Mindfulness meditation

I set up this page some years ago and have been adding updates ever since. You can also access previous posts related to mindfulness at the following link:



I’ve been practising mindfulness meditation since 2004 when I completed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course – more specifically, a Mindfulness for Health course taught by Lucinda Sykes, M.D. – in Toronto to deal with urgent stress-related issues. The issues, as it happened, were at that time giving rise to regularly occurring expressions of anger in my work at the time as a public school teacher. I had the distinct sense that this ongoing state of affairs, which had been in place starting in my adolescent years, had to be addressed at once as otherwise my health and well-being would be in jeopardy.

I had a good instructor and have been applying what I learned. The stress-related issues that were the original reason that I learned mindfulness meditation are no longer a source of concern.

I have been practising mindfulness for twenty years. Having established the essential skills through encountering a top-quality course of instruction, I’ve been learning how to apply the skills on my own as I go. To my mind, the practice of mindfulness – mindfulness meditation and the application of mindfulness in daily life – can be one of life’s great projects. Practising mindfulness, ever since I received competent instruction in the practice of it, has added immeasurably to the quality of my life.

In my prior experiences in life, getting angry in response to some situation was an automatic response. It was like a button was pushed and a cascade of physiological events streaming through my body would follow at once. I liken the situation to wearing a water-soaked overcoat. Very uncomfortable; a sense of shivering; a restriction on my ease of movement. A loss of equanimity, for sure. I did not seem to have any control over the matter.

During the MBSR course, which involved daily meditation and attempts in the course of the day to be in touch with the present moment, I learned that if I was conscious of my breathing even for a second or two, when something came along that in the past would have given rise to the automatic response which I’ve described, I was able to short-circuit the response.

Being used to keeping records – I refer in particular to the gathering of data in the context of ‘behaviour management’ programs – from an earlier stage in my teaching career, I have kept records of the times when I would have this automatic response. For each response, I have written down what the alternative would have been – which would have been, that is, to focus on the present moment. The automatic responses went from several times a day to just a few times per week, then just a few times per month, and finally to just a few times over the course of a year. It’s generally easier to stay on track – to stay in tune with the present moment in situations that are stressful – if I am meditating every day. For that reason, I practice mindfulness meditation every day.

When I signed up for the MBSR course, which I’d learned about in a Globe and Mail article, I had no idea whether this would help me to address the stress-response pattern I’ve described. I was quite amazed, as the months and years went by, with the effectiveness of this approach – I must note that I have been quite disciplined and conscientious in applying what I learned in the course – to dealing with the stresses of everyday life.

I also regularly practise a version of a “body scan” – a systematic form of relaxation – which I learned in the MBSR course.

As I look back, I think that the earlier in life a person happens to have a chance to learn about these things – these very specific and helpful skills, which among other things have to do with the optimal use of one’s attention – the better.

Quality of instruction

The quality of the instruction is a crucial variable. The MBSR course that I took started with careful and focused interviews by the instructional staff with prospective students, to ensure the course was a good fit for the applicant. Suitability of a specified course in mindfulness for a specified individual warrants close consideration. Mindfulness instruction is not without its risks. If a person proceeds with getting instruction, it’s advisable to be certain the instructors have the requisite teaching skills, training, and experience in mindfulness meditation.

In the first few years after taking the course and embarking upon a meditation practice, which includes a focus on the application of mindfulness in everyday life, I read extensively about Tibetan Buddhism and other Buddhisms. In subsequent years I’ve read academic studies about the relationship between Buddhisms and violence.

I mention this, because there’s an ongoing narrative, that a person will frequently encounter, that spiritual practices associated with mindfulness meditation are invariably of a peaceful and non-violent nature. A study of the evidence is useful to ensure that such generalizations do not lead us astray. As well, the historical record attests that major world religions can readily end up promoting violence toward individuals and groups who do not follow a mainstream faith in a given setting.

The one exception, it has been claimed from time to time, is Buddhism. In fact, the historical record underlines that even Buddhism is not immune to the practice, not unknown among major world religions, of seeking to destroy the lives of persons who are classified as “unbelievers.”

In recent years I’ve also followed up on my interest in local history, in Ontario, Canada where I live, and for that reason have been reading about military history.

Part of what I’ve been learning about the latter topic is outlined at this post:

Buddhist Warfare (2010) highlights connections between Buddhisms and violence

Buddhisms and extremely violent societies

With regard to the frequently documented relationship between religion and violence, the concept of “extremely violent societies” may be of relevance:

Christian Gerlach’s 2010 genocide-related study focuses on extremely violent societies

Killing, or engaging in structural violence in the name of religion, ideology, or some specified “way of seeing” is standard practice in extremely violent societies, now and in the past.

Competition for scarce resources is a key underlying narrative with regard to large-scale killing on behalf of one’s group, community, or society. In this context, an August 17, 2015 Guardian article comes to mind:

Mass grave reveals prehistoric warfare in ancient European farming community

A Jan. 20, 2015 New Yorker article comes to mind also:

Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers

A useful resource that provides a sense of what Buddhist warfare, in particular, can entail is a July 2, 2014 Foreign Policy article entitled:

When Buddhist Monks Wield Kalashnikovs: In Burma, an ultranationalist Buddhist militia is training to ‘defend the fatherland’ against Rohingya Muslims

Such an article describes, in a vivid way, a topic that otherwise is approached in a manner that is dry and abstract, and lacks a resonance with day-to-day realities in countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and China.

A Jan. 9, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Myanmar’s Peace Prize Winner and Crimes Against Humanity.”


The above-noted essay speaks of the strong appeal of religion in dealing with stress. An Aug. 15, 2015 Toronto Star article comes to mind with regard to this topic:

Want to be happy for life? Get religion, study suggests: Joining a church helps keep depression at bay, especially late in life, European researchers discover

The underlying message is that people will find it helpful if they have something, such as a religion, to believe in.

A previous post related to volunteer work – which according to the above-mentioned research report is less conducive of happiness than religion – is entitled:

Volunteer work is good for us

What the Buddha Taught (1974)

What the Buddha Taught (1974) was among the texts that I read after completing an MBSR course in 2004. Further reading about Buddhism in Sri Lanka, in Buddhist Warfare (2010) and elsewhere, has enabled me to note that things are not always as they seem.

The latter study, originally published in 1959, asserts (p. 5) that there is nothing in the history of Buddhism that links it with violence in any form. The statement contradicts the available evidence, including as it relates to Walpola Rahula’s own involvement with conflicts in Sri Lanka. A good overview of the latter author’s influence on warfare in Sri Lanka is provided by a paper entitled:

Politics of Sinhala Saṅgha: Venerable Walpola Rāhula

A Jan. 2, 2015 New York Times article, which provides some context related to the above-noted paper, is entitled:

Sri Lanka’s Violent Buddhists

By way of an update regarding the larger picture, an Aug. 18, 2015 Guardian article is entitled:

Sri Lanka prime minister declares victory after partial election results


Of related interest is a May 29, 2014 East Asia Forum article entitled:

Finding a future for minorities in Bhutan’s emerging democracy

Also of interest: Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand (2011)

Buddhist Warfare (2010), referred to above, serves to place into context the topics highlighted at the above-noted links.

“Compassionate killing”

A noteworthy topic that I’ve occasionally encountered concerns the role of sophistry in explaining the emergence of concepts such as “compassionate killing.” A definition of sophistry at Dictionary.com reads:

Sophistry: noun, plural sophistries.

1. a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning.

2. a false argument; sophism.

A point that is made in Buddhist Warfare (2010) is that in some cases, sophistry is not an adequate explanation for the promotion of a concept such as “compassionate killing.” An alternative explanation, that is, is that the concept may follow naturally from inherent doctrinal principles of a given religion.


An Oct. 15, 2014 post at the Scientific American website refers to an article in Volume 311, Issue 5, entitled: “Neuroscience Reveals the Secrets of Meditation’s Benefits: Contemplative practices that extend back thousands of years show a multitude of benefits for both body and mind.” I made a point of buying the print version of Scientific American, that features the article, so that I could read it in full. The article is of interest.

The quality of the research methodology is a key consideration when assessing research about mindfulness. With regard to research, a January 8, 2015 Harvard Business Review article is entitled:

Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

An overview posted at the Harvard University website is entitled:

Where can I find evidence-based research on mindfulness?

A May 1, 2014 Scientific American article is entitled:

Is Meditation Overrated? The scientific evidence is scant for many of the practice’s widely touted benefits

The Buddha Pill (2015)

A June 12, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Can mindfulness meditation have negative side effects?”

The above-noted article mentions a recent study entitled: The Buddha Pill (2015).

A blurb at the Toronto Public Library website (I’ve broken the text into shorter paragraphs) notes:

Millions of people meditate daily. Many believe it affects how we feel and behave. But can we actually change through meditation? Does it work like a pill to alleviate stress? Can it put us on the path to personal transformation?

Psychologists Dr. Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm explore the human ambition for personal change and its possible illusions, with a focus on yoga and meditation. They examine the psychological and biological evidence, from early research on Transcendental Meditation to recent brain-imaging studies on mindfulness. They also include personal accounts from practitioners, as well as recounting their own experiences of testing the effects of meditation and yoga on incarcerated criminals.

This isn’t simply another book about the route to enlightenment and happiness, nor is it a ‘how to.’ Farias and Wikholm challenge assumptions about the uses and effects of meditation and yoga.

Controversially, The Buddha Pill argues that personal change effected by these spiritual practices can vary widely from one individual to another, and that peace and compassion may not always be the end result. Combining insights from decades of scientific research with fascinating accounts from gurus and prisoners, The Buddha Pill weaves together a unique story about the science and the delusions of personal change.


