Editor's Note

Editor's Note

The Mindfulness Binge/Minding Mindfulness

By Rich Simon

September/October 2011

I first became aware that there was such a thing as meditation as part of my immersion in the cascade of mind-body-spirit esoterica unleashed by the human potential movement back in the early ’70s. The term mindfulness hadn’t even come into popular usage back then, and, if it had, such an airy-fairy, woo-woo state of being wouldn’t have had any place in the staid psychology program where I got my grad-school training. In my department, you certainly didn’t mention your experiences of altered consciousness—however derived—to your professors, not if you wanted to be taken seriously as a student of psychology hoping someday to get a serious job in a serious profession.

At some point, of course, all of this began to change. As early as 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn began showing the world that meditation practices could be entirely separated from any suspect spirituality: patients could get the stress- and pain-reducing benefits without shaving their heads and donning saffron robes. And he backed up his methodology with unimpeachable scientific evidence. By the early ’90s, Marsha Linehan brought mindfulness practices from Zen Buddhism to her pioneering work with that most difficult of clinical populations—people with borderline personality disorder. The Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy community began adding mindfulness practices to their work and found it could have a dramatic impact on the relapse rates among depression sufferers. By the early years of the 21st century, the news was out, and mindfulness practice was definitely becoming the “in” thing among the leading lights of the therapy world.

Today, as we know, mindfulness hasn’t simply achieved respectability in the field—it’s everywhere. It sometimes seems you can’t read a journal article, attend a workshop, or go to a conference that doesn’t have “mindfulness” somewhere in the title. In fact, today the problem may be that the mindfulness movement, if it may be called that, has achieved too much acceptance, too much legitimacy, too much applause—even acquired a kind of secular sanctity. When something becomes a sacred cow, it’s immune to fresh observation, examination, criticism, or real understanding.

This issue raises a range of provocative questions about the role of mindfulness methods in therapeutic practice today. Perhaps the most intriguing is whether the direction of influence continues to be from the Eastern practice of meditation to the Western study of psychology—with the wise and ancient East informing and teaching the callow, Johnny-come-lately West—or whether the stimulus has begun to run in the other direction. Another is the degree to which the cultural contexts of both traditions—individual identity and personal fulfillment versus hierarchy and strong attachment to the past—have influenced each other.

A few of the iconoclastic takes on mindfulness practice in this issue—for instance, the question of whether mindfulness really is nothing more than a mystified version of self-hypnosis—may strike some as a kind of heresy. Others may remain skeptical about how the gauzy language of spiritual practice can be adapted to the mundane business of behavioral change. But we hope this issue sparks a timely conversation about the strengths and limitations of both psychotherapy and mindfulness, as well as a discussion of the desirability of forging a truly transcultural wisdom tradition that blends the two taking root in, of all places, the consulting rooms of therapists around the world.


This November, we’re inaugurating State of the Art, a unique annual online conference that will bring together the best material the Networker has produced—compelling Plugged-In Webcast interviews, inspiring Symposium addresses, provocative magazine articles—punctuated with new discussions about the latest developments in the field. The engaging virtual-learning environment will make it easier than ever to broaden your professional community and chart new directions for your practice. .

Read 9187 times
Comments - (existing users please login first)
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sunday, January 13, 2013 4:42:13 PM | posted by Patricia Simpson, LCPC, 500 RYT
As a LCPC who has studied and practiced Yoga Therapy....I am amazed that there has been little interest in the origins of introspection, breath work, and meditation. I strongly suggest you research Yoga Therapy through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the research that supports this ancient science.

Friday, September 23, 2011 7:17:57 PM | posted by Linda Graham
“Individual identity and personal fulfillment versus hierarchy and strong attachment to the past” is one way to characterize the influence of the cultural contexts of the Western study of psychology and the Eastern practice of meditation. Another is the profound difference in the views of the nature of the self. Individual identity and personal fulfillment to be strengthened through Western therapy; the solid sense of personal self to be dissolved in the larger awareness of impermanence and inter-connectedness in the Eastern traditions. I believe reconciling those two views of self, and their implications for practice, is a key to a full integration of mindfulness into the practice of psychotherapy, and bow to the visionary practitioners who are addressing that reconciliation from both sides of the equation.
- Linda Graham, MFT