as the ‘sigh of the oppressed
creature, the heart of a heartless world…the opium of the people’ (McLellan, 1977,
p.64) functioned to support the socio-economic status quo with its class divisions
11
and inequalities. With the nature of things endorsed as a form of divine providence –
and with the eyes of the masses turned towards other worldly affairs the tragic
social injustices and fundamental immorality of capitalist production and relationships
were thus maintained and reproduced through religion. McMindfulness now
functioning to support the new ‘hegemonic ideology of global capitalism’ (Zizek,
2001, ibid.) -serves a similar purpose in the contemporary capitalist economy by
offering forms of spiritual support for oppressive working conditions and unequal
industrial relations (Eaton, 2014; Purser & Ng, 2015). Major corporations relish staff
development and training which encourages employees naturally through mindful
present-moment awareness to say ‘yes’ to all aspects of their experience no matter
how painful and unpleasant (Amaranatho, 2015). Such ‘training’ will guarantee a
docile workforce in which there are few challenges to the status quo and which is
claimed to lead to ‘improved productivity, improved creativity, less absenteeism,
better communication and interpersonal relating’ (ibid.). Now we can appreciate fully
why Google has invested so much in mindfulness-based activities (Bush, 2014).
In addition to the substantial capitalist gains noted above, mindfulness has now been
acknowledged as a valuable commodity in itself with enormous sales potential in a
spiritually impoverished society. Kabat-Zinn’s (2015) warning that MBSR ‘can never
be a quick fix’, and that there are grave dangers in ignoring ‘the ethical foundations of
the meditative practices and traditions from which mindfulness has emerged’ (ibid)
has been completely ignored in the scramble to expropriate the mindfulness label to
market just about any product imaginable. The proliferation of mindfulness “apps”
and online programmes noted in the preceding section has contributing enormously to
the marketising potential of this most lucrative spiritual commodity. Moreover, the
virus-like spread of the meme now means that the mindfulness brand is now free-
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floating and available for use by anyone wishing to sell their products, whether these
are colouring books or lifestyle programmes (for a satirical and humorous perspective
on this crude commercialism see the Ladybird Book of Mindfulness, Hazeley &
Morris, 2016).
The emergence of the McMindfulness phenomenon in recent years closely follows and fully
satisfies the Ritzer model of the increasing technical rationalization of all aspects of life.
Harvey (2014) has described in graphic detail how the voracious appetite of neo-liberal
capitalism has come to devour all aspects of public and private spheres bringing about the
total commodification of everyday life. As indicated above, the pseudo-spirituality of
McMindfulness approaches has proved an invaluable vehicle with far wider applications
and purposes than its forerunner in the Protestant Ethic for contemporary capitalist
exploitation. It is crucial for committed practitioners to combat such developments,
especially those who, like Stephen Batchelor, abhor a ‘dharma that is little more than a set of
self-help techniques that enable us to operate more calmly and effectively as agents or clients,
or both, of capitalist consumerism’ (2015, Kindle edition, loc. 340).
Mindfulness, Ethics and Education
It goes without saying that most serious and committed mindfulness practitioners and
teachers would along with Kabat-Zinn deplore the McMindfulness developments noted
above. What matters, however, is to inform the critiques of such degenerate interpretations
with accounts of what is lost through the proliferation of mindfulness practices which are
divorced from or at odds with the basic tenets of the Buddhist foundations. Predominant in
this task must be the insistence that mindfulness becomes denatured and decontextualized if
practice is divorced from the ethical foundations inherent in the universal dharma.
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Mindful practices such as breath meditation, walking meditation and mindful movement have
been demonstrated to have positive impacts on the behaviour of people of all ages from
school to lifelong learning (Burnett, 2011; Langer, 2003; Author, 2011). On the basis of
fifteen years of utilising mindfulness techniques in American schools and colleges,
Schoeberlein & Sheth (2009) argue that:
Mindfulness promotes resilience and enhances social and emotional competence.
Mindfulness combined with empathy, kindness and compassion supports constructive action
and caring behaviour. Living mindfully begets greater mindfulness. The more you practice,
the more mindfulness will infuse your experience of life, work and relationships (p.178).
The suggestion – in both Buddhist contemplative traditions and modern therapeutic
interpretations is that the practice of mindfulness leads naturally to the moral principles
underpinning the noble eightfold path, and are instrumental in fostering a form of virtue
ethics (Gowans, 2015). Direct connections are made between the inner clarity that Siegel
(2010) calls ‘mindsight’ – the ‘focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of
our own minds’ (p.xi) and the foundations of morality. This is brought out clearly in
Kabat-Zinn’s (2005) discussion of mindfulness and the moral life. As he suggests, the
‘wholesome mind and body states’ – the ethical foundations of mindfulness which tend to be
neglected by McDonaldized approaches - resulting from the practice include:
Generosity, trustworthiness, kindness, empathy, compassion, gratitude, joy in the good
fortune of others, inclusiveness, acceptance and equanimity are qualities of mind and heart
that further the possibilities of well-being and clarity within oneself, to say nothing of the
beneficial effects they have in the world. They form the foundation for an ethical and moral
life (p.103).