It’s not clear how controversial the assertion that is referred to in the blurb actually is.

This point aside, The Buddha Pill (2015) is a useful addition to ongoing conversations regarding the topics at hand.

A Jan. 23, 2016 Guardian article article addressing the above-noted themes is entitled: “Is mindfulness making us ill?”

The subhead reads: “It’s the relaxation technique of choice, popular with employers and even the NHS. But some have found it can have unexpected effects.”

The Scientific Buddha (2012)

The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life (2012) by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. addresses themes similar to ones encountered in The Buddha Pill (2015). There is tremendous value in reading studies by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. concerning topics such as Tibetan Buddhism and the history of the arrival of Buddhisms in the West. I am impressed with a series about religion that the author has edited, such as Asian Religions in Practice: An Introduction (1999) and the individual volumes in the Princeton Readings in Religion series.

The volumes include many stories, which I find of interest to read, in many cases translated for the first time. The above-noted anthologies place “particular emphasis,” as Donald S. Lopez, Jr. notes (p. v) in Religions of China in Practice (1996), “on the ways in which texts are used in diverse contexts. The series therefore includes ritual manuals, hagiographical and autobiographical works, and folktales, as well as ethnographic material.” The series do not place a heavy emphasis “on the religious expressions of elite groups in what were termed ‘classical civilizations.’ ” I much enjoy reading the texts – for their intrinsic value as texts – in the above-noted series.

On the other hand, from what I have read in The Scientific Buddha (2012), the above-noted author does not, from my perspective as a reader, demonstrate an in-depth understanding of what Western approaches to mindfulness, such as exemplified by Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, entail. By way of example, at least in my anecdotal experience of what is taught in MBSR courses, contrary to the argument that Lopez advances in his 2012 study, no claim is made by MBSR that the mindfulness taught in such courses is a form of Buddhist meditation.

The situation is not unlike efforts to link research findings in neuroscience to the wider world. A person may have a strong grasp of what the neuroscience research indicates; linking that research to events that happen in the wider world, however, requires the capacity (which not all research in this area actually demonstrates) to specify what aspect of the outer world the research findings are being compared to.

Previous posts

Previous posts addressing themes of relevance to the current post include:

Feelings are contagious; they spread from person to person

Ethnographic and neuroscience research addresses Buddhist cultural practices

William Davies (2015) speaks of a happiness industry

Our brain is not a unitary organ

Japan: A Concise History (2015) critiques narratives related to humanity’s impact upon the environment

Teaching of mindfulness in schools

One of my volunteer projects has involved publicizing the work of Roy Hintsa, who for some years has been teaching mindfulness meditation to Ontario high school students, thereby helping them to deal with test anxiety and similar concerns. Some time back (February 2014) I heard from Roy Hintsa that the work he began in this area is now being done by Everyday Mindfulness, whose website is at www.mindfulnesseveryday.com

A key feature of Roy Hintsa’s work is that he’s been following an evidence-based approach to the effective teaching of mindfulness meditation in public school settings.

Lucinda Sykes introduced me to the practice of mindfulness meditation in 2004 when I was teaching elementary school at the Peel District School Board.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

I enrolled in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course that I found beneficial in dealing with the stress responses I was experiencing in my work as a teacher. Had I not been experiencing stress in my job, it’s unlikely I would have gotten around to learning how to mediate.

Learning to meditate, and teaching of role play and drama, are among the things I remember the best from my previous career as a teacher.

Mindfulness meditation, in my experience, is easy to practice as part of a secular lifestyle.

A Jan. 15, 2016 Toronto Star article, which I found of relevance, is entitled: “Stressed out students turn to mindful meditation.”

The subhead reads: “U of T prof believes meditation classes are set to explode across Canadian campuses as universities work to reduce stress and anxiety.”


An increasing number of methodologically sound research studies have been published in recent years in peer-reviewed professional journals regarding the benefits of regular meditation.

For example, the enhanced emotional control provided by meditation may give a person a measure of protection against secondhand stress.

My own anecdotal experience is as follows.

In 2004, I enrolled in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in Toronto. There was a class one evening per week, and an hour of practice per day. Certain situations, in my work as a teacher, used to be a source of strong stress-related responses for me. In the months and years that followed the above-mentioned course, I was meditating regularly every day.

Over that time since 2004, the stress-related responses have been reduced significantly. The kinds of stress I was experiencing several times a day now occur once or twice every several months. The intervals between such responses have been growing progressively longer over the years.

The experience of stress has been a great way for me to learn how to meditate. I would not have learned this skill had I not been in a line of work that can be stressful.

The above-mentioned courses of instruction in mindfulness are based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.


An article by Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes of Pennsylvania State University, entitled “What are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research,” originally published in 2011, can be accessed here.

A May 12, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits.”

An excerpt reads:

Such quotidian decisions test a mental ability called cognitive control, the capacity to maintain focus on an important choice while ignoring other impulses. Poor planning, wandering attention and trouble inhibiting impulses all signify lapses in cognitive control. Now a growing stream of research suggests that strengthening this mental muscle, usually with exercises in so-called mindfulness, may help children and adults cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and its adult equivalent, attention deficit disorder.

The studies come amid growing disenchantment with the first-line treatment for these conditions: drugs.

In 2007, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, published a study finding that the incidence of A.D.H.D. among teenagers in Finland, along with difficulties in cognitive functioning and related emotional disorders like depression, were virtually identical to rates among teenagers in the United States. The real difference? Most adolescents with A.D.H.D. in the United States were taking medication; most in Finland were not.


The capacity to make more effective use of one’s central nervous system as a result of ongoing meditative practices appears to be an outcome of evolutionary biology.

It may be tempting to associate mindfulness meditation with spirituality and for some of us such a connection is a given, but I do not see the association as an inevitability.

If a person wishes to speak about spirituality, it may be useful to begin by defining what the term means. Such a definition would need to distinguish between the brand and the back story. Popular literature about topics such as mindfulness tends to focus on the brand; academic literature tends to focus on the back story. Our brains (given how our brain are wired, as the research available to date indicates) tend to be entranced by the brand, even if the back story (which is typically based on some form or reliable, corroborated evidence) contradicts the brand.

If we encounter discussions about compassion, it’s useful to understand how the term is defined, in a particular discourse. The term, like spirituality, can mean different things to different people, and may depend upon particular circumstances, or situations. By way of example, being compassionate, as I understand the concept, does not mean relinquishing the right to defend one’s self.

With regard to these topics, as they relate to mindfulness, a November 1, 2013 New York Times article highlights relevant issues:

Mindfulness: Getting Its Share of Attention

The posting of the above-noted link is not meant to imply a blanket endorsement of the content of the article. For example, how did mindfulness get introduced to the west? The explanation offered in the article demonstrates a lack of awareness of cultural history, and a characteristic lack of diligence in fact-checking, on the part of the New York Times.


I am keen about evidence and evidence-based practice.

Closely following the evidence involves more uncertainty, than the certainty that a person otherwise possesses.

Regarding this topic, a September 2015 Harvard Business Review article, entitled “How Certainty Transforms Persuasion,”  is of interest; the opening paragraph of the article reads:

Certainty profoundly shapes our behavior. The more certain we are of a belief—regardless of its objective correctness—the more durable it will be and the greater its influence on what we do. Across dozens of studies spanning more than two decades, consumer and social psychologists have shown that people who are certain of their beliefs are more likely to buy, buy sooner, and spend more. They’re more likely to sign petitions and to vote. They’re more willing to express their opinions, endorse products, advocate for causes, and try to persuade others to adopt their views. They’re better able to withstand attacks on their own beliefs and more inclined to challenge opponents.

The above-noted article also refers to situations where you can go about persuading with uncertainty.

“People can be better persuaded,” the article notes, “by ads, recommendations, and even résumés that emphasize uncertain but exciting potential rather than impressive and certain accomplishments. The uncertainty piques subjects’ interest, causing them to read more carefully and ascribe great value to uncertain future impacts.”

The article also lists the research, covering “more than 20 years of research in the field of consumer and behavioral psychology,” on which the overview about certainty is presented:

“Consumer Conviction and Commitment: An Appraisal-Based Framework for Attitude Certainty”
Derek D. Rucker, Zakary L. Tormala, Richard E. Petty, and Pablo Briñol
Journal of Consumer Psychology, January 2014

“Unpacking Attitude Certainty: Attitude Clarity and Attitude Correctness”
John V. Petrocelli, Zakary L. Tormala, and Derek D. Rucker
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, January 2007

“What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Stronger: The Effects of Resisting Persuasion on Attitude Certainty”
Zakary L. Tormala and Richard E. Petty
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 2002


A Nov. 6, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: “Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds: Religious belief appears to have negative influence on children’s altruism and judgments of others’ actions even as parents see them as ‘more empathetic.’ ”

In a Comment at the end of this page (“Update (3)”) I have shared several links addressing views on the distinction between empathy and compassion.

On the topic of empathy (discussed at some length in Comments below), a Sept. 4, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “The Trouble With Empathy:
Can we really be taught to feel each other’s pain?”

An excerpt reads:

Our capacity to see one another as fellow humans, to connect across differences, is the foundation of a liberal pluralist society. Yet skeptics say that what seems like empathy often may be another form of presumption, condescension or domination. In his 2016 book “Against Empathy,” the psychologist Paul Bloom argued that empathy can cloud rational judgment and skews toward people “who are close to us, those who are similar to us and those we see as more attractive or vulnerable and less scary.” The scholar and activist bell hooks put the matter more starkly. White desire to feel Black experience is predatory, exploitative, “eating the Other,” she wrote.

