Impressions from the International Conference on Mindfulness, Amsterdam 2018 by Pilar Puig
I had the chance to attend the International Conference on Mindfulness last month, in my new role as workplace lead and ops manager at the Mindfulness Initiative. It was my first mindfulness conference and it was fascinating to get a broader view of the field and the people in it.
There were statisticians, neuroscientists, psychologists, yoga instructors, anthropologists, musicians, actors, Buddhist monks in robes, and corporate mindfulness trainers in suits – an amazing diversity of people discussing the topic from multiple perspectives, using the different languages and frameworks offered by the disciplines they specialise in, and highlighting diverse aspects of the practice and its effects. I felt honoured to be working in something so rich, allowing for that level of multiplicity in backgrounds and views.
The key messages I left with were:
- We don’t know what it is exactly about mindfulness that makes it impactful – is it the time spent meditating or the type of practice? The teacher? The attitude one has when practising? There is conflicting evidence on the topic and seeing that was very humbling: we still have much to learn.
- A lot of time and energy was dedicated to conversations around innovating beyond the 8 week program and developing new formats – like those developed by Judson Brewer in his Eat Right Now program.
- Ethics came out as an important point both from critics and supporters of mindfulness interventions. One of the few things everyone seemed to agree on, is that we need to investigate ethics further: what does it mean to teach and practise mindfulness ethically? Mindfulness teachings do not (most of the time we just don’t actively acknowledge it) and should not happen in an ethical vacuum. There is a need to define the ethical framework in which they are held. There is also a need to investigate and understand any harm that mindfulness might cause, e.g. due to unskilled teaching or lack of adaptation to the particularities of a population.
- The secular nature of mindfulness came up time and time again. Addressing critics of secular mindfulness practice, Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor talked about how, within Buddhism, secularisation isn’t a new Western development but has been happening since the religion’s inception. Similarly, the potential and challenges of including more secularised wisdom from contemplative traditions (e.g. Buddhism, Greek Stoicism, Epicureans, sceptics, Christian mystics, Jainism, etc.) into mindfulness practice was also widely discussed.
It’s an exciting time to be working in mindfulness, a field in which so much has recently happened and in which there is a great deal of necessary and interesting work still to be done! While I initially found it unsettling that we don’t know exactly how much mindfulness can help different populations with different problems (the evidence base is still in very early stages in most areas of application), by the end of the week I felt stimulated, challenged and encouraged to do more and better work, and to continue to deepen my personal practice.
All in all, it was an incredible week of reflection and connection, which only increased my excitement about starting the MBCT Masters at the OMC this October and continuing to work with the Mindfulness initiative – I feel extremely lucky to have the chance to continue exploring mindfulness with these organisations.