The growing popularity of mindfulness, a meditative practice with Buddhist roots being offered offices and schools, conceals a dark truth society must confront, argues Emma Barnett
How does your mind feel? Slowly revving back up after the festive fug of Christmas?
Chances are, in the slew of “New Year New You” suggestions, you will have read about mindfulness. Indeed, it was pretty hard to get through last year without noticing it. The meditative practice, which has its roots in Buddhism and encourages you to focus on the present, rather than on the anxieties of the past or future, is now everywhere. Schools, law firms, banks, governments, the US military… they are all offering mindfulness sessions to staff.
I’ve tried it, and I failed abysmally in my quest to achieve mental peace. But, in the course of making a documentary on the subject, I have also attempted to understand it. Over the past two months, I have visited projects and spoken to doctors, practitioners – even Buddhists – in a bid to figure out how it moved from the mountains of Burma to the Hollywood Hills where it has become a multi-billion dollar industry.
It’s also a successful industry. Growing amounts of research indicate that as a cognitive therapy, it works. NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) backs it as a treatment for those with recurring depression; indeed, it has been proven to reduce the recurrence rate by 40-50 per cent over 12 months. Thirty per cent of British GPs now refer patients at war with their thoughts for mindfulness-based treatment.
But regardless of how successful it is or where it comes from, all those hours spent trying to be mindfully quiet have left me feeling profoundly depressed. Anyone attempting a quick fix, like I was (admittedly I was only giving it five minutes in the dark before bedtime) has missed the bigger, scarier point: why are so many of us living lives we feel unable to cope with? How is it that we are so unhappy with our lots that we will willingly sit cringing in a room with our colleagues while remembering to breathe? Continue reading >>