The topic is of interest. Key aspects of the discussion include how empathy is defined, quality of the evidence that is introduced, and the framing and motivations and sense-making processes that are at play, when the topic is under discussion.


A March 2015 Baffler article is entitled: “Mind Your Own Business.”

A Feb. 18, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “How Meditation Changes the Brain and Body.”

A May 2, 2016 Harvard Business Review article is entitled: “Mindfulness Can Improve Strategy, Too.”

A May 20, 2016 Atlantic article is entitled: “Does Mindfulness Actually Work in Schools?” The subhead reads: “Scholars want to know whether the practice helps young kids of color succeed academically.”

A June 4, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Tiger temple scandal exposes the shadowy billion-dollar Asian trade: Campaigners hope the Thai temple raid will stir the world’s conscience – but the trafficking of tiger parts to China is a booming business.”

A Nov. 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Is the Market the new God?”

Fascism and the Italians of Montreal: An Oral History: 1922-1945 (1998)

Presence (2015) by Amy Cuddy

Perceptions of warmth and competence drive our stereotypes, biases, and prejudices (Cuddy et al., 2008)

A Nov. 18, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “‘It will blow up’: fears Myanmar’s deadly crackdown on Muslims will spiral out of control: Generations of distrust between Rohingya Muslims and wider Buddhist population have boiled over into reprisals fuelling the spectre of an insurgency.”

A Nov. 18, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Bhutan journalist hit by defamation suit for sharing Facebook post: Namgay Zam, who faces a fine or jail, says case involving prominent businessman risks further subduing deferential media.”

A Nov. 24, 2016 BBC article is entitled: “Myanmar wants ethnic cleansing of Rohingya – UN official: Myanmar is seeking the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya minority from its territory, a senior UN official has told the BBC.”

A Nov. 24, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: Rohingya flee to Bangladesh to escape Myanmar military strikes: As Bangladesh boosts border controls, UN official says Myanmar wants to ethnically cleanse country of Muslim minority.”

A Dec. 22, 2016 Quartz article is entitled: “Americans are finally meditating because corporations are telling them to.”

A July 25, 2017 Tricycle article is entitled: “New Allegations of Sexual Abuse Raise Old Questions: Students of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche have accused him of improper conduct.” An excerpt reads:

“As in the case of Rigpa, it usually takes a number of brave students who are willing, at the risk of alienating themselves from communities they have worked and lived in often for decades, to come forward publicly.”

Comment: The fact a book appears on The News York Times bestseller list may or may not be relevant, with regard to the value of the book. I am reminded, as well, of Erving Goffman’s concept of the “total institution.”

A July 31, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Sales of mind, body, spirit books boom in UK amid ‘mindfulness mega-trend’: While fewer titles are selling in other genres, reading that offers a path to spiritual growth has risen 13% in 2017.”

A May 7, 2018 BBC article is entitled: “Mindfulness may have been over-hyped: Mindfulness meditation has been practiced for millennia – and today is a billion-dollar business. But how much does the practice really change our health?”

Update with regard to: Making sense

A May 16, 2016 Science of Us article is entitled: “Here’s a New Way to Make Sense of Good People Doing Bad Things.” I mention the article in passing, as I find it useful in organizing my thoughts about the topics at hand. The article refers to related articles including an Oct. 19, 2015 Science of Us article entitled:

The Bad Things That Happen When People Can’t Deal With Ambiguous Situations

Update: Purple Hibiscus (2003)

By way if an additional update in particular regarding the apparently near-universal tendency of religions (including even Buddhism) to dehumanize (and consequently oppress, persecute, and in some cases kill) non-believers, I am impressed with the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

A blurb reads:

A haunting tale of an Africa and an adolescence undergoing tremendous changes from the talented bestseller and award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls of her family compound and the frangipani trees she can see from her bedroom window. Her wealthy Catholic father, although generous and well-respected in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home. Her life is lived under his shadow and regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, and more prayer. She lives in fear of his violence and the words in her textbooks begin to turn to blood in front of her eyes.

When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved in mysterious ways with the unfolding political crisis, sends Kambili and her brother away to their aunt’s. The house is noisy and full of laughter. Here she discovers love and a life – dangerous and heathen – beyond the confines of her father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from her world and, in time, reveal a terrible, bruising secret at the heart of her family life.

This first novel is about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between the old gods and the new; between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred. An extraordinary debut, ‘Purple Hibiscus’ is a compelling novel which captures both a country and an adolescence at a time of tremendous change.

Update: What is a self?

A March 26, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Can Harvard’s most popular professor (and Confucius) radically change your life? Michael Puett’s book The Path draws on the 2,500-year-old insights of Chinese philosophers. He explains how ‘straightening your mat’ can help you break out of the patterns that are holding you back.”

An excerpt reads:

He doesn’t refer to notes, and he has no visual aids. His sermon, like his course, begins by shattering some commonly held preconceptions about the self: there is no self, he says. The idea that we should look within, discover our true nature and act accordingly is, according to Confucius, nonsense. What we really are, Puett says, is ‘a messy and potentially ugly bunch of stuff’, a collection of emotions and conditioned responses, with no guiding inner core. We think we are self-determined, but in reality we are so set in our patterns that Google exploits our predictability to sell us stuff without us noticing.

Update: Certainty

A June 28, 2017 Science of Us article is entitled: “There Might Be a Biological Reason You Can’t Stand Uncertainty.”

Updates: Myanmar

A Dec. 23, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Aung San Suu Kyi once called for a free press. Now, the dead are used for fake news: As the Rohingya crisis escalates, the state of Myanmar is silencing the media – and the people who dare to talk to them.”

Earlier updates can be found in the Comments below.

The Myanmar story underlines an evolving divergence between rhetoric and reality, as it related to Burma/Myanmar and as it relates to the role of religion (and the strongly enforced certainty associated with it) in world history.

An April 3, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Revealed: Facebook hate speech exploded in Myanmar during Rohingya crisis: Analyst says: ‘I really don’t know how Zuckerberg and co sleep at night’ after evidence emerges of a spike in posts inciting violence.”

Update: Empathy and compassion

At this post and in Comments below I refer to research related to empathy, and refer to the distinction between empathy and compassion.

An Oct. 1, 2020 BBC article, entitled “The surprising downsides of empathy,” addresses the distinction between empathy and compassion in a way that I found clear and cogent.

An excerpt reads:

So, where does that leave us? Surely feeling no empathy at all is worse? That would make us closer to psychopathic. These scientists are not suggesting that empathy should be actively discouraged. There are times when stepping into somebody’s shoes is a necessary first step towards positive action, care and help for others.

Instead, the research suggests that we ought to start making a clearer distinction between empathy and its apparent synonym: “compassion”. If empathy is about stepping into someone’s shoes, compassion is instead “a feeling of concern for another person’s suffering which is accompanied by the motivation to help”, according to Singer and Klimecki. To be compassionate, it does not mean you have to share somebody’s feelings. It is more about the idea of extending kindness towards others.

Bloom uses the example of an adult comforting a child who is terrified of a small, barking dog. The adult doesn’t need to feel the child’s fear to help. “There can be compassion for the child, a desire to make his or her distress go away, without any shared experience or empathic distress,” he writes.

Inspired by scanning the brains of Buddhist monks, Singer discovered that it’s possible to foster greater compassion in people, via simple training methods based on mindfulness, where the goal is to feel positive and warm thoughts about others without focusing on vicarious experience. By comparing this training with techniques designed to foster greater empathy, she and colleagues found that it reduces the effects of empathic distress and makes people more likely to be motivated to help others.

43 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A May 26, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: ” ‘No Muslims allowed’: how nationalism is rising in Aung San Suu Kyi’s Myanmar: Concerns grow that Buddhist extremism may flourish unless country’s new democratic leaders counter discrimination against minorities.”

    An Oct. 6, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Tourist in Myanmar jailed for pulling plug on Buddhist sermon: Dutchman gets three months for ‘interfering with prayers’ near Mandalay hotel and fine for violating the culture.”

    A Dec. 4, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Malaysia PM urges world to act against ‘genocide’ of Myanmar’s Rohingya: Najib Razak tells Kuala Lumpur rally attended by thousands ‘the world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place’”.

    A Jan. 16, 2017 New York Times article is entitled: “The Lady and the Rohingya.”

    A Feb. 2, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Plan to move Rohingya to remote island prompts fears of human catastrophe: Rights groups have warned that a Bangladesh government proposal to move Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone island could have fatal consequences.”

    An April 25, 2017 Reuters article is entitled: “How a two-week army crackdown reignited Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis.”

    A subhead reads:

    “In November, Myanmar’s army swept through Rohingya villages in Rakhine state. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and some 75,000 fled to Bangladesh. The violence has presented Aung San Suu Kyi with a major crisis.”

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    An Oct. 16, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “The conundrum of mind and matter: what is consciousness? It’s one of the greatest puzzles scientists struggle to define. Susan Greenfield explains why understanding consciousness remains elusive.”

    A Nov. 14, 2016 Science of Us article is entitled: “Switching Detention for Meditation Seems to Really Work.”

    Universities teaching meditation

    A Nov. 24, 2016 Maclean’s article is entitled: “Universities are teaching meditation to help students control stress: Meditation goes to school.”

    A Dec. 20, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Where Buddhism’s Eight-Fold Path Can Be Followed With a Six-Figure Salary.”

    A Dec. 23, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “The dark side of empathy.”