Although the process of ethical development within mindfulness practice can never be based
on a simplistic input/output model (no more than any form of deep and rich teaching and
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learning), the centrality of the ethical dimension is clearly paramount. Schoeberlein & Sheth
(2009) argue that ‘mindfulness and education are beautifully interwoven’ (p.xi), but the
specifically educational nature of MBIs needs to be foregrounded at all times if practices are
to remain true to the ethical foundations outlined by Kabat-Zinn and committed mindfulness
practitioners.
In explaining and justifying his conception of education as the initiation into worthwhile
activities, the philosopher of education R.S. Peters (1966) makes use of an analogy between
activities of ‘education’ and those of ‘reform’ (this analysis is still widely respected; see
Cuypers & Martin, 2009). He argues that education is like reform in that it ‘picks out no
particular activity or process’ but, rather, it ‘lays down criteria to which activities or
processes must conform’. It is suggested that:
Both concepts have the criterion built into them that something worthwhile should be
achieved. ‘Education’ does not imply, like ‘reform’, that a man should be brought back from
a state of turpitude into which he has lapsed; but it does have normative implications...It
implies that something worthwhile is being or has been intentionally transmitted in a morally
acceptable manner (p.25).
This analysis is on all fours with the therapeutic function of education which is connected
with the contemplative tradition by Salzberg and Goldstein (2001) as they explain how the
‘function of meditation is to shine the light of awareness on our thinking’. The educational
implications are brought out clearly in their description of how:
The practice of bare attention opens up the claustrophobic world of our conditioning,
revealing an array of options. Once we can see clearly what’s going on in our minds, we can
choose whether and how to act on what we’re seeing. The faculty used to make those choices
is called discriminating wisdom...the ability to know skilful actions from unskilful actions
(p.48).
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Against this background of normative criteria, it is easy to discern how McMindfulness
practices fail to satisfy even the most basic educational requirements. There are no
connections with the broad transformation of perspectives which allows for the fostering of
wholesome thoughts and feelings and the reduction of harmful rumination and avoidance.
Moreover, even the most basic minimum requirements of transformative learning concerned
with self-direction and the critical analysis of our values and assumptions (Mezirow, 2003)
are distorted by and submerged beneath the dominance of consumerist and market-driven
objectives. In discussing the role of mindfulness practices in transformative education,
Ergas (2013) explains how the combination of principles from both domains can lead to
mind-altering pedagogies...[by which]... we study our mind directly and learn that we actually
have a choice other than the default doing mode. We are not compelled to one mode of being
within thinking. We are thus educated directly at the level of the mind, as we do not heed to
the level of thought content whether controlled or uncontrolled (p.289).
Using mindfulness to calm students down or enhance their attention span to achieve higher
grades falls some way short of the mind-altering pedagogy called for by Ergas and other
educators committed to the transformative learning principles linked with the development of
autonomous critical thinking about knowledge, values and culture in all aspects of personal
and social life (Cranton, 2006).
Workplace and commercial applications of mindfulness are concerned only with specific
strategic outcomes linked to productivity and persuasion. Moreover, many of the techniques
employed at this level clearly fail to meet the autonomy criterion since they are directed at
controlling and manipulating hearts and minds for ulterior purposes. On this account, the
numerous mindfulness “apps” and products such as simplistic self-help and colouring books
are – not simply ludicrous and exploitative mutations of mindfulness – but positively harmful
16
to health in that they mislead people and construct obstacles to the sort of mindful
transformation conducive to mind/body wellbeing. Authentic educational practice – rich and
deep learning cannot be divorced from ethical considerations (Peters, 1966; Palmer, 1998)
and the same applies to mindfulness processes. McMindfulness applications fail miserably
when they separate something called ‘present moment awareness’ (surrounded by a
dangerous ‘myth’ exposed by Purser, 2014b) from moral principles such as compassion and
loving-kindness. As Batchelor (2015) puts it in citing the Kalama Sutta, the ‘transformation
involved in the practice of the dharma is as much affective as it is cognitive’, directed
towards enabling us to ‘dwell pervading the entire world with a mind imbued with loving
kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity’(loc.428).
Moreover, even the more orthodox MBIs MBSR/MBCT programmes and mindfulness in
schools – may suffer from some of the counter-educational defects noted above. The ‘control’
and ‘standardization’ elements noted in the McDonaldization analysis earlier may be
unfavourably applied to certain aspects of the standard 8-week programmes to the extent that
the drive for uniformity delimits the capacity for independent development on the part of
participants. There does appear to be an element of prescriptive rigidity about the way in
which participants are required to, for example, note pleasant/unpleasant events in week 4
and focus on thinking in week 6 (Williams, et al, 2007, pp.237-241). Furthermore, surely
there are many ways for teachers to embody mindfulness in addition to those officially
approved by centralised teacher training organisations such as MBI-TAC (2012). The fact
that such formalised teaching criteria makes extensive use of ‘competences’ (ibid.,pp.3-4)
also tends to align them with discredited behaviourist assessment regimes (Author, 2014).
17
However, it is in the specification of outcomes that MBIs in education and workplaces run
the risk of degenerating into McMindfulness practices. Problems in this area stem partly
from the fact that whereas MBIs in the health service and in therapeutic practice aimed at
combating addictions and depression are essentially remedial, thus directly connecting them
with foundational mindfulness principles concerned with relieving suffering – this is not quite
the case in other spheres. In education and work there has been a tendency for this core
transformational function to be co-opted in order to achieve specific operational objectives,
and such pragmatic purposes have obscured the links with the foundational moral principles
(Author 2015a,b). The empirical research on mindfulness in schools is characterized by an
instrumentalist concern with performative outcomes which appears remote from the original
transformational intentions and goals of practice and, indeed, runs counter to the principal
recommendations for best practice made by transformative educators (Taylor, 2008).
