Image courtesy of Juha Hämäläinen


Kristina Eichel (Brown University) & Hana Sysalova (Univesrity of Warwick):

Critique on Measurements of “trait” Mindfulness

The construct of mindfulness in the current research is insufficiently operationalised. It is necessary to use multimodal approaches and to have a critical discourse on the usage of self-reports and neuroscientific methods.
This talk will be predominantly focused on issues with questionnaires of trait mindfulness. The issues will be presented by a practical exercise as well as theoretical and methodological discussion.
Self-reports measuring trait mindfulness represent a popular way in collecting research evidence on the effects of mindfulness. However the usage of self-reports to measure trait mindfulness is highly problematic. Grossmann (2008) offers some critique applicable to all current questionnaires of trait mindfulness. For instance, the meaning of the construct is not consistently defined among experts resulting in different questionnaires not measuring the same construct of mindfulness. Further the semantic understanding of questionnaire items might vary with the amount of mindfulness practice. Additionally, there could a discrepancy between self-assessment and the actual level of mindfulness in people (e.g., Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). These and other issues will be discussed on a general level, applicable to all trait mindfulness self-reports, as well as concretely on the MAAS scale (Brown & Ryan, 2003), the most commonly used trait mindfulness questionnaire.
Additionally, possible difficulties with using neuroscientific methods to measure mindfulness will be mentioned. The reasons for these issues and how they relate to up to date general neuroscientific insights will be provided.


David Forbes (CUNY Graduate Center)


Mindfulness programs in education proceed with little awareness of the cultural, social, political, and developmental context in which they operate.  I argue that a prophetic social critique is a valuable practice and can be useful toward developing more socially just and inclusive mindfulness education programs.  How mindfulness is practiced in American public schools is problematic to the extent it shares qualities of McMindfulness and reinforces neoliberal ideologies, policies, and practices. Without this critical awareness of contexts programs tend to promote individualistic solutions to social problems and inequities and thereby serve to maintain the status quo of social injustice. I propose an Integral model that includes different modes of mindfulness and that serves to correct the over-emphasis on individualist mindfulness.  I employ concepts from Integral Meta-theory with an emphasis on cultural meanings, optimal human development, and universal social justice. The model offers directions toward a critical integral contemplative education that promotes optimal individual, interpersonal, and social development in all modes.


Pessi Lyyra (University of Tampere, HIP-laboratory)

Different forms of self-awareness or self-observation lie at the heart of meditational practices. In addition to bodily self-awareness, a meditator needs to be aware of his own mind. To explain how this ”psychological self-awareness” is possible and what meditation really is about, it is crucial to explicate these psychological capabilities. Unlike with bodily self-awareness, however, psychological theories of the ability to observe one’s own mind are scarce, and this ability is largely taken for granted. Interestingly, these psychological capacities have recently been extensively discussed in the current philosophy of mind. Basic philosophical models of this capacity are introduced: the inner sense theory and the higher-order thought theory. Conceptual problems of these theories are discussed, and the theories are complemented in light of recent advances in relevant areas of psychological research.

Marianne Viftrup Hedegaard

Mindful employees and ethical corporations: studying mindfulness practices in the Danish working life

The global spread of mindfulness, not only among a general public but also among corporations, attests to the conceived benefits of Buddhist practices within various spheres – both public and private. In a Danish context, mindfulness is being promoted in corporate settings alongside yoga and other ‘spiritual techniques’ as a tool or technology to develop full personal potential, a ‘fit’ mind and resilience. Self-proclaimed ‘Buddhist businessmen’ are promoting holistic approaches like ‘company karma’ that speaks to both consumers and employees, expressing the idea that Buddhist-related services will benefit business in both a more ethical and profitable way. While many scholars have emphasised the possible benefits related to mindfulness practices, other have pointed to the pitfalls of using mindfulness as a management technology in the hands of corporations that seek to maximize profit (Purser 2013; Heelas 2008; Carrette & King 2005).

