Speakers Corner


Mindfulness: fad or fakery?

For decades the modern world believed that self-esteem, built up by “positive thinking”, was the way to happiness. It would heal our hurts, teach us self-acceptance and unleash our “full potential”.
The movement began in the US, and soon became a multi-billion dollar, global industry. From pop therapy it spread into schools, prisons, corporations, sport, even into retreat centres, sermons and religious writings.
Despite all the hype, it didn’t deliver fulfilment, and probably did immense harm. Then, just as it was running out of steam a new fad arrived, promising a new version of salvation: mindfulness.
It too has spread like wildfire, showing the great yearning in people for some escape from the noise and scramble of today’s agitated world.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the American guru behind it. Having spent years doing Zen Buddhist meditation, he got the idea of repackaging it for secularist culture and turning it into a brand he could sell to a global audience.
He wanted, he says, to avoid “as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, new age, eastern mysticism or just plain flakey.” Hiding the Buddhist core was a smart marketing ploy, but it didn’t change the product.
And what a success he has been. This is the cure-all that is now being proposed for everyone from stressed politicians to screened-out children and terminally ill cancer patients.
Like every good guru, Kabat-Zinn had what he calls a “vision”, in a woods near Boston.
It lasted just 10 seconds but he “saw in a flash not only a model that could be put in place, but also the long-term implications”: he had the key to change or even save the world. Thus the movement began.
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
This is Buddhism-lite. With no interest in God or anything above us, it is custom-made for our secularist age. No wonder it sells so well.
Note the central focus on being “non-judgmental”. Another author says, “the mindful individual strives to experience the world and the self as they are…without judging and evaluating.”
But judging, especially about right and wrong, is a major part of what makes us human. Rejecting such judgments degrades us, and destroys morality and the very possibility of society.
The “non-judgmental” ideology is really a mixture of Buddhism and 20th century pseudo-therapeutic nonsense. Certainly it has no room for Christ’s persistent call to us to “Repent”.
Note also the self-absorbed focus on “the present moment”. Alzheimer patients too live only in the present moment, with no memories of the past and no concern or hope for the future.
Kabat-Zinn believes that meditation is the “radical act of love and sanity” we need in today’s world.
Being self-absorbed, focusing on one’s own breathing, attending to one’s own body and mind as they are in the present moment, is a very cosy kind of “love”. It is easy to see its attraction.
Gone is the cross, the demand for self-sacrifice that we soon face when we try to love people in the real world. How we can manage to love without self-sacrifice is not explained.
There may be some short-term benefits from mindfulness, just as there may be from snake oil and smoking pot. But for a Christian at least, there are better ways of receiving these benefits.
Mindfulness is not a harmless form of “meditation” but a kind of do-it-yourself “spirituality” for secularists, for people who believe in nothing higher than themselves.
The mentality it seeks to form is radically incompatible with the Christian faith. It ignores the reality of God and our call to worship him; it assumes a pro-choice morality with no objective standards; it proposes a self-absorbed travesty of love, and whatever hope it offers is limited to this world.
Instead of squandering their time on this fakery, seeking to numb their minds, Catholics would do far better by turning to the infinite riches of their own faith.