A review of Australian research on teaching mindfulness in schools, for example, concluded
with the comment that ‘mindfulness practices have been shown to help teachers: reduce their
stress levels; assist with behaviour management strategies and improve self-esteem’
(Albrecht, Albrecht & Cohen, 2012, p.11). Similarly, UK research linked to the Mindfulness
in Schools (Misp or .b) project describes the outcomes of mindfulness lessons in secondary
schools in terms of reducing ‘negative emotion and anxiety’ in students and contributing
‘directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function’
(Weare, 2012, p.2). The recent meta-analysis of work in this field by Zenner, Hermleben-
Kurz & Walach (2014) concluded by noting that ‘analysis suggests that mindfulness-based
interventions for children and youths are able to increase cognitive capacity of attending and
learning by nearly one standard deviation’ (p.18). Such research does, of course, also include
much anecdotal talk about enhancing emotional well-being and general mind/body health for
18
both teachers and students (Schoeberlein & Sheth, 2009; Burnett, 2011) but the overriding
impression is that mindfulness practice has in many instances been co-opted to achieve
strategic instrumentalist ends in the pursuit of predominantly academic outcomes. This
obsession with training attention and focus through mindfulness in a way which detaches it
from foundational ethical principles has been noted by a number of philosophers concerned
with MBIs in education (O’Donnell, 2015: Lewin, 2015).
Mindfulness, Education and Critical Social Engagement
The moral foundations of mindfulness training lead naturally to a progression from self-
regarding to other-regarding virtues as greed, hatred and delusion are gradually replaced by
generosity, kindness and understanding about the nature of the world and the human
condition. Although the ‘engaged Buddhist’ movement is traditionally associated with the
pioneering work of Thich Nhat Hanh from the 1960s (Kraft, 2000), it is, arguably, as old as
Buddhism itself and takes its inspiration from the ethical elements of the eightfold path and
the core virtues of compassion, non-harming and loving-kindness (Gowans, 2015). The
Buddha’s words from the Mahavagga: ‘Come, friends...dwell pervading the entire world
with a mind imbued with lovingkindness...compassion...altruistic joy...equanimity..without ill
will’ (Bodhi, 2000, p.1608) are interpreted by Olendzki (2010) as the origins of our duty of
care to the world and its contents which provide a foundation for engaged Buddhism.
Other influential dharma strands have been suggested by Harvey (2000), and the theory and
practice of socially engaged movements has expanded and diversified considerably over
recent years. More significantly, there are now national and international Buddhist
movements campaigning on a vast and diverse range of issues. The International Learning
Resource Site on ‘engaged practice’ includes a wide range of articles and news about groups
19
and meetings on topics as diverse as consumerism, the environment, race and gender,
globalisation, work in prisons and hospices, in addition to peace-making in every part of the
world (www.dharmanet.org/lcengaged.htm). The first world symposium on socially engaged
Buddhism organised by Zen Peacemakers took place in Montague, Massachussets in 2010
and the group regularly organizes ‘bearing witness’ retreats in areas of conflict, injustice and
deprivation (http://zenpeacemakers.org/bw/).
Acknowledging Hanh’s pioneering work in this area, Garfinkel (2006) set out to travel the
world in search of socially engaged practice. From a Zen Hospice project in San Francisco
(pp.2-3), a ‘bearing witness’ group remembering the Jewish holocaust at Auschwitz
(pp.46ff), organisations challenging caste in equalities in India (pp.96ff) to NGOs fighting
urban poverty in contemporary Japan (pp.221ff), Garfinkel demonstrates how engaged
Buddhism is constantly striving to make a difference to the way the world is. As Garfinkel
notes, ‘right livelihood’ (p.6) would be a most appropriate label for the modern applications
of mindfulness he observed throughout his world tour in the footsteps of the Buddha.
Mindfulness practice is designed to promote well-being in ourselves and others or in the
language of the Buddhist noble truths to work towards the reduction of the suffering of all
living beings. What stands in the way of achieving such objectives? Clearly, the key
internal obstacles are located in unwholesome instincts and the capriciousness of the
emotions, and mindfulness can help in fostering the requisite control and, eventually,
transforming these to promote generosity, kindness and compassion. Once this is achieved,
however, there is a host of external factors which clearly contribute to what Schopenhauer
(1970 edn) called the ‘suffering of the world’ (p.41) or, to express this in a less negative way,
20
which militate against the promotion of human flourishing and well-being. Thus, the internal
and external can be seen to come together in mindful engagement to bring about the desirable
ends.
As Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) conclude in their analysis of levels of inequality around the
world, ‘further improvements in the quality of life no longer depend on further economic
growth: the issue is now community and how we relate to each other’ (p.254). The idea of
education as the prime mover in the fostering of economic capital is now an empty and
hollow slogan, particularly as countries around the world struggle with the consequences of
the abject failure of neo-liberal economics. Yet, it is not only the economic consequences of
Chicago school free marketeering (Klein, 2007) ideas that have turned out to be disastrous
but also their impact on the social fabric in glorifying selfish and materialistic possessive
individualism. The selfish capitalism which James (2008) and Gerhardt (2010) have
criticised so forcefully has produced sickness mental, physical and psychological in all
nations in which it has gone unchallenged by social-democratic and moral values concerned
with societal well-being and the common good. Levels of public and community trust have
plummeted in recent years (Seldon, 2009; Judt, 2010) and the fostering of social capital has
never been more urgently needed from our education systems (Ergas & Todd, 2016).
