After years of being largely restricted to yoga studios and meditation halls, mindfulness meditation has entered the mainstream, and corporations and universities are rushing to include it in their curriculum or their offerings to employees. Neuroscientists first became fascinated with mindfulness over a decade ago after brain-scan results from Tibetan Buddhist monks showed previously unimaginable levels of compassion and equanimity. Now dozens of studies are published each year in magazines, newspapers, and academic journals showing the benefits of mindfulness for everything from stress-reduction and pain management to enhanced empathy and increased focus and effectiveness at work and school. Mindfulness even infiltrated a recent annual meeting of the influential World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where a presentation touted its value for the corporate bottom line.
If you practice mindfulness—either as a relative beginner or as a seasoned veteran— you might be interested to learn that the practice taught in adult education centers, corporate conference rooms, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) trainings is somewhat different from the approach used in the monasteries of South Asia, where it originated. Indeed, the approach you’re likely to encounter is a streamlined version that monks in some traditions might not even recognize. In the West, mindfulness is generally defined as bare, nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experience. But in Asia it’s part of a set of related practices that are together intended to lead the practitioner to spiritual awakening and the “sure heart’s release” from suffering.