At this point I will come clean. I am one of a group of people working with three universities (Oxford, Exeter and Bangor) to support the all-party group. What interests us – academics, journalists, mindfulness teachers – is the potential for public policy. What role could mindfulness play in schools, in the NHS or in the criminal justice system?
But let’s start with definitions, which are notoriously difficult with this phenomenon. What exactly is mindfulness? Because it has precious little to do with the pretty women sitting on beaches with their eyes closed who are usually used to illustrate articles on the subject. The only way to explain is to suggest you try. Right now. Close your eyes and bring your attention into your body, to the sensation of your feet on the ground; the movements of your breath, the expansion of your rib cage. Stay with these tiny physical sensations. Patiently. Without getting cross with yourself for getting distracted. Try it for two minutes.
Unfamiliar? It is, because our minds spin with thought, and we are absent to much of our physical experience. But bringing the attention back to the most basic and essential part of living – the breath – we can slowly bring an awareness of the obsessive thought patterns and the instant reactions which on reflection we so often realise were unhelpful or even destructive.
That’s what this is: prayer. Exactly the purpose of, say, saying the rosary. To concentrate the mind on the self.
Why not just call it what it is and go off and talk to some of eh experts in it? You know, the contemplative orders?