The engaged Buddhist response to this global malaise stems not just from the basic
immorality of injustice, greed and social degeneration – but from its consequences in terms of
poverty, conflict and the exacerbation of human suffering on a massive scale. A recent
Oxfam report, for example, which reported solid evidence that the wealth of the richest 1% of
the world will shortly exceed that of the other 99% (https://www.oxfam.org/en/
pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/) explained clearly why this was not just monstrously
21
unjust and immoral but, more importantly, served to militate against the possibility of the
economic, social and political reform which could ameliorate global problems of poverty,
over-consumption and environmental destruction. This message has been reinforced in a
number of recent economic analyses by Thomas Piketty (2013) and former World Bank
Chief Economist, Joseph Stiglitz (2012), which point to the dangers for all of us of the
growing gap between rich and poor throughout the world.
Stiglitz (2012) looks forward to the day when ‘the 99% could come to realize that they have
been duped by the 1%: that what is in the interest of the 1% is not in their interests’, and this
might lead to a ‘society where the gap between the haves and have-nots has been narrowed,
where there is a sense of shared identity, a common commitment to opportunity and fairness’
(pp.359-60). In a similar vein, Seabrook (2015) has written extensively about the
‘impoverishment of riches’ by which the myth of material progress has led to tragic losses in
terms of our humanity and the planet we inhabit. He talks of neoliberal capitalism as causing
a ‘wasting disease’ which ‘not only wears away the fabric of the world, it also consumes
human resourcefulness from within’ (p.208). Placing all this within a context of Buddhist
values, Simmer-Brown (2002) explains how the ‘crisis of consumerism’ has impoverished an
exacerbated human suffering in recent decades such that:
we see the poor with not enough food and no access to clean drinking water…we see the sick
and infirm who have no medicine or care; we see rampant exploitation of the many for the
pleasure and comfort of the few; we see the demonization of those who would challenge the
reign of wealth, power, and privilege’ (p.3).
Socially engaged Buddhists are in common agreement with economists such as Stiglitz and
social commentators such as Seabrook about both the causes of the present malaise and the
ways to cure it. Myths about unconstrained growth and the need for ever-expanding
22
consumerism need to be exploded in conjunction with the transformation of the craving
which fuels this impoverishment. Seabrook (2015) argues with passion that:
The raising of “the consumer” into human identity has been a fateful development. It
demonstrates the power of an economic system to sustain its growth by expanding the
capacity of humanity to ingest whatever it produces: without a voracious appetite for all
available goods, that system would perish. As it is, people grow obese as the world shrinks
(p.218).
His claim that capitalism has learned to ‘render itself indistinguishable from human yearning’
(ibid.) is interpreted within a Buddhist framework by Allan Hunt Badiner’s (2002) argument
that ‘consumption has become one of the most urgent topics in our lives’. He goes on to
suggest that:
Revisiting our moral and spiritual values is an important part of our response to the
fundamentally alienating ethic inherent in consumer culture. The Buddhist perspective offers
not only a critique, but also practical ways to empower people to resist the prison of
consumerism (p.ii).
Coda: Practical Implications for Transformative Education
Not only does the degeneration of spiritual practice through McMindfulness commodification
stand in the way of the changes which socially engaged Buddhism what Ng & Purser
(2016) have recently called ‘critical mindfulness’ is striving for, such commercialism
serves to reinforce the consumerist craving which fuels such impoverishment and suffering.
Critiques of the implementation of mindfulness strategies in the workplace have been
predominantly pessimistic with – apart from those such as Amaranatho (2015) and
Chaskalson (2011) who are in the business of taking mindfulness into such contexts little
indication that much good can come of this. There are some arguments that the ‘Trojan
Horse’ of mindfulness (Lavelle, 2016) through the gradual enlightenment of individuals,
especially leaders, within corporate organizations may eventually engender institutional
23
reforms which will benefit both employers and employees. Lavelle, however, sees ‘no
evidence for the effectiveness of this strategy’(p.241), and the wealth of evidence against has
been amply demonstrated by Purser & Ng (2015), Forbes, (2016), Caring-Lobel (2016) and
Titmuss (2016). Titmuss, in particular, is scathing about a corporate takeover of mindfulness
which has provided powerfully positive public relations propaganda for organizations such as
Google and Amazon whilst leaving untouched appallingly stressful working conditions for
employees in a wider society riddled with corporate greed, corruption and gross inequalities
of wealth, status and opportunity.
