An excellent interview at Tricycle.com with Mindful Manifesto author Ed Halliwell, enjoy:
Mindfulness isn’t just for Buddhists anymore; you can find it in hospitals, schools, prisons, and in some of today’s largest corporations. It is being used to help people quell their cravings, find emotional balance, eat healthier, and even to fall asleep at night.
All of these things are well and good, of course, but there’s a question worth considering: Is anything lost when we remove mindfulness meditation from a Buddhist context?
In this interview with writer and mindfulness teacher Ed Halliwell we explore the ins and outs of mindfulness. We discuss the definition and benefits of mindfulness practice, whether it’s the same in Buddhist and secular contexts, and Halliwell’s new book (along with co-author Dr. Jonty Heaversedge) The Mindful Manifesto.
What is mindfulness? The way we’re using the word in The Mindful Manifesto, which is in line with what’s taught in most secular mindfulness-based courses, it means paying attention to what’s happening in our bodies, minds, and the environment in a manner that’s open-hearted, aware of but not caught up in our habitual patterns of thoughts, emotions and behavior. It’s knowing what’s happening as it’s happening, and learning from that in a way that leads us to act from a place of greater skill, choice and compassion. Having said that, I think definitions can be a little tricky when it comes to mindfulness, as we’re referring to a quality that can only be really understood as an experience rather than a concept.
As you note in the book, mindfulness practice has deep roots in the Buddhist tradition. However, it is being used increasingly in secular settings—schools, prisons, hospitals, etc. What are the benefits of mindfulness going mainstream? The most obvious benefit is that a lot of people who would probably not have been drawn to practice meditation are now doing so, and many of them seem to be finding it helpful. Most people who sign up to a mindfulness-based stress reduction or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy course would not have gone along to their local Buddhist center (if there is one), or if they have, they perhaps haven’t felt this was the approach for them. Meditation practice presented as a way to well-being within a secular, psychological, mind-body-health perspective sometimes connects for people who might find learning in a Buddhist context too alien, too religious, or too institutionalized for them. I think it’s wonderful that they are finding a route to practice that works for them.
I also think the scientific rigor which is being brought to studying mindfulness-based approaches is very helpful. We now have good evidence that mindfulness courses help people work with stress more effectively, develop attention skills, and maintain physical and mental well-being, as well as cultivating greater empathy and compassion. Scientifically-minded people who might previously have dismissed meditation as irrational, flaky or new-age are becoming convinced that it can be usefully taught and practiced as a way to help people and communities become happier and healthier. Science is a main mode of validation in our culture, and a result of all this research is that areas such as healthcare, education, and workplaces are now opening up to meditation as something worth exploring.
I think the science is good for understanding what’s happening when we meditate, too. We are starting to know more about what’s going on in the brain and body when we practice, and what the studies suggest seems to correlate with what meditators have reported for thousands of years, which perhaps helps build confidence in the value of meditation. Knowing what we’re doing in this way may also help us cultivate precision in what and how we practice. In these ways, the scientific mode of inquiry is an excellent complement to the first person mode of inquiry that we engage in when we actually meditate.