Stemming from the news of a school apparently substituting punishment with Mindfulness practices, a range of articles and commentaries have been written in the past few days on the effectiveness of so-called ‘Mindfulness’ for teachers and students. Since I have been growing fond of Buddhism in the last few months, and I have read more than one book on the topic, I would like to add my two cents.

Most of the enthusiastic articles I have read on the topic declare mindfulness the solution to many problems, both for the teacher and for students. It can help improve classroom management, deal with stress and burnout and it can generally make your life better. I totally agree with this. But what mindfulness are we talking about?

If we are talking about the American-made corporate mindfulness movement, I doubt it can do any good. It looks to me more like a way of twisting a beautiful, centuries-long practice into yet another money-making machine. So if you are “mindful”, you produce more in less time, you don’t complain about unpaid overtime and we (the business) get more money with less trouble. Great, uh? The same applies to schools and teachers (at least from the articles I have read so far): if you can master the technique, you can get unruly students to sit in the lotus position instead of dealing with the causes of their disruptive behaviour. A nice tale, but hardly true.

On the other hand, if we are talking about sati, or Buddhist Mindfulness (the concept was created 2500 years ago by the founder of what we today know as Buddhism), things change dramatically. In fact, sati is a much deeper and infinitely harder technique to grasp. You won’t learn it reading a book, or going to a 3-hour course. It takes Buddhist practitioners years of intense practice to master it. Do they get results? Definitely. Are they happier, more relaxed? Absolutely. But they worked hard to get there, and keep practising every day. [To read more about this, I really recommend Mindfulness In Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana, which is an Mindfulness 101 manual, or the spectacular Being Nobody Going Nowhere by Ayya Khema. And since I’m on the subject, I also suggest you try Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy by Ajahn Brahm. 🙂 ]

I guess the point of this post (and what compelled me to write it) is: sati can and is a fantastic, tried-and-tested technique, which can help improve many aspects of your life, including work. But going from this to claiming that you can learn it in a quick seminar and use it to improve your productivity, manage your stress levels or get your students to behave is more than just a stretch. It’s pure marketing.

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