However, the history of Buddhism over two millennia is characterized by a robust
pragmatism so it is legitimate to speculate about whether the famous ‘middle way’ might not
be able to offer some hope of reconciliation between optimists and pessimists in the field of
workplace mindfulness. The Mindfulness Initiative in the UK – a project established initially
by British parliamentarians interested in introducing mindfulness practices into schools,
workplaces, and the health service (which resulted in Mindful Nation UK referred to in the
introduction) – has recently published a document entitled Building the Case for Mindfulness
in the Workplace (The Mindfulness Initiative, 2016). Alongside the predictable business-
speak and cost-benefit analyses, the report does attempt to tackle a number of contemporary
critiques of workplace mindfulness in addition to suggesting certain criteria of good practice
in response to the perceived limitations. In seeking to explode what are described as ‘myths’
about workplace mindfulness being exploited by employers seeking to produce passive
employees, the report asserts that ‘there are many anecdotal accounts of employees walking
away from toxic working environments, or pursuing other goals and career aspirations, as a
result of having received mindfulness training’ (p.26). Critics of corporate mindfulness
would certainly welcome such anecdotal evidence but would make the obvious point that, if
24
such post-mindfulness activity became widespread, organizational investment in mindfulness
would be rather quickly curtailed. Whether mindfulness programmes which allow for a
cultivation of values which may question working practices and the role of work in the wider
political/social/cultural milieu (allowing workers to say ‘No’ as well as ‘Yes’ to conditions of
service in speaking truth to power) can ever be successfully implemented in the current
climate is a question which can only be answered by the work of current and future
practitioners and researchers in the field. Majority opinion remains overwhelmingly
pessimistic about this possibility (Poirier, 2016; Purser, Forbes & Burke, 2016). An
alternative option for the pessimists would be to insist that employee training is conducted
outside of the workplace according to standard MBI procedures designed to ensure the
incorporation of ethical values and the fostering of critical mindfulness.
Transformative learning has been usefully combined with mindfulness practice by educators
concerned to enhance both the moral/spiritual dimension of the standard curriculum (Wilber,
Engler & Brown, 1986) and to emphasize the links between education and wider social,
political and cultural developments (Adler & Goggin, 2005). In terms of learning and
teaching in schools and colleges, the mindfulness practices of insight meditation, mindful
movement, journaling, community enquiry and emotional introspection (Schoeberlein &
Sheth, 2009; Author, 2011) can be conjoined with transformative methods such as the
investigation of ‘critical incidents, metaphor analysis, concept mapping, consciousness
raising, life histories, repertory grids, and participation in social action’ (Mezirow, 1997,
p10). The principal aims of all such activity will be to help learners to switch off the
automatic pilot by examining the impulses and emotions which distort or inhibit clarity of
thinking about the world around them. In this way, the cultivation of a critical attitude
towards contemporary culture may encourage the development of autonomous moral
25
decision-making which can transform understanding and alleviate destructive emotional
suffering in individuals and society. Ergas (2015) explains the process well in arguing that:
in allocating curricular time to activities that ask students to note their breathing, thoughts
and sensations – their inner workings and the here-ness and now-ness of their existence – we
are transforming the social understanding of ‘education’ and the ‘educated person’ (p.218,
original italics).
It is too early to tell whether the relatively recent introduction of mindfulness in schools and
colleges will achieve such wide-ranging transformations of learning and education. In terms
of narrower, more task-specific outcomes, there is a good deal of evidence indicating that
mindfulness strategies may enhance attention span, emotional resilience, on-task focus, and
so on (Albrecht, Albrecht & Cohen, 2012; Zenner, et al, 2014). Critics of such research,
however, assert that such outcomes – though having obvious educational benefits – have little
relevance to the fostering of mindfulness qualities which may help to transform the lives of
students in the context of the challenges posed by contemporary culture (O’Donnell, 2015).
Moreover, much of the research on mindfulness in schools has been poorly designed and
particularly those using self-report measures falls well short of accepted standards in
psychological research (Rosenbaum, 2016; see also the work of Nowogrodzki, 2016, on the
positive skewing of mindfulness research referred to earlier on p.7).
Citing the work of Stanley, et al (2015) and Jennings (2015), Forbes (2016) has outlined
ways in which schools:
can engage in critical mindfulness research that investigates hidden norms in everyday
culture and local social systems such as consumerism...that impede personal and
interpersonal development (p.364).
26
Whether school programmes will be able to realise such critical and transformational ideals
amidst the demands of contemporary outcome-driven and prescriptive curricula will be
determined by the commitment of practitioners driven by a conception of mindfulness
informed by the ethical principles which underpin what Kabat-Zinn refers to as the universal
dharma.
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schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis,. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, pp.1-20
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... To begin to see the difference, let us start with the mainstream understanding of mindfulness, which is often recognized as a person engaging in sitting meditation to induce calmness. This understanding points towards mindfulness as coping with stress by inviting acceptance and relaxation into the sensations of stress with the aim of reducing these sensations (Cintita 2019;Hyland 2017;Ergas 2015). Such opportunities to cope, using mindfulness meditation, are readily available (Hyland 2017;Ergas 2015). ...
... This understanding points towards mindfulness as coping with stress by inviting acceptance and relaxation into the sensations of stress with the aim of reducing these sensations (Cintita 2019;Hyland 2017;Ergas 2015). Such opportunities to cope, using mindfulness meditation, are readily available (Hyland 2017;Ergas 2015). As examples, work and study places may engage in mindfulness lunch hours to support bringing calm and ease into the work-or school-week, and there are numerous recordings of the bodyscan meditation and sleep casts to support subduing a busy mind to allow for sleep. ...
