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Summary of week 2 Theory

Prof Chris Goto-Jones summarizes the points discussed in week 2.
So this has been a pretty challenging module, and it’s been challenging in lots of different ways at the same time. So if you find that it’s been a lot to take in and that you’re struggling to remember some of it, my advice is not to be too harsh with yourselves about it. It’s not the case that this course as a whole or this module in particular, you can just consider one observation or one insight per session. Because mindfulness is such an expansive, contested and potentially radical idea, traversing and crossing between all kinds of fields and disciplines and regions.
We find ourselves having to tackle large architectural questions about the meaning of knowledge itself, at the same time as trying to understand very specific questions about say, gamma waves and treatment protocols. This constant telescoping process is a lot for anyone to cope with and can be rather dizzying. So if you’ve made it this far, well done. Just to make matters more complicated for you, I know that you’ve also been making an effort to follow the meditation labs in parallel with all this material. This means that you’re not only juggling different academic fields, and various specific interrogations within those fields, but you’re also trying to cope with working on yourself in a direct, experiential manner at the same time.
Now I’ve said this to you before, but I don’t think I can say it often enough. So I’ll say it again. You should not underestimate the energy and resources required to do all this. So you’re trying to be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
If you have forgotten things, you can go back and check them out again. If things don’t make sense to you, it’s quite likely that they also don’t make sense to other people. And it’s probably my fault for being unclear or muddle-headed, so my apologies. So perhaps take the opportunity to ask questions of your classmates, or to join in discussions. My most important advice in this course, in general, is simply that you can and should take your time. Be patient. There’s no quick fix or shortcut to the experiential knowledge for which you’re probably searching. As we’ve seen in this module, mindfulness isn’t a pill that you can take. It just takes practice, and patience, and some persistence.
One of the most important lessons from this module, for me at least, concerns the importance and value of our experiential knowledge when it comes to interpreting, understanding, and evaluating the theoretical and more abstract knowledge of scientific inquiry. Your experience of mindfulness matters. It really matters. And you shouldn’t let anyone else, no, not even me, tell you what your experience of mindfulness feels like. Indeed, as we’ve seen, exactly to the contrary. Scientists should be much more interested in asking you about your experiences than in telling you what they think you should feel. I know I want to know how you’re doing with all this. And I hope you’re keeping your practice journal.
Anyway, before we move on to the meditation labs for this module, let’s take a moment to skim back through the material we’ve covered so far. First, we considered the rise and rise of evidence-based scientific research into mindfulness, noting that this has done much to change the image of mindfulness in contemporary societies. In particular, we looked in some detail at the challenges of operationalizing mindfulness into a concept that could be useful and quantifiable for empirical science. We considered some of the ways in which scientists have indeed tried to measure it.
One of the intriguing things that emerged from this process was the way in which these kinds of pressures on mindfulness have resulted in the construction of a new category, which we have called construct mindfulness. It’s not immediately obvious or clear how this construct mindfulness relates to more traditional forms that we’ve find in say, Buddhism. But it’s also not clear that it really matters if construct mindfulness is different from say, the Buddhist idea of sati.
From these foundations we moved on to explore the ways in which mindfulness has been seen as useful and valuable in modern societies, especially in terms of its apparent therapeutic value, helping both clinical and healthy populations to deal with various forms of dis-ease. We looked in particular at the treatment protocols known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, MBSR, and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy or MBCT. There are many others that we could have looked at, but these are usually seen as the foundational programs. Indeed, as we’ve seen, the common principles of these interventions appear to establish the foundations of construct mindfulness itself. Finally, we asked some questions about other potential effects of these mindfulness based interventions.
Noting that the clinical language of construct mindfulness suggest possibilities of side effects, positive or negative. We saw that there’s an increasing interest in mindfulness and positive psychology, documenting ways in which mindfulness might enhance positive functioning. But we also saw that there’s concern about potentially negative experiences during, and as a consequence of, mindfulness practices. The possibility that mindfulness interventions might themselves be sources of dis-ease or even trauma lead us to consider issues of responsibility and ethical conduct of mindfulness teachers and therapists. In general, while clinical interventions are regulated and monitored, mindfulness courses for healthy populations are not. But we saw that the effective difference between these population groups is, at best, hazy and imprecise.
One of the instrumental reasons for the philosophical content of module three, to which we turn next, is precisely to provide coherent contexts, analyses, and responses to the questions of mindfulness practitioners, whose experiences demand more elaborated and articulated engagements than construct mindfulness might provide. In other words, when the tables are turned and it’s no longer the scientist asking the practitioner about his or her experiences in order to study them, but instead it’s the practitioner asking the scientist about the meaning of certain experiences in order to help them live with and benefit from them, what is the scientist going to say? When it comes to issues of metaphysical significance, spiritual meaning, and contemplation, we tend to turn to philosophers.
And that’s what we’ll be doing in our next module.

This has been a pretty challenging week of theory, along with new exercises to integrate into your personal practice.

If you have forgotten or are unclear on some things, please remember that you can go back and review them as necessary. And remember the importance and value of our experiential knowledge when it comes to interpreting, understanding, and evaluating the theoretical and more abstract knowledge of scientific inquiry.

Your experience of mindfulness matters.

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Demystifying Mindfulness

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