Muddle and Mindfulness

In my blog, ten days ago, I made a remark about Mindfulness—a bit of a buzz word these days and frequently misused—which sounded very dismissive. I regret the way Mindfulness has often been taken up by fashion and inevitably trivialised and I was thinking about writing more about it when I read a confusing article in Monday’s Telegraph which was much more dismissive.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/12032651/Mindfulness-isnt-preparing-children-for-the-real-world-headmaster-warns.html

A lot of my time is spent musing about Stuff I know nothing about, in an effort to find some sense or reason or purpose in something apparently lunatic. However, when it comes to Mindfulness I do know what I’m talking about. I was a Mindfulness guinea pig.
“Mindfulness” in its present incarnation was the brainchild of Jon Kabut Zinn, in his Stress Reduction Clinic in the University of Massachusetts Medical School way back in 1979. Stress can mean anything these days: too many e mails, too much twitter, Christmas! That’s a stress producer second to none.

Kabat Zinn’s stress sufferers were different. They were enduring crippling pain, cancer treatment, trauma horror—you name it. Their stress was life changing and their efforts to overcome it were tough, determined and persistent. As a result of this work Kabat Zinn published a book in 1991 with the title: “Full Catastrophe Living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness.” Nothing trivial about that, then.

About this time John Teasdale, Mark Williams and others, in what was then the Applied Psychology Unit of Cambridge University were working with Kabat Zinn and I was one of many volunteers they used for a fascinating raft of experiments. It was tough stuff.
Which brings me to the Daily Telegraph article and my resulting confusion. Perhaps it loses something in translation from broadsheet to screen but the on-line version seems very muddled (or should that be muddied).

The headline reads: “’Mindfulness isn’t preparing children for the real world,’ headmaster warns.” This sentence is then repeated underneath a photo of a woman, and four children aged, I would guess, about 8 years old, sitting cross legged on rugs on the grass in a garden, with their hands on their heads.

Next comes an advert and the by line, Javier Espinoza, and then we get to the proper start of the feature.

“Mindfulness – a meditation technique that teaches people to focus on the present moment – is not preparing children to cope with the pressures of the real world, the headmaster of Ampleforth College has said.”

Then the print splits into two columns. In the left hand box we read “Mindfulness has its place and young people have a lot of stress these days. They need to be very resilient.” David Lambon, head of Ampleforth College. The column alongside reads: “David Lambon, who is the first lay headmaster at one of the UK’s top fee-paying Roman Catholic schools, said that instead schools should equip pupils with values that will guide them through the vicissitudes of life.”

At this stage I’ve worked out that the headmaster concerned is David Lambon of Ampleforth College, but that’s the only fact I know for sure. It’s a senior school so the photo of the children with their hands on their heads has nothing to do with anything as far as I can see. As a guinea pig I never sat crosslegged on the floor with my hands on my head, though I have vivid memories of looking at a raisin*. But as to what Lambon actually said? Does he think children should be taught something instead of mindfulness or does he think mindfulness has its place.

Next: “However, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Lambon said: Mindfulness has its place and young people have a lot of stress these days. They need to be very resilient.” There’s an awful lot of repetition in this piece. Also, I hadn’t realised before that I was reading a report of an interview rather than the actual interview. At least we know who the interviewee is, or do we?

Now there is another big picture, this time of a very old man, looking vaguely like Einstein. David Lambon is a mere 46 years old, so who on earth is this? I almost gave up reading at this point—I expect most readers of this blog have already done so—but finally we get to what David Lambon was really saying.

“We need to give our children a framework, a compass for life . . .” “. . . a faith that is deeply rooted.” “. . . values they can rely on no matter what . . .” “Gospel values will be with you for every situation in life . . .”

So, there you have it. A long, in depth interview with the headmaster of a leading Roman Catholic school, which manages to mention ‘gospel values’ but avoids any mention of Christianity, or religion, let alone God or Jesus Christ, and doesn’t do justice to Mindfulness either. I wonder what David Lambon really said; I wonder what Mr Espinoza has tactfully omitted in order not to give offence, and I wonder if they’re both only too aware of what there’s no point saying these days?

The photograph of the old man? He’s 84 year old Theodore Zeldin, an Oxford academic, who has said, in reference to Mindfulness, that too many people were avoiding using their brains and instead escaping into a state of blank mental oblivion.

At the end of all that I’m still a confused misfit!

*To be continued.

More than 20 years later I still have great respect for Mindfulness and all I learned in my guinea pig years.

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