    An April 4, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Mindfulness means putting the oxygen mask on yourself first: study: ‘We have to take care of ourselves,’ says Toronto mother of son, 25, with autism.”


    A Dec. 25, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Tibet: Behind the looking glass.”

    With regard to the latter topic, a series of posts at this website related to gentrification, gated communities, and public relations is of relevance:

    Click here for posts related to The Government Next Door (2015) >

    Two studies that provide backstories related to the topics at hand include:

    The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd Beacon Paperback Ed. (2001; originally published 1944)

    The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (1999)

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:


    A July 12, 2012 Wired article is entitled: “Compassion over empathy could help prevent emotional burnout.”

    A June 3, 2013 Harvard University Press article is entitled: “Is Empathy Bad?

    A Sept. 10, 2014 Boston review article is entitled: “Against Empathy.”

    A Jan. 4, 2017 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Against Empathy: Yale psychology professor says too much emotion leads to bad moral decisions.”

    A Feb. 14, 2017 Science of Us article is entitled: “Rich People Literally See the World Differently.”

    A March 1, 2017 Scientific American article is entitled: “Too Much Emotional Intelligence Is a Bad Thing: Profound empathy may come at a price.”

    A June 24, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “‘It’s a superpower’: meet the empaths paid to read your mind: They feel your pain as if it were their own – and charge you £200 an hour to do so. Why has empathy become such a prized commodity?”

    An excerpt reads:

    The authors noted the correlation between the fall in empathy and the rise in narcissism, and suggested the emphasis neoliberal economics places on individualism as one likely explanation.

    A second excerpt reads:

    It is not only humans who are capable of the most sophisticated consolatory form of empathy. As the primatologist Frans de Waal has noted, chimpanzees will take special care when grooming a mother who has lost her child. But empathy isn’t always a predictor of the best moral outcomes. Like chimpanzees (with whom we share 98% of our DNA), our conceptions of selfishness and selflessness tend to relate to our own particular in-group. Studies have shown that the brain’s empathy circuits fire less when we observe pain in someone of a different race, social class, political persuasion, or even a supporter of a rival football team. The child psychologist Paul Bloom has argued that for this reason, empathy alone is not a reliable way of coming to a moral decision: “It can motivate cruelty and aggression, and lead to burnout and exhaustion.”


    An underlying subtext concerns the question of who benefits – and what worldview and mindset benefits – from the denigration of empathy? A related question concerns evidence-based practice, as it relates to the topic of empathy. To what extent are we dealing with facts, when we talk about empathy, and to what extent are we dealing with framing?

    Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015)

    I much enjoy the following overview (p. 280; I’ve broken the original, longer paragraph into shorter ones) from Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015) regarding “the worst approach to empathy”; the quoted text from the book goes as follows:

    Beyond his time in the KGB, Vladimir Putin has no firsthand experience of Western society. To assume that he does, and that he should think like us or even understand how we think, is an example of what U.S. scholar Zachary Shore – in his 2014 book, A Sense of the Enemy: The High-Stakes History of Reading Your Rival’s Mind – describes as “simulation theory.”

    We ask ourselves what we would do in another per­son’s position, but this is “unfortunately, the worst approach to empathy because it assumes that others will think and act as we do, and too often they don’t.” [62] As we have pointed out in earlier chapters, Putin’s under­standing – in the Russian context – of how the free market works or should work is very different from a U.S. or European perspective. It was informed by his experience growing up in the Soviet Union and working in St. Petersburg as deputy mayor, as well as by his studies in the KGB and life in Dresden when the East German economy was in shambles. Putin’s conception of democratic politics, or at least what he views as democratic politics, was filtered by his experience in the German Demo­cratic Republic, and then in the rough-and-tumble of post-Soviet Russian politics in St. Petersburg and later in Moscow.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A May 9, 2017 BBC article is entitled: “The Japanese skill copied by the world: Mindfulness has become trendy around the world in recent years – but in Japan, it’s been ingrained into the culture for centuries.”

    A May 19, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Myanmar failing to stop spread of religious violence, UN envoy says: Special rapporteur on human rights calls on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to curb hate speech and attacks by nationalists.”

  5. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Additional article of interest, from Brown University

    Frontiers in Psychology, 20 April 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00551

    Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training

    Authors: Rahil Rojiani1*†, Juan F. Santoyo2,3†, Hadley Rahrig4, Harold D. Roth2,5 and Willoughby B. Britton2,4

    A May 10, 2017 post at the Preserved Stories website related to this article is entitled:

    I have received an apt correction regarding a Brown University study that I reviewed earlier, regarding meditation

  6. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A June 18, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Meet a Toronto-area police officer fighting back against violence and trauma — with zen: York Region Const. Jon Carson says mindfulness can lead to better policing.”

    An Oct. 22, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to’: By taking the Buddhism out of the practice, Kabat-Zinn pioneered a meditative approach used all over the world to treat pain and depression. He talks about Trump, ‘McMindfulness’ and how a 10-second vision in 1979 led to a change in the world’s consciousness.”

    An Oct. 24, 2017 New York Times article is entitled: “Across Myanmar, Denial of Ethnic Cleansing and Loathing of Rohingya.”

    An Oct. 27, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Revealed: Dalai Lama’s ‘personal emissary’ suspended over corruption claims: Tibetan monk who is gatekeeper to the Dalai Lama in the US strongly denies allegations he demanded improper payments.”

    Of related interest regarding Myanmar: Myanmar’s enemy within: Buddhist violence and the making of a Muslim ‘other’ (2017)

    A Nov. 18, 2017 CBC article, which refers to a CBC Passionate Eye broadcast, is entitled: “Behind the Rohingya Crisis.”

    A Nov. 19, 2017 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Bob Rae on Rohingya crisis in Burma: ‘It’s more than an emergency’.”

    A Dec. 2, 2017 New York Times article is entitled: “‘No Such Thing as Rohingya’: Myanmar Erases a History.”

    An Aug. 2, 2018 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Burma says Rohingya are back, but evidence is thin.”

  7. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A blurb for Mindlessness: The Corruption of Mindfulness in a Culture of Narcissism (2017) at the Toronto Public Library website reads (I’ve broken the original single paragraph into shorter ones):

    A contemplative practice with Buddhist roots, mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present-moment, non-judgmentally.” Practicing mindfulness can be an effective adjunct in treating psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.

    But have we gone too far with mindfulness? Recent books on the topic reveal a troubling corruption of mindfulness practice for commercial gain, with self-help celebrities hawking mindfulness as the next “miracle drug.” Furthermore, common misunderstanding of what mindfulness really is seems to be fueled by a widespread cultural trend toward narcissism, egocentricity, and self-absorption.

    Thomas Joiner’s Mindlessness chronicles the promising rise of mindfulness and its perhaps inevitable degradation. Giving mindfulness its full due, both as a useful philosophical vantage point and as a means to address various life challenges, Joiner mercilessly charts how narcissism has intertwined with and co-opted the practice to create a Frankenstein’s monster of cultural solipsism and self-importance.

    He examines the dispiriting consequences for many sectors of society (e.g., mental health, education, politics) and ponders ways to mitigate, if not undo, them. Mining a rich body of research, Joiner also makes use of material from popular culture, literature, social media, and personal experience in order to expose the misuse of mindfulness and to consider how we as a society can back away from the brink, salvaging a potentially valuable technique for improving mental and physical wellbeing.

  8. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A July 10, 2018 Vox article is entitled: “How Buddhist meditation kept the Thai boys calm in the cave: The boys’ coach lived in a Buddhist monastery for a decade and taught them to meditate in the cave.”

    A July 11, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Buddhist group leader steps down over sexual assault claims: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, leader of global Shambhala community, steps down while claims are investigated.”

    Useful background reading regarding the latter story: Re-enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West (2004).

    An Aug. 3, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “High-profile Chinese monk accused of sexually harassing nuns: Shi Xuecheng faces allegations in 95-page dossier compiled by fellow Buddhist monks at Beijing monastery.”

    An Aug. 29, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “Aung San Suu Kyi ‘bears some real responsibility’ for Rohingya crisis, says Bob Rae: UN fact-finder says Myanmar military leaders should be tried for persecution of Rohingya Muslims.”

    An Aug. 31, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Myanmar army fakes photos and history in sinister rewrite of Rohingya crisis: Propaganda unit’s 117-page book contains pictures purportedly taken in Rakhine state that are really from Tanzania and Bangladesh.”

    A Sept. 4, 2019 Guardian article is entitled: “Debating the definition of genocide will not save the Rohingya: The time for talk is over. The international community has to act, or it could fail in Myanmar just as it failed in Rwanda.”

    An Oct. 9, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “‘What country is next?’ Amnesty director warns inaction on Rohingya crisis could lead to wider abuse.”

  9. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 10, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Ai Weiwei: ‘The mood in Germany is like the 1930s’: The artist has battled surveillance, underground exile and even irate Berlin taxi drivers. He thinks the world has forgotten what human rights mean, which is why he has designed a new flag.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Many of Ai’s works over a career spanning more than 40 years have been investigations into human rights transgressions, including his own imprisonment by Chinese authorities. But now he has taken his interest a step further by accepting the invitation from UK arts organisations and human rights charities to design a flag to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    “I don’t recall any kind of symbol for human rights,” he says, sitting at a long wooden table in his studio in Berlin, where he has lived in exile since 2015. “So it was time we gave it one.”

    He lays out a series of photographs. They show the muddy footprints of Rohingya refugees who have been forced to flee attacks by Myanmarese soldiers and take refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

  10. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 9, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Twitter CEO accused of ignoring plight of Rohingya in tweets promoting Myanmar: Jack Dorsey rhapsodised about 10-day meditation retreat and encouraged his 4 million followers to visit.”

