Mindfulness has been at the center of a large number of discussions and clinical studies in the last couple of decades. Moreover, it’s established itself as an important method for influencing the way we respond to our environment and the different thoughts, feelings, sensations it provokes inside us. But where did mindfulness come from and how did it manage to become so successfully ingrained in the fabric of the Western culture?
The History of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has its origins in ancient meditation practices. Based on Zen and Tibetan meditation techniques, the actual source can be traced to sati, a very important element of Buddhism. It is the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path and there are various translations of the term. Whether you call it awareness, mindfulness, bare attention, or even remembrance (all of which are acceptable translations), it doesn’t really matter, as sati (smrti in Sanskrit) denotes that one is on the path of liberation. This path leads to blissful awareness which lies beneath all the human suffering, the foundation of all our experiences.
Unfortunately, western civilization has had to live without the ideas of sati for a long time, only finding all about it through the teachings of Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist who brought the idea of mindfulness to a population starved for meaning.
Afterward, Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American Professor Emeritus of medicine and a student of Thích Nhất Hạnh, took it a step further. He created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts, and thus began the application of mindful practices and techniques in medicine.
Today, mindfulness exists in the Western culture completely devoid of any spiritual or religious meaning, and it used purely as a tool to achieve what Kabat-Zinn describes as “present moment awareness”. It was with great effort that he managed to extract mindfulness from Buddhist teachings and present it in such a way that the general population, at the time quite wary of “new age, eastern mysticism” could accept it, and even apply it in their everyday lives. The rest is, as they say, history.