Our culture is increasingly saturated with the word mindfulness. We use it so frequently and in so many different contexts that we obfuscate its meaning. Companies, authors and individuals have begun to capitalize on the word’s positive connotation by attaching it to their products and ideas, much as they have with the words, all natural, artisan, and organic. Mindfulness is packaged as something you can buy. It appears that the allure of internal peace and contentment is so powerful we will pay exorbitant sums to have it.
Mindfulness is marketed as a behavior, an attitude, and a lifestyle. There are mindfulness retreats in beautiful places. There are books on mindful parenting, mindful work, mindful eating and even mindful shopping. There are mindfulness applications for our smart phones. Teachers use the word with their students as a substitute for “be kind” or “be quiet.” There is undoubtedly a place for mindfulness in our culture, but these applications distort the meaning and complicate its purpose.
Mindfulness is a relatively new practice in the United States. Even twenty-five years ago the concept was foreign to most people and those practicing it were on the fringes of society. It was a term associated with eastern religious practices with little traction in mainstream American culture. The speed and reach of the cultural shift toward adopting mindfulness has been remarkable. The fact that some major corporations are now offering mindfulness training for their employees is a testament to the extent to which it permeates our culture.
That mindfulness has become the latest cultural buzzword is not entirely a bad thing. As it grows in popularity, more people have an opportunity to learn about the powerful positive effects a mindfulness meditation practice can have on their lives. A recent surge in academic interest shows that a mindfulness practice has positive effects on health, ranging from depression and anxiety, to memory, learning, creativity and interpersonal functioning (Shapiro 2001). There is further research showing that a meditation practice correlates with elevation in mood, positive affect, and happiness (Shapiro 2001). These findings have galvanized people and institutions to incorporate mindfulness practices in their work and personal lives. Another positive consequence of adopting mindfulness in the West is its potential to bridge eastern and western cultures. By embracing a long-term eastern tradition, we are opening ourselves up to a world beyond our borders and bridging two worlds through a shared practice.
As mindfulness sifts its way through our culture, there is reason for excitement and curiosity as well as caution and discernment. It is easy to be swept up in the fervor of the moment. In my next post, I will provide a brief history of mindfulness and explain its core principles, function and original intention. By broadening our understanding of mindfulness we are less apt to be cajoled by external forces and more capable of looking inside for the answers. Stay tuned.