History of mindfulness

All contemplative traditions, irrespective of traditional persuasion and spiritual orientation, promote mindful presence.

Contemplation by its very nature invites us to be sensitive to and aware of our surroundings and our world. It encourages an expansive, spacious awareness of whatever arises. Mindfulness thus spans spiritual traditions, sectors and cultures and crosses many divides.

It emphasises the common experience of what it is to be human. It facilitates an awareness of our inter-connectedness and in this way crosses boundaries and divides that ordinarily separate and compartmentalise.

Mindfulness cultivates a sense of community, of togetherness and concern for all. It emphasises the individual as part of community and society and the imperative of being human together. It encourages us to become aware of the ways we Other and to correct the harms caused by such injustices.

Expressed by Archbishop Tutu in the philosophy of Ubuntu, mindfulness…

“…is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

Mindfulness initiatives as taught in the global North has spread across many sectors. Interventions in clinical settings, schools, hospitals, corporates, prisons and governments, which emphasise self-regulation, report improved health for participants. Yet mindfulness programmes commonly reach select audiences. They fail to consider the root causes of suffering in our societies and the systems that marginalise people and cause harm. In some forms, mindfulness can become a sedative numbing us to structures of power and blunting our agency to change them. CMI are part of a growing movement seeking to disrupt harm within the mindfulness field itself. We link mindfulness to radical systemic change and social justice in the interests of building a better world for all.

As mindfulness spreads like wildfire in our world thirsty for change, ethics and values become all important. Care for our world, societies, communities, one another, ourselves, dignity and respect, valuing life and people, honouring traditions particularly those that have been repressed, marginalised and Othered, correcting what is wrong, honouring one another and our world – these are the values of our times.

The value of mindfulness in the modern world is to help us remember our humanness and our humanity. Mindfulness highlights compassion and wisdom. It encourages caring both for ourselves and for others. It builds bridges and forges relationship and cooperation. With ancestral wisdom as our foundation, Speaking Truth to Power is our work.

CMI initiatives seek to contribute to this groundswell of authentic mindfulness practices that help us remember to be human and to realise the fullness of our potential for the purposes of all of humanity, the planet and the whole world.
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