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As mindfulness has entered the mainstream of Western societies, one of the most striking developments is the popularity of mindfulness practice among British Members of Parliament and the connections they have made to public policy. Triratna has had a significant presence in this process. Vishvapani, one of those involved, updates us on this work and writes: “A few years ago, when these discussions started, I don’t think any of us imagined that their potential ramifications could be so far-reaching.”
Mindfulness courses run by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre started in 2014 and since then 175 MPs and Lords and several hundred political staff have taken a mindfulness course. They were so impressed that a year later, some of the politicians formed the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to explore how public policy could support the spread of mindfulness.
A third group, comprising academics and others in the mindfulness field and called The Mindfulness Initiative, also started to support the APPG and over the next year it organised a series of meetings in Parliament for the APPG that looked at mindfulness in several policy areas. Vishvapani joined the core group to help with the Report, and others from Triratna contributed to the discussions, including Vidyamala, the founder of Breathworks and Amaladipa who has a senior position in the Probation Service and Kulananda, who runs Mindfulness Works.
The Mindful Nation UK Report was published in Autumn 2015 and three government ministers spoke at the launch in Parliament. This was ground-breaking work - the first time any Parliament had looked at mindfulness in this way.
Last Autumn the Mindfulness Initiative held another meetings to review progress since 2015. The main issue driving the report was rising stress levels and mental health problems in every area of society, and it looked at how mindfulness teaching can be offered more effectively in the areas of Health (both physical and mental), Education, Criminal Justice and the Workplace. The 2017 meeting presented the progress that has been made in all those areas and Amaladipa spoke about the large mindfulness teaching programme she has worked on with Vishvapani for men in prisons and on probation (we’ll let you know more about this programme when the findings are published).
The second meeting reflected the interest the report and the Westminster mindfulness courses have generated in parliaments around the world. Parliamentarians from fifteen countries gathered in Westminster, with Jon Kabat-Zinn presiding, to hear about what has been happening in the UK, and the speakers included Vishvapani and Amaladipa. This was an unprecedented event and the parliamentarians responded warmly to what they heard.
Finally, the Advisory Group, including Vishvapani and Vidyamala, met recently to plan the future direction of the Mindfulness Initiative as it responds to growing interest in the significance of a mindful approach beyond policies connected to mindfulness teaching. Amid concerns about the nature of politics in the UK and elsewhere, some in Westminster are exploring what it might mean to develop a more mindful culture there.
There’s also growing interest in its relevance to a range of global issues. The power of ‘the Attention Economy’ makes the art of paying and directing attention a central concern. For example, the Fourth Industrial Revolution threatens to replace jobs with robots, automation, 3D printing and other new technologies, raising an existential question about the need to find meaning outside work. Climate change threatens us in many ways, and proffers the need to move away from a culture that prizes consumption. And, as government has become increasingly technocratic and public services have become focused on targets and profitability, many politicians have been asking how a more human dimension can be restored.
These are huge issues and while there are no panaceas, the growing interest in mindfulness offers a way to speak about the impact of unconscious biases, beliefs and unhelpful mental states. In these settings ‘Mindfulness’ means much more than what Buddhism means by the term, and these discussions can also include Buddhist perspectives, ethics, compassion and the power of views.
Find out more about Triratna and the Mindfulness Initiative
Follow Vishvapani’s blog, Wise Attention.
Vishvapani will be speaking and debating on topics connected with mindfulness and Buddhism in several events at the How The Light Gets in Festival in Hay on Wye on 27th May. Vishvapani says: “Do come along if you’re interested, it would be great to have support from others in Triratna.”