Mindfulness Beyond the Hype

BL00 - Mindfulness Beyond the Hype

By Dr. Gus Castellanos, Guest Contributor

Earlier this year, I wrote about my concerns regarding the future of mindfulness. These centered around the decline in participation in MBPs, partly due to competition from tele-mental health services (covered by insurance) and psychedelics (quick fix) as alternatives; the emergence of inadequately trained teachers; the plethora of apps and asynchronous digital programs; the continued overpromotion and commodification; and the influence of AI.

What Comes after the Hype

Then there is the Hype Cycle—the initial wave of enthusiasm is waning (peak of inflated expectations), and we are in the trough of disillusionment. To this point, I recently heard that the mainstreaming of mindfulness starting a decade ago was mainly due to the positive news cycle in the mainstream and lay media. The 5–6 years of free, positive publicity have run their course and are no longer the case. Reporters are now more interested in reporting mindfulness's problems and adverse effects.

Additionally, while many have heard of mindfulness, most still have a misperception of what it is and what it can do for them. This helps explain the current challenges in maintaining interest and participation. Many people have not tried mindfulness or tried it in a way that was not best suited for them. A case in point is what I call the Young Men Meditation Affliction (YMMA). Often influenced by competitive environments and societal norms, young men may approach meditation with a strong goal-oriented mindset, aiming for specific achievements and attainments. However, this can lead to frustration and feelings of failure, as it conflicts with the non-striving nature of meditation. Coupled with their tendency to "power through" and try harder, it can result in burnout and serious adverse effects.

However, the fact that many have heard of mindfulness but have not tried it or had unwanted experiences presents an opportunity, suggesting a large segment of the population is willing to try mindfulness if it's tailored to their needs. Essentially, meeting them where they are at and adapting to their current situation and preferences rather than sticking strictly to a set program or curriculum, even if these are evidence-based. To this end, I recently heard Rebecca Crane of Bangor University talk about the creative efforts to bring mindfulness to people in ways that resonate with their unique circumstances. Specifically, they are adapting their teacher training programs to support diversifying how to deliver mindfulness in ways that are relevant to the world today. When individuals have the skills to comprehend and apply mindfulness, they can effectively integrate it meaningfully into their lives in their specific context.

To this end, there is a move toward emphasizing process rather than curriculum. This shift will allow more people to take the 'first steps' according to their circumstances, so the practice will be most effective at that time. But this shift must proceed cautiously since adapting mindfulness to fit some perceived sense of what's needed must be done without losing its transformational potential.

The Evolving Practice: Mindfulness in the Modern World

Mindfulness has been around for millennia. This once niche and somewhat obscure practice has woven its way into all aspects of our society and the fabric of our everyday lives. In this regard, I heard something surprising: mindfulness is being brought to Capitol Hill. This has been in place in the UK's Parliament for years, effectively getting parliamentarians "to disagree better." What happens in Washington, DC, remains to be seen.

Thankfully, mindfulness is not static but an evolving practice. It can be and is being adapted to the changing times and social and environmental contexts. Expanding mindfulness beyond personal well-being to societal benefits can influence larger societal concerns by addressing the systemic causes and social determinants of health, stress, and injustice. With these 'bigger than self' concerns, there's a growing understanding and acceptance that inner work must translate into outer engagement and action. This more social-relational mindfulness can facilitate the inner personal transformation needed to compassionately reconnect to ourselves, each other, and the natural world in ways that foster prosocial behavior change. The inner work and outer work are inseparable.

Perhaps then, we can reduce the worsening polarization affecting all of us—not to change each other's views, opinions, or ideologies but to reduce the affective/emotional polarization responsible for the finger-pointing and finger-giving that triggers so much hate, disgust, and fear. It's a fascinating time for mindfulness, with opportunities for growth, learning, and transformation. The world is changing. We are changing. And the pace of change is accelerating. Still, the future of mindfulness is one of balance—between maintaining its core essence and adapting to the changing needs of society and the planet. As we navigate the changes, it's essential to stay grounded in the foundational principles of mindfulness while being open to new possibilities and directions. In its truest sense, mindfulness is a journey of continuous discovery as we engage with the practice through who we are, how we engage with the world, and how we engage with the people in front of us.

Looking Ahead

I am hopeful and inspired (OptiMystic) about mindfulness in 2024. I feel AI will be a net positive for mindfulness, at least in the near future. The 'trough of disillusionment' of The Hype Cycle that we may be in will soon be followed by the 'slope of enlightenment' and 'plateau of productivity.' The growing adaptations of mindfulness and MBPs will open mindfulness's healing and transformative power to be more diverse in scope and more inclusive of currently underserved populations.

Mindfulness is enduring and evolving despite the challenges, with a community of dedicated practitioners, teachers, researchers, advocates, and supporters driving its persistence. It will take all of us to meet and solve the problems we face. We need all hearts on deck and all feet on the ground… remember, it's not only what kind of world we're leaving for our children but also what kind of children we're leaving for our world.

Gus Castellanos, MD is a graduate of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He practiced Neurology and Sleep Medicine for 25 years and is now a full-time mindfulness-based program teacher and researcher who is certified to teach MBSR by the University of Massachusetts Center For Mindfulness. Gus is an adjunct instructor at Nova Southeastern University where he developed, delivered and researched a mindfulness-based program for their students, staff, and faculty.

Gus is a Mindful Leader MBSR Instructor. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes.

3 comments

Piero
 

Thanks, Gus, for this assessment and for showing us a clearer picture of where we are. I had some aha moments reading your essay. Thank you.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Michael Davis
 

Thanks for this thoughtful article, Gus. I appreciate the concerns and the positive reflections on how we move forward with mindfulness. 

This comment, in particular, caught my attention: 

A case in point is what I call the Young Men Meditation Affliction (YMMA). Often influenced by competitive environments and societal norms, young men may approach meditation with a strong goal-oriented mindset, aiming for specific achievements and attainments. However, this can lead to frustration and feelings of failure, as it conflicts with the non-striving nature of meditation. Coupled with their tendency to "power through" and try harder, it can result in burnout and serious adverse effects. 

I believe this statement highlights the tendency to demonstrate the value of mindfulness by highlighting performance and celebrity. Celebrities and peak athletes who practice mindfulness are often featured prominently in magazines or conference advertisements. As you wrote about the young men, I believe it's true for most of us: if we think something might give us an edge to perform better, be liked more, succeed, or be noticed, of course, we will try it. This is at the core of the commodification you speak of. If we steal enough attention, we succeed.

We often deride the news media for it's If it bleeds, it leads mentality. Similarly, I am concerned that those who market mindfulness for magazines and conferences hype celebrity and peak performers. If you DO mindfulness, you too can be like fill-in-the-blank. Are these practices a form of stealing attention (and, perhaps, hope)?

Many of us are tired of celebrity and peak performance. We are just trying to get through the day with our attention and love intact. 

You speak of future adaptations. I hope one of those adaptations is careful consideration of how we ethically engage attention in the mindfulness sphere.  

Thank you for making me think!

Mike 



Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Maria
 

This recent paper offers thoughtful ideas regarding mindfulness and its implementation in diverse settings: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-024-02343-4

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

Leave a comment