In 2013, when the mindfulness programme at the Palace of Westminster was established, its architects brimmed with hope and expectation. A radical transformation of politics was envisaged, with the UK at the heart of a family of mindful nations. Two years later, rhetoric undimmed, the Mindful Nation UK report gushed about pioneering a National Mental Health Service “to support human flourishing and thereby the prosperity of the country.” Not much evidence of that, is there? The gift to the nation turned out to be a decade’s worth of tame self-management programmes that have barely dented the status quo.
The UK Parliament recently celebrated 10 years of mindfulness at Westminster with a report, Mindfulness in Westminster: Reflections from UK Politicians, which examines the impact of mindfulness training on MPs, members of staff, and the wider parliamentary culture. One in 10 serving MPs and 800 employees – equivalent to a quarter of the current workforce of the Palace of Westminster – have taken part in mindfulness courses since 2013. Mindfulness is now a well-established presence in the halls of power. There is talk of a dedicated meditation room as part of a multibillion-pound overhaul of the parliamentary estate. Have you noticed what a difference mindfulness has made to the nation’s elite political institution?
Is mindfulness practice, which involves cultivating a bright and wakeful mind, relevant to getting a good night’s sleep – a state which, by contrast, requires no awareness?
Thinking is a primitive form of action which, like any kind of action, has consequences. Occasional thoughts can repeat to become habitual. Habitual thoughts shape mental traits and, in so doing, subtly shape character. This happens quietly, gradually, moment by moment, day by day, via the innumerable judgements of the ever-active, thinking mind.
Mindfulness has a certain modesty about it. People who practise diligently develop a taste for that. They find themselves appreciating the company of other modest beings. There is no ‘big talk’ about one’s practice. Such behaviours are a hallmark of equanimity, a key ally to mindfulness. If reports of meditatively expanded egos and statistically significant self-enhancement scores amongst meditators are true then they indicate that there are varieties of ‘junk mindfulness’ – conceptually slack, functionally pointless, ethically sterile – operating at large.