    An excerpt reads:

    The CEO of Twitter has faced fierce criticism for promoting Myanmar as a tourist destination in a series of tweets despite hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing human rights abuses that the UN says amounts to genocide.

    Jack Dorsey told his 4 million followers he had travelled to northern Myanmar last month for a 10-day silent meditation retreat, before encouraging them to visit.

    “The people are full of joy and the food is amazing,” he said, before encouraging his followers to visit.

    A Dec. 13, 2018 Reuters article is entitled: “Special Report: In a Muslim lawyer’s murder, Myanmar’s shattered dream.”

    A Dec. 26, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “Battle of the bulge: Thailand strives to bring monk obesity crisis under control: Health problem hits Thai temples where worshippers leave sweet alms and holy men shun exercise as vanity.”

    A March 2, 2019 New York Times article is entitled: “Shared Buddhist Faith Offers No Shield From Myanmar Military.”

  11. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A May 19, 2019 Open Democracy article is entitled: “The faux revolution of mindfulness: McMindfulness is the new capitalist spirituality.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Against this background, the hubris and political naiveté of the cheerleaders of the mindfulness ‘revolution’ is stunning. They seem so enamored of doing good and saving the world that these true believers, no matter how sincere, suffer from an enormous blindspot. They seem mindless of the fact that all too often, mindfulness has been reduced to a commodified and instrumental self-help technique that unwittingly reinforces neoliberal imperatives.

    For Kabat-Zinn and his followers, it is mindless and maladapted individuals who are to blame for the problems of a dysfunctional society, not the political and economic frameworks within which they are forced to act. By shifting the burden of responsibility to individuals for managing their own wellbeing, and by privatizing and pathologizing stress, the neoliberal order has been a boon to the 1.1 billion dollar mindfulness industry.

    This is an intriguing article. I think a key feature of mindfulness is that how it is defined is up to each person who uses the term. I note that the article argues that mindfulness can be used to advance any particular position – for example, on the left or on the right.

    My own anecdotal experience is that mindfulness is indeed highly valuable in helping a person deal with stress. The fact I have learned to practise mindfulness has come in very useful with regard to how I deal with stress and with regard to how I address stressful social interactions. I can see tremendous value in mindfulness.

    I also note that newsstands across the province of Ontario, where I live, feature magazines extolling the benefits of mindfulness. I’ve spent a lot of time of observing the covers of these magazines. I’ve also at times purchased a copy and read a few articles. From such anecdotal observations I would affirm: Pitching the concept that mindfulness will cure what ails you is the perfect way to prop up a neoliberal worldview.

    However, mindfulness has tremendous value, period. Whether or not it end up in the hands of neoliberal ideologues, who use it to push their own view of what reality entails, is neither here nor there; such tactics or strategies are beside the point. People can use mindfulness, like any technique, for whatever purpose they wish to use it for.

  12. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 11, 2017 BBC article is entitled: “Rohingya crisis: Seeing through the official story in Myanmar.”

    An excerpt reads:

    We were then taken to a Buddhist temple, where a monk described Muslims burning down their own homes, nearby. We were given photographs catching them in the act. They looked strange.

    Men in white haji caps posed as they set light to the palm-thatch roof. Women wearing what appeared to be lacy tablecloths on their heads melodramatically waved swords and machetes. Later I found that one of the women was in fact the animated Hindu woman from the school, and I saw that one of the men had also been present in among the displaced Hindu.

    They had faked the photos to make it look as though Muslims were doing the burning.

    A June 14, 2019 Guardian article is entitled: “The mindfulness conspiracy: It is sold as a force that can help us cope with the ravages of capitalism, but with its inward focus, mindful meditation may be the enemy of activism.”

  13. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A July 10, 2019 Aeon article is entitled: “Zen terror: Master Nissho Inoue and his band of assassins teach some uncomfortable truths about terrorism, for those who will hear.”

    A September 2019 Atlantic article is entitled: “What Happened to Aung San Suu Kyi? A human-rights icon’s fall from grace in Myanmar.”

    An excerpt reads:

    After the meeting, as Obama’s motorcade snaked through a throng of Suu Kyi’s supporters, many of them holding posters with her face on it, he said something in the back of the limo that has stuck in my mind. “I used to be the face on the poster,” he said. “The image only fades.”

    The above-noted article addresses the history of Myanmar in some depth, thereby assisting to establish a historical context whereby a person can gain a better understanding of the dynamics of genocide.

    An Aug. 14, 2019 BBC article is entitled: “Why stress is dangerous – and how to avoid its effects.:

    The subtitle reads:

    Are we really more stressed than ever before? In an essay based on her recent book Stress-Proof, Mithu Storoni explains how modern life may have amplified our anxiety, and the best ways to reduce its impact on our bodies and minds.

  14. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 24, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “Post-work decompression techniques for busy people: A daily full body relaxation practice that you can try at home to reduce stress and reset.”

    What is called a ‘body scan’ is a key practice learned in the MBSR approach to mindfulness outlined at the current post. The practice brings to mind the close relationship between mind and body, a topic discussed at a number of posts including:

    Crooked (2017) – an impressive investigative report on the American back pain industry – underlines that the theory of a mind-body split is defunct – it’s had its day

    An Oct. 16, 2019 Stat article is entitled: “Here’s a brain teaser: Surprising study shows reduced neuronal activity extends life.”

    An Oct. 16, 2019 New Scientist article is entitled: “Damping down brain cell activity may help us to live longer.”

    An excerpt reads:

    “Initially it seemed counter-intuitive that suppressing neural activity would extend lifespan without deleterious side effects,” he says. The researchers suspect the benefit comes from suppressing excessive activity that might prove harmful. Even so, it was surprising that something as short-lived as neural circuit activity could have such far-ranging impacts on someone’s lifespan, says Yankner.

    He is optimistic that therapies designed to reduce excessive neural circuit activity could work. The findings raise the possibility that activities such as meditation could also work on these pathways to boost longevity.

  15. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Jan. 8, 2019 Aeon article is entitled: “The Blind Spot: It’s tempting to think science gives a God’s-eye view of reality. But we forget the place of human experience at our peril.”

    An excerpt reads:

    We can now appreciate the deeper significance of our three scientific conundrums – the nature of matter, consciousness and time. They all point back to the Blind Spot and the need to reframe how we think about science. When we try to understand reality by focusing only on physical things outside of us, we lose sight of the experiences they point back to. The deepest puzzles can’t be solved in purely physical terms, because they all involve the unavoidable presence of experience in the equation. There’s no way to render ‘reality’ apart from experience, because the two are always intertwined.

    To finally ‘see’ the Blind Spot is to wake up from a delusion of absolute knowledge. It’s also to embrace the hope that we can create a new scientific culture, in which we see ourselves both as an expression of nature and as a source of nature’s self-understanding. We need nothing less than a science nourished by this sensibility for humanity to flourish in the new millennium.

    A Jan. 4, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “Trying to be happy could make you miserable, study finds: Westerners who put high value on happiness tend to show greater signs of depression.”

    An excerpt reads:

    The link appears, at least in part, to be down to individuals becoming distracted by their feelings or emotional situations and a lower ability to reframe thoughts or experiences. The latter trait was also linked to symptoms of depression.

  16. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 25, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “About time: why western philosophy can only teach us so much: By gaining greater knowledge of how others think, we can become less certain of the knowledge we think we have, which is always the first step to greater understanding.”

    An excerpt reads:

    The emphasis on connectedness and place leads to a way of thinking that runs counter to the abstract universalism developed to a certain extent in all the great written traditions of philosophy. Muecke describes as one of the “enduring [Indigenous Australian] principles” that “a way of being will be specific to the resources and needs of a time and place and that one’s conduct will be informed by responsibility specific to that place”. This is not an “anything goes” relativism, but a recognition that rights, duties and values exist only in actual human cultures, and their exact shape and form will depend on the nature of those situations.

  17. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A New York Times article, accessed on Oct. 24, 2020, is entitled: “Mindfulness for Children.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Adversity comes at us from the moment we are born. Infants get hungry and tired. Toddlers grapple with language and self-control. And as children develop through adolescence to become teenagers, life grows ever more complicated. Developing relationships, navigating school and exercising independence — the very stuff of growing up — naturally creates stressful situations for every child.

    At each developmental stage, mindfulness can be a useful tool for decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness. Mindfulness — a simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner — has emerged as a popular mainstream practice in recent decades. It is being taught to executives at corporations, athletes in the locker room, and increasingly, to children both at home and in school.

    (Emphasis in original.)

  18. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 28, 2020 Walrus article is entitled: “Survivors of an International Buddhist Cult Share Their Stories: An investigation into decades of abuse at Shambhala International.”

    An excerpt reads:

    For survivors of Shambhala, the reckoning continues—and with it, the struggle for recovery. Rachel Bernstein, a Los Angeles psychotherapist who treats ex–cult members, told me that it can be healing to reconnect not only with former members of the same group but also with former members of similar groups, so the person can understand that abuse patterns are standard and predictable. Janja Lalich, an expert on the effects of cults on children, argues that kids who grow up in a group controlled by charismatic leadership have almost no access to outside points of view or ways of being in the world. That’s why she encourages ex-members to reestablish secure bonds with family or those who knew them before they entered the group. But, for those born into a cult or recruited through their parents at a young age—as was often the case with Shambhala—this option is rarely open.