... And both are needed. The concern with mainstream mindfulness is staying in the place of inviting calm, of aiming for stress reduction each time the ocean begins churning and crashing into the shore, rather than also considering, at some point, how the ocean became stirred, and what the conditions and processes were (Cintita 2019;Hyland 2017). ...
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In the face of current turbulent times including climate emergencies, species extinction, the erosion of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism—in short, a suffering world—the authors of this paper propose that education needs to be centrally an activist effort dedicated to healing and repairing the increasingly wounded and damaged world. To this end, this paper explores Buddhism as an educational program that centralizes a healing curriculum based on the understanding that healing comes from waking up from the delusion of possessive individualism (ego-selves) that gives rise to neoliberal capitalist societies. This delusion is the existential home of suffering. Waking up requires the disciplined effort of seeing through and past individualism to the workings of mutual causality within a universe of interconnection (Interbeing), such as ours. The mindfulness (sati) practice that the historical Buddha taught is such a form of mental discipline. Through the agentic cultivation of sati and subsequent remembrance of our inherent Interbeing, we can rediscover and rekindle the inherently enlightened mind of bodhicitta. This paper explores various psychological, sociocultural, ideological, and relational conditionings that act as barriers to seriously practicing mindfulness, including the currently popular conceptions of mindfulness in North America. While acknowledging that successful practice takes setting up the right conditions, our paper also delves into helpful and supportive conditions for mindfulness practice for activists, namely, ethical motivation and contemplative/healing emotions such as the Four Immeasurables.
... radically at odds with such populist and commodified versions of contemplative practice (Grossman, 2011;Hyland, 2017, Purser, 2019. Moreover, as will be discussed in more detail below, such neuroscientific evidence is used to support the materialist worldview which mistakenly asserts that the mind is generated solely by the brain (Kastrup, 2014(Kastrup, , 2021Taylor, 2018). ...
... Everything in the universe, as Carlo Rovelli (1996Rovelli ( , 2021 asserts, must be considered as "relational". Materialism posits a cosmos of isolated individuals alienated from an outside world of objects, and this perspective has helped to produce a culture of rampant individualism, aimless consumerism and the destruction of the planet (Hyland, 2017). As Taylor (2018) concludes, "moving beyond materialism means becoming able to perceive the vividness and sacredness of the world around us...transcending our sense of separateness so that we can experience our connectedness with nature and other living beings" (p. ...
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Contemporary approaches to explaining the connections and reconciling perceived differences between spiritual and scientific interpretations of reality have tended to accept mainstream interpretations of physics, cosmology and biology. The resultant putative combinations of ideas-seeking to equate materialist with non-materialist worldviews-display anomalous, artificial and deeply problematic features. Instead of accepting the validity of scientific materialism-expressed in accounts offered, for instance, by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and, in a more secular context, Deepak Chopra and Fritjof Capra-the central thesis of this paper is that it is more plausible to question the foundations of materialism and argue for an idealist interpretation of both science, reality and spirituality as suggested in recent work by Bernardo Kastrup, Steve Taylor and Donald Hoffman. After exploring the central claims of these new interpretations of idealism-and their principal critiques of scientific materialism-arguments that such perspectives offer a richer, more cogent and more parsimonious method of linking Eastern and Western worldviews than the flawed materialist perspectives will be explained and justified.
... On the other hand, emotional abilities are typically overlooked in favour of cognitive abilities [15]. Affective skills are generally included in cognitive learning objectives, where those skills are required to improve as a student and develop as a person [6], [17]. ...
... As indicated in Table 1, teachers are willing to assess students' affective domain during class. According to Hyland [17], the development of emotional domain outcomes is "slow, dull, and random." Hyland feels that an education is incomplete if it does not address ...
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A standardized test measures a student’s cognitive domain. Emotional responses to concepts and objectives categorized under the affective domain are not assessed. The affective domain includes affective learning activities such as accepting new experiences, developing values, regulating oneself and boosting one’s self-esteem. Numerous studies indicate that college students lack confidence and motivation. College and university exams normally disregard the affective domain. Thus, cognitive exams aid in the placement of students but may not account for all aspects affecting student accomplishment. Learning is hindered by the lack of desire, confidence, and motivation. This study looks into various methods of assessments in the affective domain and also ascertains educators’ attitudes on evaluating affective domains in the classroom. The participants for the second part of the study comprised a random sample of 120 lecturers from a private university in Malaysia. The research indicated that lecturers were receptive to analysing their students’ affective domain behaviour in class. According to the study, institutions should place a greater emphasis on assessing students’ affective domain to develop them as well-rounded personalities.
... The McMindfulness approach implies a lack of groundwork for mindfulnessselflessness-and-compassion to flourish. It is associated with the McDonaldization notion that mindfulness departs from its original Buddhist tradition and has been marketed or capitalized as a MacDonald (Hyland, 2017 ...
... Given the surge in popularity of mindfulness over the past few decades, it has naturally been met with some skepticism including worries regarding the pathologizing of emotions (Purser 2019, p. 45), the depoliticization of suffering (Hyland 2017), as well as the gap between secularized techniques and Buddhist teachings (Thompson 2020, pp. 48-54). ...
