This was an interesting article.
I agree that there are many negatives to be found in the commercialization/watering down of mindfulness.
As a Buddhist practitioner and public school teacher, however, I made a decision to start a secular mindfulness program in my school this September, with full support from my administration. I feel that taking a moment to breathe and note can only help my students. To just become aware of emotions can prevent impulsive reactions, and I have direct personal experience with this. To that end, I am taking a course from the organization Mindful Schools. Much of what they do is based on MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s movement that began in hospitals 30 years ago. Many of the lessons in this course are based in the history of the secular mindfulness movement, in the research and and how to face school community members who may not agree with the practice. (I don’t expect much push back from parents).
I do not agree with this statement in the article:
“My own gripes with mindfulness are of a different, though related, order. In claiming to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions, mindfulness oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits oh-so-neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so dissatisfied with our lives in the first place.”
In the Mindful Schools program, the very first lesson is to tell students and parents that mindfulness is NOT a magic bullet, it will not make all your problems go away. It is also not a way to detach yourself from your actions and not take responsibility.
What I like about this secular mindfulness is that it emphasizes the idea that mindfulness in children is just a way to give them a little mindful space between the EMOTION and the REACTION.
What’s wrong with that? It’s just one little step, and at least in this program, it doesn’t claim to be an “easy fix.” It’s a step in the right direction.
Also in the article, the author states, “Without some ownership of one’s feelings and thoughts, it is difficult to take responsibility for them. The relationship between individuals and their mental phenomena is a weighty one, encompassing questions of personal responsibility and history. These matters shouldn’t be shunted so easily to one side.”
In my opinion, Buddhism is all about taking responsibility!
In the AN 5.57:
What is the advantage of often reflecting like this: ‘I am the owner of my deeds and heir to my deeds. Deeds are my womb, my relative, and my refuge. I shall be the heir of whatever deeds I do, whether good or bad’? There are sentient beings who do bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. Reviewing this subject often, they entirely give up bad conduct, or at least reduce it. This is the advantage for a woman or a man, a layperson or a renunciate of often reflecting like this: ‘I am the owner of my deeds and heir to my deeds. Deeds are my womb, my relative, and my refuge. I shall be the heir of whatever deeds I do, whether good or bad.’
It does NOT say in the suttas that “not self” means not taking responsibilities for your thoughts and actions. I don’t think that secular mindfulness is saying that either.
I think her messages are a little confused and muddy, just my opinion. I feel bad that she feels disillusioned based on her experiences, but I think the article discounts much of the positive research on secular meditation in many settings.
I think it is key to understand that secular mindfulness is NOT Buddhism. Although the secular mindfulness movement is based on buddhist practice, it is not the same and you will not get the same benefits. In settings such as schools, jails and mental health facilities, one cannot use religion. Secular mindfulness has its benefits, and its place.