The practice of mindfulness, based in particular on the method of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and has become immensely successful.
Over the last 30 years, it has gained worldwide recognition and interest, not only in the clinical world where it was first applied, but also in educational systems and the corporate world.
When skilled instructors like Jon-Kabat-Zinn, who is himself a very compassionate person, teach mindfulness, the main messages that comes through is of benevolence, altruism, and compassion.
However, this might not always be the case. A teacher may leave out this important component in his presentation or method. When kindness and compassion is not clearly present in the training, there is always the risk of using mindfulness merely as a tool to increase concentration and focus directed at achieving ethically questionable goals.
When the mind is agitated and confused, when our perception of reality is highly distorted by wild thoughts, hatred, craving, envy, and arrogance, suffering arises. Mindfulness can be a wonderful tool to notice these destructive thoughts when they arise and prevent them from invading our minds further.
However, is mindfulness alone enough? It is a bit too optimistic to take for granted that the practice of mindfulness will automatically make you a more caring person.
A calm and clear mind is not, in and of itself, a guarantee for ethical behavior. There can be mindful snipers and mindful psychopaths who maintain a calm and stable mind. But there can not be caring snipers and caring psychopaths.
By practicing caring mindfulness, we get two for the price of one since, in order to cultivate compassion, we need to be attentive and mindful. When our mind is drifting all over the world, we are not cultivating anything.
To protect the practice of mindfulness from any deviations, a clear component of altruism needs to be embedded from the start. We need to systematically refer to "caring mindfulness".
Doing so offers a very potent, secular way to cultivate benevolence and promote a more altruistic society, while cultivating mindfulness at all times. To be fully transformative, the mindfulness revolution has to go hand and hand with the altruism revolution.
Photo by Matthieu Ricard