Just anecdotally, I recall seeing mindfulness mentioned a number of times when skimming the “introduce yourself” thread. I have been interested in mindfulness meditation for a long time.
However, I worry that much of what is being promoted as “mindfulness” in pop culture nowadays is not true to its core purpose.
I read so many articles on mindfulness as a “productivity hack” or a solution to all our problems. To my understanding, this kind of practice is contrary to the very foundations of mindfulness. The basic idea is to practice without attachment to any goal, without seeking to gain anything.
Shunryu Suzuki writes in his excellent Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:
As long as you think “I am doing this,” or “I have to do this,” or “I must attain something special,” you are actually not doing anything. When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to gain anything special, then you do something. When there is no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something. In zazen what you are doing is not for the sake of anything. You may feel as if you are doing something special, but actually it is only the expression of your true nature; it is the activity which appeases your inmost desire. But as long as you think you are practicing for the sake of something, that is not true practice.
I worry that this aspect of meditation is lost on so many Western audiences encountering mindfulness for the first time. It is not a tool to accomplish any specific task with, such as breaking ourselves of compulsive tech use.
What is referred to as mindfulness in most modern contexts might just as well be called “concentration practice”. In this case, we would do just as well to train our concentration on memorizing poetry, or doing math problems, or untying really tangled knots in our shoelaces. All these are worthwhile pursuits, and perhaps concentration/attention practice is just exactly what we need to work on. But for me, mindfulness hints at something just a step further than basic concentration, at a general spirit that cannot really be harnessed to apply to one problem or another as we see fit. I would hate to see that spirit lost because we misuse the word in reference to practices which do not fully live up to its original meaning.
The most famous “applied meditation” program is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Notice the cleverness of the name, which addresses the exact problem I am talking about: it is
not mindfulness, but mindfulness-based. The activities in the stress reductions have their basis in mindfulness, they are inspired by mindfulness, but the program is not touted as having actual mindfulness meditation at its core. Great! Kabat-Zinn acknowledges that certain principles of mindfulness (self-awareness, discipline, etc.) are being adapted to a new program, which is not quite mindfulness itself. He doesn’t call it, “7 ways mindfulness can help you make more money at work”, or “mindfulness can give you superpowers”. It’s mindfulness-based. Any program dealing with compulsive tech use that has meditation as a starting point needs to keep this in mind.