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This article investigates mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in a clinical setting and considers the benefits of socially engaged mindfulness practices. The main aim is to consider the relationship between MBIs, especially as a clinical practice (including disengagement from negative ruminations and difficult emotions) and Buddhist mindfulness as a practice of social engagement for systemic change. While MBIs and engaged Buddhism both aspire to ease suffering for individuals and societies alike, they differ as the former emphasizes psychological treatment of the individual and the latter includes a call to action for more widespread change in the political, economic, and social arenas. At the center of this article is an inquiry into mindfulness practice in relation to engagement, disengagement, and re-engagement with objects of the internal and external world and what that means for the practitioner as well as society at large. It will be concluded that the amendment of mindfulness-based practices with lovingkindness and compassion-based practices shifts the emphasis from the clinical treatment of an individual patient toward a more holistic approach that includes the wellness of all beings. This shift is desirable and necessary as it considers a broader set of causes of psychological suffering and helps to reconcile the divide between disengaged cognitive practice and social engagement.
... For analyses of contemporary society, mindfulness certainly represents a highly gratifying object: A spiritual practice is being removed from its religious context and instrumentalized by companies like Google, SAP, and Lufthansa for the sake of increased performance and healthier bodies (Forbes, 2019;Kucinskas, 2019;Purser, 2019;Wilson, 2014) -a prime example of neoliberal, capitalist optimization practices, grist for the mill of sociological critique. This critical perspective, also referred to as 'McDonaldizing Spirituality' (Hyland, 2017) or, now classically, as 'McMindfulness' (Purser & Loy, 2013), is not new (Hickey, 2010;Stanley, 2012; see also Walsh, 2016) and does not detract from the popularity or growing reception of mindfulness. People from diverse milieus, classes, and age groups swear by the effects of the programs and report lifestyle changes, newfound perspectives, and success in solving everyday problems. ...
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The growing popularity of Western secular mindfulness programs in recent decades has frequently been criticized by sociologists. Mindfulness in this line of argument is viewed as the quintessential neoliberal and capitalist technology of the self. However, this – quite justified – functionalist critique does not account for how mindfulness is increasingly being used to escape growth driven-based optimization pressure. We therefore show, on the basis of our extensive empirical field research, how mindfulness is negotiated as a response to contemporary crises and social change, how this phenomenon can be understood as a symptomatic, contemporary cultural phenomenon. From our ethnographic data from 121 hours of participant observation in mindfulness courses in Germany and six interviews with mindfulness teachers, as well as analysis of relevant literature, we reconstruct four paradoxes of mindfulness. With reference to this, we show to what extent mindfulness is a program of specious promises. For in the final analysis, the broad accessibility and popularity of the program are based on the fact that its application is just as paradoxical as the social problems to which it promises to be a solution.
... Within this relatively new branch of research, there have been critiques of the growing depoliticisation of stress and exhaustion as well as the accompanying privatisation of health responsibility and of physical alongside emotional well-being (Forbes, 2019;Purser, 2019). These critical perspectives, which have also been designated as 'McDonaldizing Spirituality' (Hyland, 2017) or the by now classic 'McMindfulness' (Purser & Loy, 2013), are not new (Hickey, 2010;Stanley, 2012; see also Walsh, 2016). Representatives of this line of argument locate the secular reception of mindfulness, especially in social processes of the second half of the twentieth century that shifted the focus to the self. ...
... In other words, some scholars worry about it becoming secular mindfulness which they called McMindfulness. Hyland (2017) stated that mindfulness should have a relationship with ethical practices and Buddhist foundation, if not, it is just becoming a fashionable self-gimmick. In addition, Purser and Loy (2013) also worry about transforming mindfulness to adapt and become a new capitalist spirituality. ...
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This study presents an overview of the literature of mindfulness in education, which is based on the definition of mindfulness, and accompanying key terms, and the philosophy and practices it involves. The review includes a survey of Buddhism, Eastern and Western mindfulness traditions. This literature review gathers the thinking of scholars on the importance of mindfulness and its beneficial practices—particularly in Western contexts—including mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and related therapies. The literature review is also a motivator in the use of mindfulness because it reveals its proven role in both helping career professionals and reducing stress for students by reducing the psychological and physical distress inherent in work and personal lives or students’ academic lives.
... Mindfulness in education is implemented through external programs outside the main curriculum, which are aimed at improving mental-physical health, social-emotional learning, and cognitive functions. These programs are assimilated into the discourse of measurement and outcomes, thus failing to meet both educational and real Buddhist criteria (Hyland, 2017). Mindfulness as education, unlike external programs, is a "contemplative pedagogy," whole-school oriented. ...
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Mindfulness, which originated in the Buddhist tradition, has become popular in the West and has been integrated into schools. During this migration from a particular-traditional-religious context into a universal-modern-secular one, mindfulness has shed key ethical values and became a “science of happiness.” In addition, in the West it has taken on diverse interpretations, such that the original concept has become unclear. Thus, it is important to understand mindfulness in its original form before its implementation in schools. The gap between West and East can be bridged by incorporating important elements from traditional Buddhism—meditation, wisdom, and moral virtues, into Western mindfulness. Humanistic education already has similar elements incorporated into it and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programs have the potential to be the practical tool through which this holistic concept of mindfulness may be applied. In this manner, mindfulness in schools will be even more compatible with educational goals.
