Only Agenda-Less Mindfulness Works - JKZ
"Mindfulness only works when it's agenda-less. Mindfulness is a way of being, not a collection of techniques" Jon Kabat-Zinn reiterates.
The huge potential of Mindfulness to improve individual and organisational well-being is threatened by its misunderstanding. The 'McMindfulness' hype, as Kabat-Zinn puts it, seems to permeate because of agenda.
Jason Gonzalez with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Nobel Laureate and Father of Modern Mindfulness
Why Agenda and Mindfulness Don't Mix
Having an agenda is tantamount to having goals, targets or any type of 'end' state that requires a dualistic mindset. There's a before and after, something that is achieved.
However, mindfulness is not dualistic. It's interested not in the past nor in the future but in the present moment-to-moment experience. It is a way of being, not a means to an end.
The practice of meditation, therefore, isn't a technique to get positive feelings. It is not a practice for 'emptying the mind,' especially because that's impossible to do. JKZ even says that "mindfulness has nothing to do with positive psychology," if positive psychology has the goal to make you feel happier after an experience. Mindfulness is about allowing your experience to be what it actually is. And although positive psychology and the science of happiness are very much interested in mindfulness, mindfulness is not at all about making people feel more relaxed or calm right after a meditation. Relaxation or a feeling of calm may happen or it may not. That's why in genuinely practising mindfulness, we are invited to let go of expectations.
Latching On Mindfulness Benefits Can Be Confusing
A lot of individuals and organisations are understandably interested in what Mindfulness can do for them. That's alright. As the body of science exponentially grows, more and more people get curious about how mindfulness can actually reduce stress, anxiety and the relapse of chronic depression. More and more organisations become interested in how mindfulness can decrease costs related to absenteeism, presenteeism and poor focus at work. Agenda like these are fine at the beginning when mindfulness training hasn't begun yet.
However, the understanding of mindfulness must immediately be clarified on the onset of teaching. You'll know if you are being taught right if the mindfulness teacher makes it very clear that the focus must be on the 'quality of attention,' not on the object of attention nor what you want to achieve. You'll get a clue if your mindfulness teacher really knows mindfulness if she invites the class to 'let go' of the human tendency to want things to be a certain way, or to have goals (e.g., reduction in stress, anxiety, etc.)
Perhaps Challenging to HR and L&D Evaluation
It might pose a challenge for your regular HR or Learning & Development (L&D) department to understand mindfulness. That's because L&D models of learning are gap-based, i.e., dualistic and concerned always with the before-and-after. If there's a skills gap, HR will intervene to close that gap. If there's a knowledge gap, training will happen. They are normally results-based and in effect, dualistic and agenda-driven.
To paraphrase Kirkpatrick's four levels of evaluating learning, usual HR/L&D measures programmes based on questions such:
Did they like it? (smiley sheet)
Did they learn it? (test of skills and knowledge immediately after learning intervention)
Did they use it? (assessment of use at work)
Did it give ROI? (cost reduction, revenue increase or efficiency)
This gap-based evaluation methodology, hard as it may seem, must be let go when it comes to mindfulness programmes.
Measuring the Agenda-Less Mindfulness
Scientists say that the trend in measuring the effectiveness in mindfulness is toward the use of more fMRI's and randomised control trials to come up with peer-reviewed research. This allows for more objective and hype-less measurement. You can argue that it's still agenda-driven, and I can totally understand that. It can be really confusing for the mindfulness novice or the mindfulness course commissioner. This is why longer-term studies are great--because the immediate cause-and-effect dualistic view is dissolved by time.
What to Do Now?
My simple take on this is that if you're a course commissioner--HR, L&D or management--it's fine to keep in mind your return-on-investment. However, once you become a learner, it's better to let go of any ROI, expectation or agenda. Instead of having goals, formulate 'intentions.' Intentions are not results to be achieved. They are more connected to 'process' and 'purpose' than to your regular SMART goal(s). Having intentions make you become agenda-less and ready to learn--not techniques--but a "way of being."