Sunday, 12 May 2013

The First International Conference on Mindfulness - the final day

Today was the final day of the conference and as with the others it has gone incredibly quickly. Yesterday I was feeling slightly out of place among so many quantitative researchers and wondering if I was in the right place, but now I hear Paul Grossman (missed him as Tim and I were having lunch together!) was suggesting that we need more qualitative research into mindfulness as it is not necessarily something you can measure, and what is the worth of the questionnaires (to put it bluntly)? I'm not decrying all research as I realise it is important to be able to show the efficacy of mindfulness and for some people they only appreciate it through quantifiable means, I'm just glad it's not me doing it!
One thing I have really appreciated form the conference is the acknowledgement of science and dharma  in the teaching of mindfulness, and that mindfulness cannot or should not be cut off from its source of the teachings of the Buddha. To emphasise this the conference began and ended with Buddhist monks speaking rather than scientists and I think this was a very good move. It has been suggested when Jon Kabat-Zinn started MBSR over 30 years ago it wouldn't have been taken seriously if it was rooted in buddhism, and also because he is from a  scientific background it was easy for him to present it in a way that appealed to scientists and researchers. But now it is established the aspect of Dharma as the foundation for mindfulness can be acknowledged, and also acknowledged that mindfulness is one aspect of the Eightfold path and to separate mindfulness from this context means to reduce it to 1/8th of its fullness.
So it was good to hear Ajahn Chandapalo (who apparently is originally a Yorkshireman!) use the word heartfulness without being aware Jon Kabat-Zinn had also used the same word. And Dario Doshin Girolami question what is mindfulness. When we speak of the present moment how small or large is that moment? Are we aware of the infinity of the present moment? He even recounted one of Thich Nhat Hanh's stories (yay!) about what do we see when we look at a table? Are we aware of the wood the table is made from, the sun and rain that helped the wood to grow, the person who chopped down the tree, the carpenter who created the table? How small or large is our awareness?
It has been a very full and diverse conference, demonstrating many areas into which mindfulness is making a difference and the aspects that have particularly appealed to me personally are in the realms of parents and children, university students and creating calmer classrooms. What is very obvious is that mindfulness has to be a holistic practice that enters into all aspects of life (this is what Thay has been teaching all these years). Or as Dario Doshin Girolami put it where does mindfulness begin and end?

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