  19. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Article of interest:

    Be open: Mindfulness predicts reduced motivated perception
    September 2015, Personality and Individual Differences


    Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental present-moment attention and awareness, which varies across persons and moments. As a non-judgmental stance, mindfulness should allow for greater perceptual objectivity. Previous research suggests that self-interest can motivate people to “see what they want to see” (Balcetis & Dunning, 2006). We hypothesized that mindfulness would moderate this effect such that state and trait mindfulness would be associated with less motivated perception. We adapted the methods of Balcetis and Dunning (2006) in an online study (N = 161). Results show that state and trait mindfulness predicted less motivated perception. These effects were stronger after excluding participants who noticed the ambiguity of the image as well as controlling for mood. These findings suggest that mindfulness is a stance of greater objectivity.

  20. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Also of interest, a master’s thesis at the University of North Carolina:

    Is mindfulness a non-judgmental stance?

    Adair, Kathryn Carrie
    Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience


    Mindfulness has been defined as being comprised by 1) present moment attention and awareness, and 2) a stance of non-judgment towards experience. To date, scant basic research has been conducted to test whether this second aspect, non-judgment, is indeed related to mindfulness at automatic levels of consciousness. Theoretical work has posited that as a non-judgmental stance, mindfulness allows for stimuli to be viewed more objectively, or empirically. Thus, we hypothesized that individuals high in state and trait mindfulness would exhibit a reduction in automatic judgments. Three studies were conducted to assess the role of mindfulness across a variety of measures of judgment (i.e., personally motivated perception, implicit and explicit attitudes, and affective reactivity to various photographs as measured by facial EMG). Across these studies we found evidence that mindfulness is related to attenuated bias in judgments and behaviors, however mindfulness also appears related to greater positive affective reactivity.

    Date of publication
    December 2013

  21. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 30, 2020 CBC Tapestry article is entitled: “McMindfulness: how capitalism hijacked the Buddhist teaching of mindfulness.”

    As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m intrigued for sure to see countless magazines on display at places like Shoppers and other stores extolling the role that mindfulness can play, according to such magazines, in ensuring people enjoy a better life, than would otherwise be the case.

    That being said, in my anecdotal experience the practice of mindfulness, when a person has learned to practise it as a result of good-quality instruction and plenty of practice, can be very helpful in addressing stress responses, of the kind that can occur in everyday life.

    Mindfulness is not the answer to all of life’s problems but it is, nonetheless, a powerful technique, which a person can put to good use quite outside of the confines of a neoliberal economic (and sense-making) system.

    I can add that I find it is most intriguing to encounter the concept that Buddhism, supposedly unlike any other world religion, is invariably directed toward all things in life that promote peacefulness and non-violence. This is a topic I’ve explored at the page you are now reading, and at previous posts including one entitled:

    Buddhist Warfare (2010) highlights connections between Buddhisms and violence

  22. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Regarding the following article I have some comments. First, the article notes (as I recall; I may be paraphrasing) 25 per cent of people referred to in some or another piece of research had problems with anxiety in relation to the practice of mindfulness meditation. We can state the matter another way: 75 per cent did fine. I can add that the version of MBSR that I was taught involved a thorough screening interview, by Lucinda Sykes, before anybody was admitted to the course. The interview established whether you were a good candidate, for taking the course. Such an approach makes good sense. Now, on with the story:

    A Feb. 4, 2021 BBC article looks like a good read; it’s entitled: “Stress, anxiety, productivity: mindfulness is often touted as a solution to nearly everything. But research shows that you can actually take meditation too far..”

    An excerpt reads:

    “Probably, for the average person, it can help with mental health promotion,” says Julieta Galante at the University of Cambridge, who recently conducted a meta-analysis reviewing the evidence to date. Overall, she found that there was a positive effect, though there was large variation between studies. Like Britton, she thinks that we need more nuance in our understanding of the specific situations in which mindfulness may or may not be useful, alongside a greater investigation of the potential adverse effects.

    An additional excerpt reads:

    At the moment, some people may feel like they have to stick with one particular strategy – like mindful breathing or the body scan – without considering the alternatives. But this is a mistake, says Britton. “We should really honour the diversity of contemplative practices that are available, because they all do different things, and people would have a much better chance of matching what they need, if they had a bigger buffet of choices.” Each person should choose the best technique – and the correct “dose” – for their particular situation, rather than doggedly pursuing a plan that is not working.

  23. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A March 21, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Basic Goodness – Episode 1: ‘You’ve pledged your body and soul’: sexual abuse allegations in the Shambhala Buddhist community.”

    I’ve so far heard a segment of the final part of the first episode, while driving my car. An interviewee noted that when you’re mucking around with ultimate concerns such as ‘What is the meaning of life,’ it’s good to be wary of those who seek to answer that question. There’s also a reference to the marketing of spirituality and the phenomenon of ‘unjust power dynamics.’ That’s a good point: power dynamics can be just, or they can be unjust.

    Students of power dynamics such as James C. Scott note that in many realms of life, working together collaboratively pretty much outside of hierarchical relationships makes good sense, if that can be arranged. In some cases, such arrangements are indeed possible.

    In my anecdotal experience spread out over three decades, community self-organizing entails the kind of power dynamics that I refer to in the previous sentence.

  24. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A March 24, 2021 BBC article is entitled: “Can companies actually help workers stay happy and healthy?: More employers are providing mental-health benefits to employees. But is this what workers want – and can they actually help keep people well?”

    An excerpt reads:

    Ultimately, although some workers are grateful for the extra corporate support with wellness benefits, many experts and workers alike feel there’s an extra step necessary: structural change. So, what actually may make the biggest impact is building work cultures that aren’t just not bad for mental health, but that actively promote and contribute to wellbeing.

    “In the most supportive workplaces,” says Harvey, “individuals were four times more likely to say, ‘work is good for my mental health’. So much of what work offers is good for our mental state. It gives us a sense of purpose, camaraderie, connection, a feeling we’re achieving something. If you can manage the stress, and you’re given the resources you need, you get these places that are actually really good for you.”

    By way of commentary: Changing workplace culture for the better, so far as dealing with stress is concerned, is feasible.

    However, that requires an evidence-based approach to structural change, which is distinct from rhetorical flourishes. The same principles are at play regarding inequality; environmental racism; employment precarity; the climate crisis and habitat loss; housing affordability and dealing with homelessness; anti-racism initiatives; and efforts to eliminate stereotyping and stigmatization in relation to life situations and circumstances.

    As well, based on what I’ve read and based on anecdotal experience, mindfulness meditation when practised after instruction from a competent teacher is a tremendously powerful technique. It’s also a technique that benefits (in my anecdotal experience) from being separated from associated belief systems – that is, treated as a module, so to speak, separate from whatever belief system that a person can think of.

    As well, it’s a technique that, when appropriately applied and practised for a suitable period of time, can re-wire a person’s brain, for the better. In my anecdotal case, situations that in the past used to give rise to strong and not beneficial stress responses, in everyday life, no longer give rise to such responses, except on the most rare (and increasingly rare, as the years go by) occasions. Such a result serves for me as one of many anecdotal demonstrations of the neuroplasticity of the human mind/body system.

  25. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A March 28, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “Inside Myanmar’s Army: ‘They See Protesters as Criminals’: Four officers spoke about life in the feared Tatmadaw, which has turned its guns on civilians again.’The Tatmadaw is the only world’ for most soldiers, one said.”

    I am reminded of Erving Goffman’s concept of the total institution.

    An excerpt from the New York Times article (which I read through access at the Toronto Public Library website) reads:

    In-depth interviews with four officers, two of whom have deserted since the coup, paint a complex picture of an institution that has thoroughly dominated Myanmar for six decades. From the moment they enter boot camp, Tatmadaw troops are taught that they are guardians of a country — and a religion — that will crumble without them.

    A second excerpt reads:

    The Tatmadaw has been on a war footing since the country gained independence in 1948, battling communist guerrillas, ethnic insurgencies and democracy advocates forced into the jungle after military crackdowns. In the cultlike confines of the Tatmadaw, the Buddhist Bamar ethnic majority is glorified at the expense of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities, who have faced decades of military repression.

  26. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    An April 2021 Harper’s article is entitled: “Lost in Thought: The psychological risks of meditation.”

    Until I read this article, I had believed that heavy-duty meditation was a good way to explore consciousness and pretty much harmless.

    An excerpt from the print version of the April 2021 Harper’s article reads:

    Until the sleep study, Britton had been, in her own words, an evangelist for meditation. “I just sat on the data,” she told me. “I really didn’t want to see it, because it was sort of the wrong an­swer.” Britton filed away the results and delayed publishing them. On a vipas­sana meditation retreat in 2006, she told one of her instructors about her research. “The teacher kind of chas­tised me, like, ‘Why are you therapists always trying to make meditation a relaxation technique? That’s not what it’s there for. Everyone knows that if you go and meditate, and you meditate enough … you stop sleeping.'” Brittan’s resistance to her own findings gradually gave way to curiosity. In 2010, she finally published the results of her sleep study.

    A second excerpt reads:

    Britton and her team began visit­ing retreats, talking to the people who ran them, and asking about the difficulties they’d seen. “Every medi­ tation center we went to had at least a dozen horror stories,” she said. Psy­chotic breaks and cognitive impair­ments were common; they were often temporary but sometimes lasted years.”

