Radio 4 produced a programme which aired on Monday 5th January 2015 that was so wonderfully titled, that I just had to plagiarise the programme's title Mindfulness: Panacea or Fad? The programme was unable to live up to such a brilliant title, but I don't intend to review the broadcast in this article. Instead, I want to offer my own reflection on the question, Mindfulness - panacea or fad?

The current zeitgeist in health is Mindfulness. Mindfulness has reached such ubiquity that the term seems to just slip off the tongue... without thinking...


The flaw in mindfulness is probably the exaggerated claims of its promoters who proclaim Mindfulness is a panacea, cure-all. It might be a useful idea for many people to be aware of, but it is unlikely to live up to its hype for most people. That is not to say that a few people may gain a lot from it. But, at best, for most people mindfulness in isolation is pretty useless. Mindfulness can only be part of a package of things that help someone's health. Some of these "things" (this package of things) may be provided through the Health system, such as medication, therapy, support groups etc. And, some of these things are not provideable by The State, as they involve finding "Meaning".

Mindfulness does not present a reason for Being; in fact, it only responds to the existential question of Meaning and Being, by avoiding it. Mindfulness says "stay in the moment - do not go with those thoughts; stay with your breathing etc". This negates more fundamental reasons for anxiety, despair and angst. However, it does not resolve them.

The Health system can provide a better quality of life with things like medication, either to alleviate physical pain or reduce mental anxiety; and this allows someone to be in a better place to find those other "things" that provide Meaning. In essence, things like self-esteem, respect/self-respect, love, a sense of purpose/achievement.

Mindfulness fails to tackle these things. In its worst form it is a bad type of self-comforting; in its better forms it has a spiritual element that may lead to Meaning.

Mindfulness, in the terminology, is a "tool". But, a tool to do what?

And this, is the problem. In its secularised form, Mindfulness has been shorn of its spiritual, religious elements; and is a "tool" to self-soothe, which is ultimately vacuous. Whereas, Mindfulness as a "tool" within Buddhist theory, and as a "tool" to Enlightenment is part of a wider project that may provide Meaning. Basically, secularised Mindfulness is limited; but, within Buddhist philosophy Mindfulness may be part of something Meaningful.

Ultimately, the problem with Mindfulness is not Mindfulness per se; but Mindfulness shorn of its quasi-religious elements within Buddhist thought. Or simply, mindfulness only works if it is committed to fully, within a broader ethical/quasi-religious framework.