In this paper, I will discuss some preliminary observations regarding the intertwining of management and mindfulness in the daily business life in Denmark, focusing on the experiences and meanings attributed to practices of mindfulness. I am particularly interested in discussing methodological challenges of studying the embodied experience of employees working with, and being worked on, through mindfulness practices. The paper will be based upon research currently being undertaken as part of my ph.d.-research on secularized Buddhist practices and value creation in the corporate world (starting March 2016) as part of the international, collaborative research project Buddhism, Business and Believers at the University of Copenhagen.


Teemu Kangas

‘Meditation in Society: Western Artists’ Experiences’

The lecture concentrates in the practice of artists from different medias. Among them are such artists as performance artist Marina Abramović, a composer and visual artist John Cage and painters Agnes Martin and Henry Wuorila-Stenberg. The practices of most of these artist can rather be described as art driven inquires, than systematic utilizations of the practices of a certain Buddhist school. The artists in question have usually individually interpreted contemplative practices and the philosophy behind them, and by doing so, remained one foot firmly anchored in an individual artists creative freedom. In this sense their approach resembles the way how mindfulness based methods are nowadays positioned in relation to their religious origins. The lecture also problematizes the relationship of contemplative art practices that contemporary artists have individually constructed with their origins; namely the difference of aims and motivations in how contemplative practices are used in spiritual traditions, compared to the aims in arts and in the secularized consumerist society at large.


Timo Klemola (University of Tampere)

On bodymindfulness

We have gotten used to talk about ”mindfulness” when we refer to practices like sitting on a cushion and concentrating on breathing, paying attention on sense contents, doing yoga or asahi exercises etc. All these are bodily exercises, where we do not so much seek the fullness of our mind but rather ending the separateness of body and mind. We should rather talk about the practices of integrity of body and mind resulting in an experience what we can call “bodymind”. I think that our dualistic tradition penetrating also our language and thinking, makes it difficult to understand the bodymind practices. We are not talking exclusively about mental or cognitive processes here. Quite vice versa. In bodymind practices what we do is, that we try to replace conceptual processes with nonconceptual experience, that is bodily experience, to understand better, how our conceptual world arises. In practice we offer ourselves a new context, the context of bodily experience, to see more clearly, how our preconceptions arise. In my paper I try to describe some of the core processes of bodymind practices drawing from the philosophy of embodiment.


Ilmari Kortelainen (University of Tampere):

Bodily Knowledge of Mindfulness in Techno-culture


How is somatic self-knowledge mediated in the mindfulness movement? What new meanings do bodily processes such as “being present” gain when tied to technological cultures? The social theoretical discussion in recent mindfulness-studies literature seldom considers somatic experience in social contexts. Still, the bodily experience is the most concrete location of the various forms of empowerment or active self-governance of meditative experience.

The phenomenological concept of body intentionality addresses our bodily sensing and self‑understanding as a relational experience with space and the world around us. The argument, drawing on recent body-phenomenology theory, is that both the mindfulness trainers and participants in the training form bodily knowledge and affects playing the same kind of epistemic role that concepts have in propositional knowledge. Utilizing recent affect studies, the paper takes the argument further and offers this question: How does the knowledge production in somatic processes, when coupled with the new information economy and new information channels, imply subtle forms of body-governance that reach “under the skin”?

The paper analyzes the various ways of producing knowledge seen in MBI training in professional education and training in the ICT field. The hypothesis is tested through data from mindfulness‑based intervention (MBI) training Web sites, and two sets of training-video material from Jon Kabat-Zinn leading a session on mindfulness at Google in 2007. While MBI training often stresses abilities of being mentally fit in connection with digital measurement, the author counter-reads the multiple meanings of “self-observation” through workplace roles appearing in the mindfulness classes.


Ronald E. Purser, Ph.D. (San Francisco State University):

Beyond Neoliberal Mindfulness: Towards a Critical-Contemplative Studies Agenda

Since the McMindfulness critique first appeared in July 2013 there have been an increasing number of scholars from the humanities and social sciences that have turned their attention to the modern discourses of mindfulness, critically examining  how mindfulness as a “self-care” practice is contextualized within the Western frames of corporate capitalism and neoliberalism. These scholars began asking critical questions such as: What is mindfulness for?  Are mindfulness-based interventions limited to a palliative for individual stress relief and mental hygiene, or can mindfulness programs develop in ways that call into question deeply rooted cultural assumptions which have been the source of so much misery, injustice and unnecessary suffering in the modern Western world? Or is mindfulness being used to accommodate to those cultural assumptions? What is the relation between the efficacy of mindfulness practice and the contexts that inform its pedagogical goals and applications?  Is mindfulness practice (or any meditative discipline) the main reductive ingredient that can function as a neutral tool or technique independent of its context?