    A third excerpt reads:

    Today, the luminaries of main­stream Buddhism widely pro­mote meditation to laypeople, and refuse to acknowledge that it car­ries any risks. In 2012, at a conference on mindfulness at the Mayo Clinic, Britton presented her early findings on the potential adverse effects of medita­tion to the Dalai Lama. “The science of meditation has pretty much exclu­sively focused on the positive effects of meditation,” Britton said. “But if we want to understand the entire trajec­tory of the contemplative path and everything that that entails, we need to be more evenhanded and more balanced in our investigations, and begin to investigate the full range of experi­ences, including the ones that would be considered negative, difficult, chal­lenging, or maybe even problematic.”

    In a recording of the proceedings, the Dalai Lama can be seen nodding gravely, smiling genially, and, on sev­eral occasions, interjecting to crack a joke, such as suggesting that he him­self might one day end up with such impairments. At one point, he said, “These people, I think they just hear things and then develop some sort of excitement.” He said that these medi­tators needed to read more books, an­alyze what they’d read, develop firm convictions, and only then try to meditate. If they followed this course, he didn’t think there was any danger. The Dalai Lama cheerfully concluded that “these negative sides are their own mistake – the positive things, that’s the real truth.” He encouraged Britton to do more research.

  27. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A March 13, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “Over 3 Million People Took This Course on Happiness. Here’s What Some Learned. It may seem simple, but it bears repeating: sleep, gratitude and helping other people.”

    An excerpt reads:

    “It’s hard to set those boundaries with yourself sometimes and say, ‘I know this book is really exciting, but it can wait till tomorrow, sleep is more important,’” she said. “That’s discipline, right? But I had never done it in that way, where it’s like, ‘It’s going to make you happier. It’s not just good for you; it’s going to actually legitimately make you happier.’”

    She said she found having a daily meditation practice helpful, and has stuck with it even after finishing the class. Meditation also helped her to get off social media.

  28. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A May 19, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Woman who claims ‘marriage-like relationship’ with Buddhist holy figure can sue for support: Alleges she got pregnant after the Karmapa Lama sexually assaulted her in New York.”

    An excerpt reads:

    In the months leading up to the child’s birth in June 2018, Dorje allegedly transferred $420,000 US and $350,000 Cdn to Han, including money for a home and a wedding ring.

    In the months that followed, he allegedly wrote: “Taking care of her and you are my duty for life.”

    According to the decision, Han claimed they had what was in essence a spousal relationship but could not be together because Dorje “is forbidden by his station and religious beliefs from intimate relationships or marriage.”

    The pair lost contact in January 2019, and Han sued the following June.

  29. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    The wider topic is strongly held religious beliefs of any kind; a June 1, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “Survivors, faith leaders call on Catholic Church to take responsibility for residential schools: Acknowledgement and mental health services among ways church is being urged to start making amends.”

    An excerpt reads:

    “I don’t think I could be an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada if we hadn’t been honest in our role,” she said.

    The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C. said last Thursday [May 27, 2021] that preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former residential school in Kamloops revealed the remains of 215 children — some as young as three years old.

    In the wake of the find, survivors, Indigenous leaders and advocates, and faith leaders are calling on the Roman Catholic Church to apologize and take responsibility for the atrocities committed against children, families and communities in the residential school system.

    “As an Indigenous ordained minister, it deeply pains me to see our ecumenical partners not do that work,” said Lansdowne.

    The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for operating up to 70 per cent of residential schools, according to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS). United, Anglican and Presbyterian churches were among those operating the remainder.

    In the years since, the Roman Catholic Church is the only one that hasn’t made a formal apology.

  30. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    An Aug. 16, 2021 BBC article is entitled: How mindfulness could make you selfish: Mindfulness may have many benefits – but the latest research shows it can also make some people more selfish.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Mindfulness is said to do many things for our psyche: it can increase our self-control, sharpen our concentration, extend our working memory and boost our mental flexibility. With practice, we should become less emotionally reactive – allowing us to deal with our problems more calmly.

    One ‘benefit’ that you might not expect to gain, however, is heightened egotism. Yet a recent study suggests that, in some contexts, practicing mindfulness really can exaggerate some people’s selfish tendencies. With their increased inward focus, they seem to forget about others, and are less willing to help those in need.

    This finding, alone, should not be a cause for you to cease meditating, if you do find it useful in other ways. But it adds to a growing body of research suggesting that mindfulness training can have undesirable side effects as well as potential benefits – and many psychologists now believe that the potentially negative consequences of certain meditative practices should be advertised alongside the hype.

  31. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Feb.4, 2021 BBC article is entitled: “How too much mindfulness can spike anxiety.”

    An excerpt reads:

    In any discussion of mindfulness, it’s important to remember that there are many different techniques that train particular types of thinking and being. The best-known strategies are mindful breathing, in which you focus on the feelings of respiration, and the body scan, in which you pass your attention from head to toe, noting any physical sensations that arise in the course of the session.

    These kinds of practices are meant to ground you in the present moment and the effects can be seen in brain scans, with growth in the insula cortex, a region that is involved in bodily perception and emotion. As a result, mindfulness training can leave us more in touch with our feelings, which is important for good decision making. Many mindfulness practices also encourage a more general “observing awareness”, in which you train yourself to notice your thoughts and feelings without reacting or judging. With practice, this can increase your capacity for emotional regulation so that you are no longer as susceptible to flashes of anger, for instance.

    Ideally, these changes should complement each other and result in greater wellbeing. But that’s only possible if they occur in balance and moderation. Unfortunately, some meditators may pass the optimum point on either one of these elements, leading to distress.

    I find all such articles of interest. In my anecdotal experience, taking a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in 2004 has been tremendously beneficial for me. That said, I can see from reading articles such as this one that learning about mindfulness must be approached with a measure of caution. In the MBSR course I took there was a screening process in place, to ensure that each person who was planning to take the course was a good candidate, for such a series of lessons.

    From time to time I’ve noticed that magazines abound at places like Shoppers Drug Mart where mindfulness is presented as a sort of cure-all for all that gets in the way of a person’s happiness. Such a promotion of mindfulness appears to me somewhat dubious. That said, the fact that mindfulness is promoted in this way does not detract from the fact that, when suitably presented as, for example, in the kind of MBSR course that I took in Toronto years ago, learning to be mindful in everyday situations can, indeed, serve to strongly enhance the quality of a person’s life.

    Just by way of a small example: If certain things push your buttons in everyday life, the application of mindfulness can, indeed, and I say this on the basis of my own anecdotal experience, keep the pushing of the buttons from taking place. Sometimes, that can make a huge difference in how the day goes.

    The thwarting of button-pushing responses require a process – an application of mindfulness – that plays out in a fraction of a second.

    It’s like you’re dealing with beats – as in a piece of music, or in delivery of a line on stage, or in the editing of a sequence in a film. The process is vastly faster than what occurs when a person stops to think and ponder.

    I would never have believed that this way of dealing with button-pushing would be possible, had I not taken the MBSR course and engaged in a regular practice of mindfulness mediation, for a considerable period of time after taking the course.

  32. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    An October 31, 2019 American Political Science Review article, published online by Cambridge University Press, is entitled: “How Empathic Concern Fuels Political Polarization.”

    The article notes that growing partisan polarization has contributed to legislative gridlock, lower levels of trust in government, and job discrimination in nonpolitical domains. The authors argue that a strong focus on empathy will not invariably solve such problems.

    The abstract reads:

    Over the past two decades, there has been a marked increase in partisan social polarization, leaving scholars in search of solutions to partisan conflict. The psychology of intergroup relations identifies empathy as one of the key mechanisms that reduces intergroup conflict, and some have suggested that a lack of empathy has contributed to partisan polarization. Yet, empathy may not always live up to this promise. We argue that, in practice, the experience of empathy is biased toward one’s ingroup and can actually exacerbate political polarization. First, using a large, national sample, we demonstrate that higher levels of dispositional empathic concern are associated with higher levels of affective polarization. Second, using an experimental design, we show that individuals high in empathic concern show greater partisan bias in evaluating contentious political events. Taken together, our results suggest that, contrary to popular views, higher levels of dispositional empathy actually facilitate partisan polarization.

    An excerpt from the article reads:

    But while empathy might have the potential to reduce intergroup conflict, that potential may not always be realized. Many of the more optimistic findings regarding empathy’s utility in reducing conflict come from laboratory experiments involving direct manipulations of the experience of empathy, but the effects derived from forced exposure experiments may differ from those under self-selection (for discussion, see Gaines and Kuklinski 2011). This methodological point is crucial because people are systematically biased in how they experience empathy on a day-to-day basis (Bloom 2016) and tend to display greater empathy toward ingroup members (Sirin, Valentino, and Villalobos 2017).

  33. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 21, 2021 PNAS article is entitled: “Large-scale genomic study reveals robust activation of the immune system following advanced Inner Engineering meditation retreat.”

    PNAS is acronym for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

    An excerpt reads:


    Several studies on the impact of yoga and meditation on mental and physical health have demonstrated beneficial effects. However, the potential molecular mechanisms and critical genes involved in this beneficial outcome have yet to be comprehensively elucidated. This study identified and characterized the transcriptional program associated with advanced meditation practice, and we bioinformatically integrated various networks to identify meditation-specific core network. This core network links several immune signaling pathways, and we showed that this core transcriptional profile is dysfunctional in multiple sclerosis and severe COVID-19 infection. Very importantly, we demonstrated that the meditative practice enhanced immune function without activating inflammatory signals. Together, these results make meditation an effective behavioral intervention for treating various conditions associated with a weakened immune system.


