If Mindfulness is the Answer, What is the Question?

Dr. Joanna Cook

“If mindfulness is the answer, what is the question?” was a talk given by Dr Joanna Cook, UCL (Presentation with Q&A) as part of the Round Table “Mindfulness in Public Discourse” which was held at the Centre of Buddhist Studies, SOAS University of London on 8 December 2018.

In the UK, mindfulness is a political concern. An awareness practice originating in Buddhism, mindfulness is being interpreted as a positive intervention for societal problems as wide ranging as depressive relapse, criminal recidivism, children’s academic performance and worker burn out. Given the diversity of these challenges, it is striking that their solution is presented as unitary. In this presentation, I consider changing understandings of mental health and human flourishing. Taking political interest in mindfulness as my ethnographic focus I examine the broader cultural value of ‘metacognition’. I argue that cultivating a relationship with one’s own mind, learning to think about thinking in a peculiarly committed way, is increasingly being incorporated into understandings of the good life, mental health and governance.

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