As the McMindfulness critique continues to evolve, new explorations are beginning to examine how mindfulness programs are governed by the self-governing logic of neoliberalism—the myth that individuals are simply free to choose either stress or wellness, misery or happiness. Under late capitalism, the logics of governmentality are imbued with this moral rhetoric of free choice and are geared towards self-optimizing, consumerist and entrepreneurial ends. Mindfulness is sold, taught and presented as a do-it-yourself (DIY) practice for self-improvement.

One of the main, broader questions is how did Buddhist soteriology with its integrated path of mental cultivation and spiritual development which aimed to transform the delusion of a permanent and independent self and foster dissatisfaction towards mundane worldly pursuits, and which began in the West as a beat generation-hippie counter-cultural, anti-establishment, anti-materialist movement morph into a therapeutic, medicalized, and instrumentalized self-help technique for pursuing practical and material benefits, as well as becoming a technology for the formation of an entrepreneurial self.

One precursor to such a transformation is the view that mindfulness is a universal, ahistorical and value-neutral practice, stripped of its religious trappings and validated by science. The perennial philosophy underlying such claims that MBSR and other MBIs are extracting the essence of Buddhist meditation and amount to the “universal dharma” are often used to deflect critique of the ideological applications of mindfulness practices in corporations, public schools and the military. Moreover, this secular framing of mindfulness as an individualized, privatized and interiorized mode of practice ignores or downplays the contextual factors and “social imaginaries” that are constitutive of the meaning, purpose and aims of these practices (McMahan, 2008; 2015). This decontextualized framing of modern mindfulness has in turn delimited the discourse and research to primarily viewing mindfulness as a stand-alone practice seen in terms of internal mental-brain states measurable through biomedical ‘psy-disciplines’ and third-person objective methods such as neuroscientific fMRI studies.

This presentation will critically examine why this major claim of universality is so essential to the propagation of secular, contemporary mindfulness and how it functions as a discursive mechanism to deflect, dismiss and avoid serious interrogation and critique. By reframing contemporary mindfulness as both a social and embodied practice situated within particular historical, cultural and economic contexts, we can begin to understand why context matters, and how contextual factors are constitutive of contemplative practices in terms of their transformative potential. In addition, this presentation will reframe contemporary mindfulness as contingent on a number of under-theorized presuppositions of the embodiment of mind in its relation to space, time and knowledge.

Antti Saari (University of Tampere):

Emotionalities of rule in pedagogical mindfulness literature

Since the turn of the millennium, mindfulness literature has penetrated various areas of governing health, well-being, and happiness. One recent sub-genre of such literature is mindful teaching. The article situates mindful teaching on the matrix of practices and discourses of the neuroscience of emotions and positive psychology. These comprise technologies of the self that inculcate a responsible, autonomous subject who controls her own emotions and is present, authentic and available in her teaching. The presentation uses the concept of the fold to analyse how these discourses aid in constituting a notion of a private sphere of subjective autonomy in education while at the same time making subjectivity an area of governmental intervention in neoliberal rule.

Suvi Salmenniemi (University of Turku):

Gender and therapeutic technologies

This paper explores the various dimensions and understandings of politics articulated and practiced in therapeutic technologies. By therapeutic technologies I mean an assemblage of psychological and spiritual/religious systems of knowledge and practices with which one can act upon and transform one’s relationship to oneself and the social world. The paper draws on extensive multi-sited ethnographic research conducted in Finland and Russia during 2009-2015, covering bestselling self-help books, interviews with users and practitioners of therapeutic services (e.g. self-management classes, empowerment seminars, complementary and alternative healing, life coaching etc.) and participant observation in a range of therapeutic events. The paper traces the processes of depoliticization and politicization in therapeutic engagements. Previous scholarship has suggested that therapeutic knowledges and practices depoliticise by promoting individualism, diminishing commitment to social institutions, and encouraging withdrawal from collective struggles. The paper suggests that something more complex is afoot. Although therapeutic technologies do depoliticize, and the paper traces the ways in which this happens, I will also show how therapeutic technologies may serve as sites of political critique and promote political agency.

