You can read his article here. It is quite funny.
His expertise enabling him to shed an educated light on the subject has apparently been gleaned from ‘reading the books’ and ‘downloading the apps.’ Well done Giles. A good few hours’ study there then.
The book he refers to (‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to Finding Peace In A Frantic World’) is written by, as he implies by association, ‘lunatic whack-jobs’. I would prefer to use the authors’ proper titles of Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman, both of the University of Oxford. They quote and reference many studies that have been made on the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation, mostly concerning the efficacy on sufferers of depression, stress and anxiety. I hazard a guess that NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence would not have been recommending mindfulness for sufferers of depression relapse for well over 10 years now if it was, as Mr. Coren describes it a “massive. Pile. Of. Bollocks.”
When referring to mindfulness being used in the corporate world he says of bosses: “They want their drones pacified, and they’re using meditation because they are not allowed to use drugs.” I’d just like to clarify, mindfulness does not turn people into walking zombies. On the contrary, they may actually become more creative, think ‘outside of the box’, and be more confident in their own abilities. Not, you would think, qualities of ‘pacified drones’.
“You wouldn’t start a course of chemotherapy if you didn’t have cancer, would you? It’s ridiculous” he continues. This is correct. But in making a comparison such as this, Mr. Coren really doesn’t have the first clue about how thought-processes and mindfulness work. From his comments, I would imagine that he perhaps needs to thank his lucky stars that he has never suffered with severe depression relapse. Perhaps instead he should be praising a method that can help such sufferers. And yes they, in particular, are often advised to begin to learn mindfulness techniques when they are not at the bottom of ‘the black hole of depression.’ You can’t, and shouldn’t, really compare two such vastly different treatments now should you… unless you’re lacking in a real, intelligent argument in the first place of course.
So, Giles Coren gets a great bit of publicity whilst knocking mindfulness. Good for him. As I said, it was an entertaining article.
In response, I’d like to put a few more points across. So…
Mindfulness is a great form of relaxation. If you attend a mindfulness group, the chances are that you’ll come away from it feeling a lot less stressed than when you went in.
However, if it’s really going to make a difference in your life, and the way you live your life, then mindfulness can be seen as so much more than just ‘relaxation’. Yes, it’s good to go and get your ‘fix’ of mindfulness on a regular basis, maybe once a week in a group - some mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques may involve you being guided on a pleasant mental journey - and this is all well and good. But it’s the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) techniques that, I feel, are even more important and lie at the centre of you being more at ease with things as they happen in your everyday life.
We all are liable to get so caught up in our own thoughts - judgements, insecurities, worries, plans, interpretations - that rarely do we have a full awareness of what is actually going on in the present moment. And yet that is the only point in time where we can really live our lives. The past has gone. Even the second it took you to read that sentence… and that one… gone. Left only in your memories and imagination. The future is yet to happen and cannot be lived in physically, and although you can imagine what it might be like you never really know for sure until it happens, by which time, all too soon, it’s in the past. Living can only take place right here, right now – and we often miss so much of it because we’re caught up in our thoughts and judgments.
The more we can become aware of our thoughts and our thought processes, the more chance we have of being able to detach ourselves from those that are less than helpful. This is why mindfulness has a proven track record for helping people who suffer with depression relapse. These people are actually encouraged to learn mindfulness techniques when they’re feeling good about things, before they slip into that proverbial ‘black hole’. They are then more likely to recognise their thought processes unravelling in the direction of an episode of depression, and ultimately may have more control before slipping completely. NICE recommends mindfulness as a treatment for people who are prone to episodes of depression for this very reason.
It was recently suggested to me that mindfulness is a technique that relaxes you and makes everything appear hunky-dory but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the real world and all the sadness, upset and pain that it is so often fraught with. How wrong this interpretation is. Mindfulness, at its best, should focus on every aspect of life, whether perceived as good or bad. Whatever we happen to be going through at any particular time, is life unfolding. And often it’s far from easy. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a recognised authority on mindfulness techniques in the western world, has a saying: “You can’t stop the waves… but you can learn how to surf.” Life is not straight-forward. Hurt happens. But recognising the fact that things can and do pass, may help just a little. Being mindful of the fact that the good times come to pass as well may also be helpful. We are then more able to ride the waves – the troughs as well as the crests.
Physical pain is another aspect of life in which mindfulness may be able to provide some relief. Instead of trying to block it out, in rather a contradictory fashion, bringing your awareness to your experience of the pain may actually help to transform it into something a little more manageable.
So, yes, please do go along to a mindfulness session purely for a nice bit of relaxation once a week. But please recognise the fact that it can offer so much more than this if you’re willing to invest a little time and effort to take the cognitive techniques back into your everyday lives.
Oh and enjoy reading articles by Giles Coren. He’s entitled to his opinion and may articulate it as he sees fit. But remember, when he’s passing comment on mindfulness, that he’s first and foremost a restaurant critic and newspaper columnist, not a professor or doctor from the University of Oxford… or indeed, someone who, I would be surprised to find, has ever suffered from depression.