Recently, I led a one-day refresher retreat with a small group of participants from a previous MBSAT course in Zurich. We were fortunate to conduct the retreat in the city’s Zunfthaus zur Waag, built in 1315 and one of only 12 guild houses from the Middle Ages that is still operational.We were equally as lucky to practice Mindful Walking at the Fraumünster Church’s cloister dating back to circa 853. This church is one the city’s highlights, featuring five large stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in its choir and a 9-meter stained-glass window by Augusto Giacometti.
One day isn’t obviously enough to answer every question at a retreat, especially since the spirit of this gathering lied in deepening practices. Thus, it is more an experience-oriented exercise as opposed to an intellectual fact-finding mission. However, I did want to expand on a few pressing questions that will be answered in a series of posts to be posted on the MBSAT blog over the next several weeks. These questions include:
Why is mindfulness so popular now? Does it work and how? What could be the motivation for people to engage with mindfulness? Are there different approaches to mindfulness?
This post blog will focus on the first question.
Why is mindfulness so popular now?
It is widely recognized we are living in a period of disruption as we move into a third phase of the industrialization process— one in which human labor is being replaced by intelligent machines (artificial intelligence). Despite the good intentions of some politicians to revitalize the workforce, most companies independently of where they are located will need to automate their business processes if they want to remain viable, resulting in reduced human labor participation in countries’ socio-economic matrices. In other words, people are losing and will continue to lose jobs without alternative work prospects in the future. Therefore, most people in the industrialized world and in emerging economies are overpowered by anxieties.
Ancient India, during the times of the Buddha, also went through a period of socio-economic upheaval. Historical documents suggest that at the time 16 small, traditional Indian states consolidated into four larger agrarian states, increasing the need for new organizational and management methods to deal with the newly formed states. This surely made average Indians’ levels of anxiety and concerns about the future skyrocket. It was within this context that the Buddha presented his Noble Eightfold Path, which starts with the “right view,” an understanding of the human condition and its needs. He thought this philosophy could help people of all social strata cope with the changing socio-economic landscape. His program of human development included the key element of Sati, translated from the Pali language as mindfulness. His teachings imply that when people have mindfulness and wisdom about how to conduct their lives, they are better able to cope with the challenges. What is revolutionary about this ancient strategy then and today is the focus on the individual. When people are given tools for introspection, they can discover more skillful and healthy ways to lead their personal life paths, thus improving the human condition universally.
So, to answer the question about the current popularity of mindfulness: when times are uncertain, people begin to search and question. Our current global socio-economic condition presents, once again, fertile ground for mindfulness to serve as a key strategy that can help individuals cope with the toll of contemporary disruption on people’s lives.