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Mindfulness is defined by that source of truth, Wikipedia, thus: “In this (Buddhist) context mindfulness is defined as moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by “acceptance” – attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong. Mindfulness focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment, instead of on its normal rumination on the past or on the future.

In essence then, and to be extremely simplistic, mindfulness is chillin’ and living in the moment. It is escape from the influence of ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ that clutter our mind in the moment. It is removal of the spirit from having to deal with the interference of ‘life’. In that sense, it can be a valuable tool in dealing with said clutter.

But I find ‘Mindfulness’ to be exceptionally annoying for two reasons.

The first one is because at any one time, in WH Smith (a UK bookseller) on their Personal Development shelf you will find up to 26 different titles on the subject. I once joked that I was going to write a Mindfulness book but everyone else already had! Some of the titles are even quite amusing:

‘Mindfulness at Work’ – no doubt your employer likes you to NOT be working when he or she is paying you?

‘Mindfulness in a Minute’ – if you’re in that much of a hurry you can’t afford to switch off, surely?

‘Mindfulness for Dummies’ – least said about that…..

There is even a publishing sector creating COLOURING BOOKS, adding ‘Mindfulness’ to the cover and adding £6 to the price. Talk about the Emperor’s new Clothes!

But the things that really concern me about ‘Mindfulness’ is its almost cult-like promotion, to the degree that it is being touted as if it’s the answer to all ills and behavioral challenges.

Mindfulness has its place, without question. But it is an incomplete paradigm, dealing only with escape from, rather than dealing with life. Instead of letting people understand that seeking meaning and passion in what you are or are going to do with your life is desirable, it implies that the answer is, instead, removal from reality. Which is almost a nonsense because the minute you ‘wake up’ reality is still there, and always will be.

Many respected, esteemed and dare I say intellectually backed authors agree – the answer to stress and challenge is not removal from life, but discovery of meaning. Frankl, Covey, Kouzes, Sinek et al all repeat the same discovery, that of facilitators and researchers from time immemorial – that meaning and service will always outweigh challenge and defeat (di)stress.

I am honoured to be able to provide Seven Habits-style training to schools and I believe this, not Mindfulness, is a better solution. It covers training such as how we see things influences how we respond, so seeing differently is an answer. It covers proactivity, where we address how our responses to stimuli can be our choice, not just a reaction. It covers discovery of a life’s purpose/mission and plan, then how to make that happen. It covers interpersonal relationships, leadership, and self-renewal. It is a complete package. (But I freely accept that it may not be the only one.) Mindfulness has its place in that ‘suite’, but it is not a whole solution by any means.

So I ask people: it’s all very well having a screwdriver but that won’t undo the wheel-nuts. Mindfulness is one tool, with a valuable purpose. But wouldn’t you benefit more from a fuller toolbox, instead?

If you’re going to pay for training, make sure it isn’t narrowly focused on one thing – which is arguably nothing – when discovery of meaning, and a plan to realise that meaning, is a holistic solution.

David Palmer is a Facilitation Partner with The Learning and Development Academy, which provides leadership training to students, schools and charities while simultaneously earning income for Caritas Anchor House, a charity providing accommodation AND leadership training to the homeless in London (www.caritasanchorhouse.org.uk ). If you would like to know more about the training they provide for schools, charities and leadership teams, please contact David on 07531 177201.

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