Chapter
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Mindfulness programs in education proceed with little awareness of the cultural, social, political, and developmental context in which they operate. This chapter first argues that social critique is a valuable practice in its own right and can be useful toward developing more socially just and inclusive mindfulness education programs. It is critical of how mindfulness is practiced in schools to the extent it shares qualities of McMindfulness and reinforces neoliberal ideologies, policies, and practices. Without this critical awareness of contexts, programs tend to promote individualistic solutions to social problems and inequities and thereby serve to maintain the status quo of social injustice. This chapter critically employs concepts from integral meta-theory with an emphasis on cultural meanings, optimal human development, and universal social justice. It describes important realms of everyday life that are ignored by mindfulness education programs. It offers directions toward a critical integral contemplative education that promotes individual, interpersonal, and social development.
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Philosophy East/West showcases new scholarship in the philosophy of education and contemplative studies, paying particular attention to the intersection of mindfulness, evidence-based science, and wisdom traditions. These readings shed light on the contemplative turn in contemporary education and its potentials, difficulties and implications for educational theory and practice. The chapters in this edited volume move beyond simplistic explanations of “East” and “West” to explore the complexity and diversity of various wisdom traditions. The book includes: • Explorations of mindfulness in contemporary education as it intersects with science and wisdom traditions. • Investigations of Buddhist, Taoist, and Vedantic traditions as they shed light on contemporary educational theory and practice. • Interpretations of contemplative education in light of philosophers such as Heidegger, Levinas and Foucault.
Chapter
Interest in secular, mindfulness- and compassion-based contemplative programs is increasing as a growing body of research suggests that such programs enhance health and well-being. These modern secular programs, including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT), and Sustainable Compassion Training (SCT), have been influenced by various Buddhist contemplative traditions. These programs have also been shaped by and in response to their own modern historical–cultural context and the ways in which they variously interpret and rhetorically employ the category of the secular. Yet despite these differences, MBSR, CBCT, and SCT each claim some form of universal applicability, whether in terms of identifying the universal causes of suffering, or the universally applicable method for overcoming it. This underlying assumption raises a host of challenges and reveals a bias within the field of contemplative studies to privilege theory over context. This chapter therefore will briefly consider some of the ways in which certain Buddhist contemplative frames (i.e., innatism and constructivism) and modern cultural frames (i.e., individualism, scientific reductionism, and secularization) both limit and permit different possibilities for health and healing. The aim is to draw attention to the ways in which the universal rhetoric of these programs tends to mask or negate important contextual factors that shape way in which health, healing, and suffering are conceptualized, defined, and transformed.
Chapter
This article explores the recent development of mindfulness in the West since the late 1970s. Mindfulness has entered widely into the personal, public, and business sector of society. The primary purpose of the wide variety of current mindfulness programs addresses the reduction of stress. Mindfulness mentors offer guidance and instruction to individuals and groups in clinics, hospitals, schools, and prisons, as well as people attending regular mindfulness classes. The article examines the growing development of mindfulness in businesses and large corporations. The article points out that mindfulness addresses both internal and external factors contributing to stress, conflict, and anxiety in the workplace. Mindfulness has a 2600-year-old history of connection with ethics, moderation in lifestyle, environment, deep values, and spirituality. The application of an authentic mindfulness contributes to an enquiry into intentions, actions, and the consequences. Is the corporate world ignoring a comprehensive application of mindfulness and made mindfulness subservient to the policies of the company, especially around productivity, efficiency, and the achievement of company goals? The author calls for the application of the Four Noble Truths to businesses.
Chapter
Over the past decade, two modernist narratives, that of stress and that of management science, have come together in the contemporary office in the form of mindfulness techniques and technologies. The reasons for this are overdetermined and involve both practical and ideological considerations, but we can safely say they spring from the specific needs of capital in central, highly developed labor markets, where the rapid expansion of postindustrial productive forces increasingly marshal the emotional, psychological, and cognitive faculties of workers to the point of strain. The science of mindfulness promises to address the worker discontent that these forms of labor engender without confronting the social and economic causes of this discontent. For this reason, mindfulness interventions have been enthusiastically adopted by managerial elites and embraced by workers, who, through the work of management theorists like Elton Mayo, the forefather of industrial psychology, have come to think of their work as a source of their well-being, a medium for their self-development and the furthering of their own interests. In this paper, I will argue for the repoliticization of the forms of worker stress and discontent that workplace mindfulness rhetoric and praxis obfuscate by framing in purely psychological terms.
Article
Reading R.S. Peters Today: Analysis, Ethics and the Aims of Education reassesses British philosopher Richard Stanley Peters' educational writings by examining them against the most recent developments in philosophy and practice. Critically reassesses R. S. Peters, a philosopher who had a profound influence on a generation of educationalists. Brings clarity to a number of key educational questions. Exposes mainstream, orthodox arguments to sympathetic critical scrutiny. © Chapters © 2011 The Authors Editorial organization.
Book
The first book of its kind,Buddhist Moral Philosophy: An Introductionintroduces the reader to contemporary philosophical interpretations and analyses of Buddhist ethics. It begins with a survey of traditional Buddhist ethical thought and practice, mainly in the Pali Canon and early Mahayana schools, and an account of the emergence of Buddhist moral philosophy as a distinct discipline in the modern world. It then examines recent debates about karma, rebirth and nirvana, well-being, normative ethics, moral objectivity, moral psychology, and the issue of freedom, responsibility and determinism. The book also introduces the reader to philosophical discussions of topics in socially engaged Buddhism such as human rights, war and peace, and environmental ethics.