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Summary of week 3 Theory

In this video Prof Chris Goto-Jones summarizes the module on philosophy and mindfulness.
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So I had originally thought that Module Two was going to be tough for you but I guess that was before we tried to get through Module Three. And I know I congratulated you at the end of the last module for having made it that far, but well, if you’re still here now you are doing extremely well indeed. One of our big challenges in this module, one of many, I suspect, has been to try to wrap our heads around how an apparently simple practice.
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That we managed to operationalize into just a couple of lines of description in Module Two can suddenly mushroom into complex, philosophical contestation and debate about the nature of reality, the meaning of experience, the integrity of human emotion and will. The dimensions of morality and ethical conduct, the essence of consciousness and selfhood, and so on. Isn’t this just about sitting quietly with our eyes closed and breathing? Not only have we dashed through dozens of the most intractable problems of philosophy, but we’ve also taken some massive leaps through time and space to consider positions on all of these questions in ancient India, in China, in Japan, in Greece, and even in modern America.
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As though that were not enough, this magical mystery ride around world philosophy has also forced us to confront a whole series of questions in the theory and method of history itself. We’ve tried to juggle at least two approaches to this at once, the first being the historian’s ambition to provide a coherent and believable story about the development of ideas and practices that would have been recognizable to the characters in that story. And the second being the pragmatists, or perhaps even the therapist’s ambition to treat all those different stories as a giant melting pot of resources to be mobilized in the quest to solve specific problems in the present day.
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In more concrete terms, should the story of mindfulness today be the story of the emergence and development of Sati in India, and then the account of how it got screwed up as it traveled around the world and interacted with other ideas and practices from other traditions and places. Or should the story of mindfulness today be that of a newly emergent transnational construct that continues to draw on spiritual, psychological, and philosophical traditions from around the world whenever they seem useful. In the context of all these moving parts, some of which are rather tectonic in nature, you might be forgiven for feeling more than a little dizzy. And it’s certainly been messing with my mind for quite some time.
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So it’s important for you to know that our purpose in this module hasn’t been to master all the philosophy ever conceived anywhere. As well as all the different ways in which we might interpret, reconstruct, or narrate these philosophies. And if you’ve been trying to accomplish that then there’s a good chance that you might have gone insane this week. So instead, our purpose has been to explore some of the ways in which some different people at different times have attempted to understand something that feels a bit like mindfulness. The ultimate goal here is not only about having some understanding of their various positions and ideas, although I hope that’s useful, too.
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But also, and perhaps more importantly, it’s about making sure that you’re exposed to the unequivocal fact of disagreement, debate, development, and exploration in the idea and practice of something like mindfulness. Just like you perhaps, all of the thinkers we’ve encountered began with a personal experience that they felt compelled to explore and explain, probably just to themselves at first, and then later to others around them. For many of them, it felt like an experience that the conventional wisdom of their society could not adequately explain, it felt deeply personal, but also grandly universal, all at once. It felt like something that was about everyone, and that everyone could and perhaps, even should be able to experience for themselves.
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Without exception, all of the thinkers we’ve considered emphasized the importance of practice, as an essential element of philosophy and experience as an essential element of knowledge. They emphasize the importance of and cultivation of our independence and autonomy as thinkers and as explorers. So, one of the lessons we should learn from this in this course is about the connection between mindfulness and the value of subjective knowledge. This means, amongst other things, that your mindfulness adventure is your adventure. It’s not mine. It’s not William James’. It’s not even Buddha’s. And you can construct its meaning for yourself as you explore the terrain more and more fully.
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In fact, this is a really good way to view the scholarly purpose of our meditation labs and your personal mindfulness practice which I really hope is going well for you. You’re investigating and experimenting and collecting your own subjective data which is also a process of thinking and practicing philosophical reflection on mindfulness and on yourself. So if you take nothing else away from this module, even if all the philosophical insights into attention and awareness and discipline and consciousness fade from your mind as soon as you finish the sessions, if you take nothing else away, take this.
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Your mindfulness journey is your own and the more sincere the effort you put into it, the more revelatory will be your findings as you move along.
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Now as we push ahead in this course together, we move next into Module Four, in which we are going to consider some of the social and political questions provoked by mindfulness. Perhaps most central to the next module is a simple descriptive question and then a very complicated normative one. When we talk about the emergence of a mindful society, what do we imagine such a society will look like? And given what we can imagine, would you really want to live in that society?

This week our purpose has been to explore some of the ways in which different people at different times have attempted to understand something akin to mindfulness.

This has been another week complex theories and philosophical concepts. Once again I encourage you to go over any parts of this week’s materials that are giving you trouble. At the same time, it’s important for you to know that our purpose this week hasn’t been to master all the philosophy ever conceived anywhere. That is probably more than a lifetime’s work.

And remember that your mindfulness journey is your own and the more sincere the effort you put into it, the more revelatory will be your findings as you move along.

Leiden University

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Demystifying Mindfulness

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