The word “mindfulness” is peeking its head around many corners of western society, creeping into the conversations of business leaders, pro athletes, life coaches and the cognoscenti. No longer the exclusive domain of Buddhist teachers, this great little article from the New York Times discusses the origin of the term mindfulness from its late 19th century translation of the Pali word “sati” to its 1970s adoption by Jon Kabat-Zinn in an effort to provide a secular and un-intimidating term for meditation and its effect.
It’s profoundly tempting to dismiss as cant any word current with Davos, the N.B.A. and the motherhood guilt complex. Mindful fracking: Could that be next? Putting a neuroscience halo around a byword for both uppers (“productivity”) and downers (“relaxation”) — to ensure a more compliant work force and a more prosperous C-suite — also seems twisted. No one word, however shiny, however intriguingly Eastern, however bolstered by science, can ever fix the human condition. And that’s what commercial mindfulness may have lost from the most rigorous Buddhist tenets it replaced: the implication that suffering cannot be escaped but must be faced. Of that shift in meaning — in the Westernization of sati — we should be especially mindful.