Mindfulness seems to be everywhere today. We find it in schools, in universities, in hospitals, in military academies. We find it in board rooms and parliament buildings. For some it’s a therapy, for others a technology and for some it’s a lifestyle choice. Tens of millions of people admit to practicing it in North America alone. Mindfulness seems to be whatever we need it to be. It emerges into the public discourse like a mystical panacea from the ancient East, the cure for all the ills of contemporary societies. But what actually is it? Fundamental research into Mindfulness in various disciplines in the sciences, and the social sciences, and the humanities has grown exponentially in the last decade or so.
Researchers are attempting to provide an evidence base for what Mindfulness does to people, as well as a conceptual base for what Mindfulness might actually be. When we say that someone is a mindful person, what are we saying about that person? When people call for mindful society, do they really know what such a society would be like? And would you want to live in it? Based partially in experiential learning, this course aims to give you the theoretical and practical skills to understand and to critically assess Mindfulness in its various forms for yourself. Encompassing its ancient traditions and cutting edge science, this course seeks to de-mystify Mindfulness as a technology for life in the 21st century.
Whether you’re entirely new to Mindfulness, looking for clarity, or an experienced practitioner looking for some more depth. Whether you’re a Mindfulness teacher looking to broaden your understanding or a therapist looking to diversify your knowledge. No matter who you are, I hope this unusual course has something to offer you. The particular way that this course combines academic investigation in lesson one of each module with practical exercises in our meditation labs in lesson two, makes this course unique. By the time you complete this course, you’ll have a sound understanding of the meaning and significance of Mindfulness from various academic disciplinary standpoints, ranging from psychology, through philosophy, to politics.
And just as importantly, you’ll have experienced the equivalent of a complete eight week Mindfulness training course based on the famous MBSR on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. This special combination of theoretical and practical learning reflects the nature of Mindfulness as a field. One of its great challenges to us today is the way that it emphasizes the critical importance of our own personal experience of it, as a resource for our understanding of it. So you need to be prepared to do some honest introspection during this course as part of the process of study. What you experience and feel really matters. And what you get out of this course will at least partially be determined by the sincerity you bring into it.
Having said that, it is possible that you might want to follow only the lesson one content, if your interest is entirely academic. Or only the lesson two content if your interest is entirely practical. And that’s fine. But the course has been carefully designed to combine the two for a more full and rich learning experience. So I think you’ll get most out of it if you do both in parallel. This course is being based on the popular course, the Mindfulness Revolution that I’ve been teaching in the Interdisciplinary Honors Academy, here in Leiden for a number of years. And it also arises from the Mental Praxis research project into mindfulness and philosophy.
So I’m really grateful to the students at Leiden who’ve taught me so much about how to engage with and learn from this fascinating material. And I can’t wait to see how you guys get on with it too. We’ve had a lot of help putting together this course, especially the fantastic crew at the Center for Innovation in the Hague. But I also want to acknowledge the help and support of some wonderful practitioners and scholars who’ve given their time, experience, and labor to this project. In particular Professor Rebecca Crane and colleagues over at Bangor University Center for Mindfulness Research and Practice. And then Professor Willem Kuyken and colleagues over at the University of Oxford’s Mindfulness Center.
I’m delighted, in fact, that Willem has even directly contributed material to each module. So you’ll meet him in due course. And then we have the remarkable Stephen Batchelor, who’s also been generous enough to share his wisdom and experience with us. So you’ll meet him soon too.
I think this is probably more than enough for an introduction. And you can check out the structure and details on the course site. If you have questions, ask them. If you have problems, shout or whisper. If you need to go to the toilet, you don’t need to raise your hand. Just go to the toilet. But perhaps most importantly, remember to be gentle with yourself as you make your way through this adventure. It’s possible that you’ll encounter some things about yourself that you find challenging. So please allow yourselves some time to deal with whatever comes up.
If you want to tell a family member or a friend that you’re taking this course, or even better if you want to take this course together with them, that’s a great idea. You should also make use of the forums and the community features of this course to connect with your fellow students. You might be surprised to see that we all encounter really similar issues and problems and that it can be very reassuring to know this. Be gentle with each other too. Okay? Mindfulness might strike you as a solitary pursuit, but like most journeys this is one that’s better traveled in company. It’s my pleasure and my privilege to travel some of it with you.