Mindfulness has existed in many forms for thousands of years, attempts to study and systematise contemplative practices are nothing new. However, the focus of Critical Mindfulness is to explore the transition of traditional spiritual meditation into contemporary health and wellbeing interventions. In the twentieth century, several Eastern technologies such as meditation and acupuncture were adopted by Western medicine. Note I don’t mean studied or researched; instead, they have become part of our systems of health and wellbeing.
Taking technology from one knowledge system, such as Buddhism and locating it within psychology is not a simple matter; it presents many practical problems. For example, psychology has very different ways of understanding the mind compared to Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions. Therefore the appropriation of Buddhist meditation methods requires significant ‘adjustment’ to fit within contemporary psychology. Contemplative scientists have emphasised links between modern mindfulness and Eastern mystical practices. However, little is known about the processes underpinning the led the transition of meditation as mindfulness.
Change is inevitable; the many different expressions of meditation in spiritual and philosophical traditions bear witness to the fluidity of human ideas and practices. The adoption of religious and spiritual methods by psychology is part of the ongoing exchange between different knowledge systems. But there is a pressing need to understand how meditation has altered in its journey from Buddhism to psychology. This process will illuminate the crucial elements of the science creation process, the cultural norms for establishing the boundary between science and non-science.
While experimental psychology lacks the flexibility to analyse technologies originating in ‘alien’ cultures, it does have powerful tools able to measure the effects of meditation-based interventions. As a consequence, we have extensive information about changes brought about in meditation experiments but know much less about the overarching meaning of this data.
Critical Mindfulness is a PhD research project that is using the history of science as a heuristic to explore the development of mindfulness. Establishing how its use as a scientifically validated therapy was achieved, and what this tells us about human relations with knowledge creation processes. I welcome thoughts about the science of mindfulness from all perspectives. Visitors are welcome to contribute material, highlight perceived weaknesses in my knowledge and signpost resources that might enrich the content of this blog.