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  • Writer's pictureHiro Saito

The Basic Principles of Mindful Social Science

Updated: 4 days ago

1. As Jon Kabat-Zinn put it, mindfulness is "awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally." We can cultivate such an awareness based on the following attitudinal foundations -- non-judging, patience, beginner's mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, gratitude, and generosity -- together with sufficient self-discipline and self-compassion in carrying on with our practice.   

2. Mindfulness is simultaneously hearfulness. This is why mindfulness practice involves the cultivation of not only an awareness of what is happening here and now (e.g. vipassana or insight meditation) but also love for ourselves and people around us (e.g. metta or loving-kindness meditation). In this sense, mindfulness practice is essentially about collective well-being, as Thich Nhat Hanh advocated the idea of interbeing. If we lose sight of this collective nature of our happiness, we fall into the trap of "wrong mindfulness" or what Ron Purser called "McMindfulness."

3. This is where social science comes in. Instead of holding the individual responsible for his or her own well-being, social science illuminates the systemic causes of collective suffering in the economy, politics, society, and culture impinging on the lives of many people. Here, what C. Wright Mills called "sociological imagination" intersects with mindfulness. From this social scientific perspective, mindfulness practice is ultimately a collective endeavor to make the world a more peaceful, just, and happier place. Social science is thus a crucial ally for "engaged mindfulness." 

4. In turn, mindfulness helps social scientists see the world as it really is. More often than not, social scientists are influenced by their own cognitive biases, emotional reactivity, and automatic thoughts, among many other unwholesome psychological formations, when formulating research questions, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions. Here, mindfulness enables social scientists to become aware of their own habits of thinking, feeling, and judging and make a conscious effort to minimize their interference with the process of understanding the world. 

5. Thus, mindfulness and social science go hand in hand in understanding the systemic causes of collective suffering in the contemporary world and exploring ways to transform them in the pursuit of greater collective well-being.  

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