Steven Stanley (Cardiff University):
Mindfulness: Toward a Critical Psychology

In the past thirty years, the Global North has witnessed the growth of a therapeutic ‘mindfulness movement’ of professional practitioners, notably in psychosomatic medicine (US) and clinical psychology (UK). Alongside this movement, a supporting ‘field’ of academic research and scholarship has emerged, largely dominated by psy-disciplines and cognitive neuroscience. In this paper, I develop a critical psychological perspective toward mindfulness. I begin by briefly mapping the growing multi-disciplinary literature of social science research and humanities scholarship on mindfulness in terms of theme and empirical approach. I specifically consider theoretical claims of the psychologisation and medicalisation of Buddhist practices; religious studies scholarship on Buddhist modernism or ‘Protestant Buddhism’; and textual studies of modern therapeutic cultures of self-help and self-care. I then provide an integrated historical and interactional analysis of the subjectivity produced within standardised courses of mindfulness: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Influenced by revisionist histories of psychology and discursive psychology, I consider mindfulness not only as a psychological category, but as an affective-discursive practice which crucially emphasises embodiment. I analyse the specific embodied orientations found in the interactions between mindfulness teachers and the participants of mindfulness courses. In interactional sequences known as ‘inquiry’, the use of optic metaphors of ‘seeing’ the mind clearly are part of a broader conceptual vocabulary in which the body-mind becomes a portable scientific laboratory. I trace some of the historical precursors to mindful bodies and inquiry sequences, arguing that the institutional organisation of mindfulness courses is central to their socio-cultural portability. While the mindful individual that is produced within mindfulness courses is constructed as a ‘universal’ human subject, this subject is historically specific and contingent. Potential challenges to this universality are highlighted.

Dr Catherine Wikholm (National Health Service, UK):
The Variety of Meditative Experiences: psychological effects we might not expect
Meditation as a psychological aid is very much in fashion – in particular Mindfulness, which is frequently sold as a technique that will have lots of positive effects (and only positive effects). What was once a tool for spiritual exploration has been turned into a panacea for the modern age – a cure-all for common human problems such as stress, depression and anxiety. The common belief is that by taking this ‘natural pill’ every day, we open ourselves up to the potential for myriad benefits and no ill-effects (unlike synthetic pills, such as antidepressants, whose potential for negative side-effects we are all aware of). Yet this is not always the case. In this talk I will discuss that which is often overlooked in the literature – the difficult experiences and adverse psychological effects that can occur during or after meditation, highlighting the role of individual differences and the need for further research.


Professor John R. Williams (Yale University):

Being Here Now and the End of Time

This presentation addresses a fundamental crisis in twentieth-century global temporality: the postindustrial desire to make time irrelevant. Computer networks promised to “zero out” the intervals between sending and receiving, buying and selling, searching and knowing, the past and the future. This digital propensity to collapse all time into an eternal corporate present (what I refer to as “World Presentness”) found its ideological counterpart in the transcendental injunction to “be here now,” which a new priesthood of psychedelic visionaries promoted as the essence of Eastern mindfulness. Indeed, the popularization of contemplative practice in corporate culture was not, I argue, the antithesis of the punishing expectation of continuous productivity but its spiritualized double. When Jiddu Krishnamurti, the global face of the theosophical tradition, suggested in a conversation with theoretical physicist David Bohm that we must “cleanse the mind of the accumulation of time,” his message was received as eagerly by the corporate gurus of Silicon Valley as by devotees of Eastern mysticism–and they were, quite often, the very same people. In exploring the interdependence of orientalist sensibilities and the ostensibly secular commitments of modern corporations, this paper works to demystify the self-mythologized origins of a network culture whose insistence on absolute presence and unlimited futurity too often functions as a denial of historical consciousness.




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