    The positive impact of meditation on human well-being is well documented, yet its molecular mechanisms are incompletely understood. We applied a comprehensive systems biology approach starting with whole-blood gene expression profiling combined with multilevel bioinformatic analyses to characterize the coexpression, transcriptional, and protein–protein interaction networks to identify a meditation-specific core network after an advanced 8-d Inner Engineering retreat program. We found the response to oxidative stress, detoxification, and cell cycle regulation pathways were down-regulated after meditation. Strikingly, 220 genes directly associated with immune response, including 68 genes related to interferon signaling, were up-regulated, with no significant expression changes in the inflammatory genes. This robust meditation-specific immune response network is significantly dysregulated in multiple sclerosis and severe COVID-19 patients. The work provides a foundation for understanding the effect of meditation and suggests that meditation as a behavioral intervention can voluntarily and nonpharmacologically improve the immune response for treating various conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation with a dampened immune system profile.

  34. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 21, 2021 PNAS article is entitled: “The rise and fall of rationality in language.”

    The excerpt reads:


    The post-truth era has taken many by surprise. Here, we use massive language analysis to demonstrate that the rise of fact-free argumentation may perhaps be understood as part of a deeper change. After the year 1850, the use of sentiment-laden words in Google Books declined systematically, while the use of words associated with fact-based argumentation rose steadily. This pattern reversed in the 1980s, and this change accelerated around 2007, when across languages, the frequency of fact-related words dropped while emotion-laden language surged, a trend paralleled by a shift from collectivistic to individualistic language.


    The surge of post-truth political argumentation suggests that we are living in a special historical period when it comes to the balance between emotion and reasoning. To explore if this is indeed the case, we analyze language in millions of books covering the period from 1850 to 2019 represented in Google nGram data. We show that the use of words associated with rationality, such as “determine” and “conclusion,” rose systematically after 1850, while words related to human experience such as “feel” and “believe” declined. This pattern reversed over the past decades, paralleled by a shift from a collectivistic to an individualistic focus as reflected, among other things, by the ratio of singular to plural pronouns such as “I”/”we” and “he”/”they.” Interpreting this synchronous sea change in book language remains challenging. However, as we show, the nature of this reversal occurs in fiction as well as nonfiction. Moreover, the pattern of change in the ratio between sentiment and rationality flag words since 1850 also occurs in New York Times articles, suggesting that it is not an artifact of the book corpora we analyzed. Finally, we show that word trends in books parallel trends in corresponding Google search terms, supporting the idea that changes in book language do in part reflect changes in interest. All in all, our results suggest that over the past decades, there has been a marked shift in public interest from the collective to the individual, and from rationality toward emotion.

    By way of comment I would say: If we look back on the content of ‘rational’ language dating back to the European Enlightenment, as expressed for example in the linguistic history of settler colonialism, we can say that comments about rationality of language may have somewhat limited utility, in the event we seek to excel at the task of making sense of things.

  35. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I find 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day is a great use of my time. What works for me may not work for everybody.

    I also like to read articles about cautions associated with mindfulness. Such articles are informative on many levels.

    An ecosystem of perspectives regarding mindfulness is readily evident. The ecosystem is well worth exploring.

    In my own experience, the practice of mindfulness has made me vastly more effective in a wide range of realms than otherwise would be the case. It is a tool, a technique, that can be used for a wide range of purposes, some of which may be benign while some of which may be other than benign.

    Not unlike the uses to which the European Enlightenment has been put.

    A March 2, 2022 BBC article addresses this topic.

    An excerpt (I’ve omitted embedded links) reads:

    There are many forms of mindfulness, but the most common techniques involve either focusing on your breathing or paying intense attention to the sensations in your body. There is some good evidence that these practices can help people to cope better with stress, yet a handful of studies over the past few years have shown that they can also have some unexpected and undesired effects. Last year, for example, researchers from the State University of New York showed that mindfulness can exaggerate people’s selfish tendencies. If a person is already individualist, then they become even less likely to help others after meditation.

  36. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    On March 5, 2022 I came across a tweet Catriona MacLeod @CatrionaMacL
    Replying to

    Catriona MacLeod said:

    It’s the neoliberal mindfulness industry.

    The original tweet from Yuliya Komska 🇺🇦 stand with Ukraine@ykomska· reads:

    Seems like a lot of people need to hear this: the western/appropriated wellness arsenal (yoga-meditation-therapy) doesn’t work for everyone. Instead of pushing it onto those affected by war, maybe ask about other therapies—food/walks/animals/retail (can be thrifting)/etc.

    My comment:

    These are valid points. That said, mindfulness does not belong to neoliberalism. Anyone who wishes to can take ownership of mindfulness in whichever way they want.

  37. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A July 3, 2023 Guardian article is entitled: “The big idea: why you shouldn’t always try to live in the moment: Being present is a popular life hack – but where does that leave nostalgia, fantasy and rumination?”

    My comment: We can access the past solely through the present moment.

  38. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 18, 2023 BBC article is entitled: “How I rewired my brain in six weeks.”

    The subhead reads: “There is growing evidence that simple, everyday changes to our lives can alter our brains and change how they work. Melissa Hogenboom put her own brain in the scanner to find out.”

    An excerpt reads:

    So, with the help of Thorsten Barnhofer, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Surrey in the UK, that’s what I set out to do. He’s currently running a study on the effects of mindfulness in managing stress and difficult emotions, with a special focus on individuals with severe depression.

    I was surprised that something as simple as mindfulness can play such a crucial role in keeping our minds healthy. Research has shown that mindfulness is a simple but powerful way to enhance several cognitive functions. It can improve attention, relieve pain and reduce stress. Research has found that after only a few months of mindfulness training, certain depression and anxiety symptoms can ease – though as with any complex mental health problem, this may of course vary depending on individual circumstances.

    There’s more to it. Mindfulness can change the brain. That’s because when the stress hormone cortisol increases and remains high, “it can become toxic for your brain”, says Barnhofer. Stress can also directly inhibit neuroplasticity, so managing it allows the brain to remain more plastic.

  39. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 19, 2023 New York Times article is entitled: “A skeptical look at self-care.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Love it or hate it, self-care has transformed from a radical feminist concept into a multibillion-dollar industry. But the wellness boom doesn’t seem to be making a dent in Americans’ stress levels. In 2021, 34 percent of women reported feeling burned out at work, along with 26 percent of men.

    Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a psychiatrist, has observed how wellness culture fails her patients, who she says are often burned out because of systemic failures, from the stresses that come with financial precariousness to the lack of paid family leave. In her book “Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included),” she encourages people to look beyond superficial fixes — the latest juice cleanses, yoga workshops, luxury bamboo sheets — to feel better. Instead, she argues that real self-care requires embracing internal work, which she outlines as four practices: setting boundaries, practicing self-compassion, aligning your values and exercising power. Lakshmin argues that when you practice real self-care, you not only take care of yourself, but you can also plant the seeds for change in your community.

  40. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Nov. 4, 2023 CBS News article is entitled: “Feeling angry may help people achieve their goals, study finds: More than desire or amusement, anger could help people overcome challenges that get in the way of their ambitions.”

    The article refers to recent research about anger as a source of motivation. A positive feature of the article, in my view, is that research about how intense anger can destroy a person’s health is also highlighted.

  41. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    George Orwell’s connection to Burma [Myanmar]

    A Nov. 8, 2023 BBC article is entitled: “A turning point in Myanmar as army suffers big losses.”

    For your interest, a previous post – Our most recent MCHS picnic took place in Woodstock, Ontario on October 4, 2023 – discusses George Orwell’s connection to Burma [Myanmar].

    A Nov. 2, 2023 BBC article is entitled: “The Chinese mafia’s downfall in a lawless casino town.”

    An excerpt reads:

    More than 100,000 foreign nationals, many of them Chinese, were estimated to have been lured to these scam centres, where they were effectively imprisoned and forced to work long hours running sophisticated online fraud operations targeting victims all over the world.

    Ming Xuechang ran one of the most notorious of these scam centres, called Crouching Tiger Villa. He also reportedly ran the local police force, which, while it donned the regular uniform of the Myanmar national police, acted as little more than a private militia, one of several which enforced the rule of the four families in Laukkaing.

    The article highlights earlier Myanmar history

    A second excerpt reads:

    Peng began as a commander in the China-backed Burmese Communist Party, but he mutinied in 1989 as Chinese support stopped, breaking the Burmese Communist Party up into several armed insurgent groups.

    This was a time when the Myanmar military government was feeling vulnerable. It had just crushed a popular uprising in 1988 with great brutality – the uprising in which Aung San Suu Kyi first emerged as an opposition leader.

    I am reminded of previous posts about gangster literature including one entitled:

    Haberman (2022), Galeotti (2022), and O’Kane (2022) among others are exemplars of the gangster genre of literary nonfiction

    I am reminded as well of previous posts about scams and scamming. Over the years, many site visitors have found the latter category of posts of particular interest.

  42. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 12, 2023 NBC News article is entitled: “War-wracked Myanmar is now the world’s top opium producer, surpassing Afghanistan: The Southeast Asian country’s opium output has topped that of Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban imposed a ban on its production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Northeastern Myanmar is part of the infamous “Golden Triangle,” where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. The production of opium and heroin historically flourished there, largely because of the lawlessness in border areas where Myanmar’s central government has been able to exercise only minimum control over various ethnic minority militias, some of them partners in the drug trade.

  43. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Sept. 18, 2023 BBC article is entitled: “How I rewired my brain in six weeks.”

    An excerpt reads:

    My instructions were to be as aware as possible to the present moment – and pay attention to things I might usually ignore, such as where my thoughts go, and what occupies my mind from moment to moment. He also encouraged me to be more mindful in daily life – say when cooking or running, to really focus on the moment, bringing my mind back to what I was doing, as well as noticing how often it wanders.


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