Can Mindfulness change politics for the good?

This week, US scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man widely recognised as the founder of modern mindfulness, addresses politicians from 15 countries around the world, to explore whether mindfulness can bring compassion and perspective to international politics. This extraordinary event has been organised by senior Conservative and Labour MPs, keen to discuss the potential of secular mindfulness meditation to build resilience and clear thinking.

Mindfulness and Politics

Mindfulness to the international stage

It could be said that clarity of thought, together with wisdom, compassion and perspective are desperately needed qualities against our global backdrop of Trump and extremism.

Kabat-Zinn's pioneering work bringing meditation back from the East and re-packaging mindfulness to a secular western audience, took flight in the late 1970s, when he put together an eight-week mindfulness course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Now, MBSR and its sister eight-week mindfulness course, MBCT (rubber-stamped by the NHS and NICE), are taught around the world. Both courses are entirely secular and can be transformational for anyone seeking to increase self-awareness and compassion, lower stress levels and find a healthier relationship to their own thoughts and emotions.

By any standards, Kabat-Zinn's appearance in the UK parliament is a remarkable testimony to the zeal and foresight of a man who may well come to be viewed as one of the true visionaries of our (or any?) time.

William Kuyken, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, suggests that Kabat-Zinn's legacy could one day see him compared to Darwin and Einstein.

“What they did for biology and physics, Jon as done for the science of human mind and heart”, says Kuyken in an interview with Kabat-Zinn in Sunday's Observer.

Mindfulness to help society

In the same piece, Kabat-Zinn refers to meditation as 'a radical act of love and sanity' in our age that so often seems bereft of either quality. Perhaps this simple intention is the reason mindfulness has woven itself so deeply, and so quickly, into the fabric of so many aspects of society, from politics to our schools and prisons.

In a Guardian piece earlier this month, Labour MP Chris Ruane, who has practised meditation for ten years and is co-chair of the all-party group on mindfulness, is quoted as saying that mindfulness has helped him make better decisions. “If you make decisions from a position of balance and equilibrium, it is far better, not just for personal but political decisions that affect a whole nation.

“In timers when you have political leaders who may not be making political decisions from a position of balance, it doesn't do them, their country or the world much good.”

Nonetheless, mindfulness is no quick fix and no panacea – something Kabat-Zinn is always quick to point out. It takes commitment and work to feel the benefits. The science of meditation is in its infancy, he cautions in the Observer article. “We haven't scratched the surface of what human intelligence is really all about.”

Satvada Retreats runs regular, accessible Mindfulness for Wellbeing weekends in Norfolk over the winter months. See our schedule page for further information.