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What makes mindfulness credible?

For anyone who wishes to take their meditation and mindfulness practice to the next level, it is now possible to obtain a Master of Arts in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The academic study of mindfulness is not new. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which inspired this new degree program, provides mindfulness training all over the world.  There are also numerous mindfulness related programs and certificates offered across the United States, from IDP’s own Teacher Training and Immersion program (of which I am a graduate) to Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Training. The Master of Arts in Mindfulness Studies, however, is groundbreaking, in that it is the first professional degree program of its kind to be offered in the US.

But, does it take a graduate degree to make the practice of mindfulness credible?

Personally, I struggle with this question. I spent years (and a lot of money) educating myself because I thought that it would give me the credibility and confidence I needed to get ahead in life. I am the first in my immediate family to go to college and the only one to obtain a graduate degree. My father did not even graduate High School. Growing up, I devoured books and longed to understand the world and my place in it. Pursuing higher education was my way of pushing up against all the social and cultural pressures of my hometown that silently told me I would not get very far.

And by all accounts, I've succeeded. My education has served me well and enriched my life more than I ever expected. However, higher education could only take me so far. Much to my dismay, no degree or level of education could possibly give me the kind of confidence or credibility I really sought. Not even the IDP Immersion program could give me this, though, it helped tremendously. This has come only from the long and painstaking process of learning how to trust myself, face my enormous self-doubt and validate my own direct experience without the "authority" of a professor or a textbook.

There is nothing wrong with offering (or pursuing) a graduate degree in mindfulness studies. In fact, I think it’s long overdue. However, I also think it’s important to acknowledge that academia alone cannot cultivate wisdom or validate the practice of mindfulness for us. This can only come from trusting our own direct experience. And a direct experience of the heart, I might add.

Interestingly enough, once you trust your own experience, you may discover that you don’t really need a graduate degree (or any degree) to validate your mindfulness practice.

What do you think? What has been your experience?

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My opinion

The value of studying mindfulness academically is in teaching it to skeptics.

The precepts of mindfulness are IMHO absolutely essential for our continued survival as a species. If I were more of a movementeer, I would work on getting it taught in elementary schools, in prisons, in megacorporations, and everywhere else. Academic credentials give you the power to start making that happen.

Of course it has to be a practice and a personal experience. But I have a ton of respect for hardcore academics such as Sam Harris, and even a bit for the ninja-guru types who court hard-charging capitalists, for bringing it out of the stodgy confines of spiritual tradition.

Our culture simply values research, specialization, and Big Data too much to open up as much as it needs to without some heavily footnoted encouragement.

So although I was a terrible student in college and learn best as an autodidact and observer, I would love to see what a Doctor of Mindfulness could accomplish vis-a-vis large-scale cultural shift.


it's like a master's of divinity without the divinity?

in my field, journalism/ communication, you can get a master of arts or a master of science. arts is more theoretical, while science is more practical.

or you can get a job and learn by doing.

I agree that Buddhism has to be a combination of study and practice. intellectual understanding matters, but the almost indefinable knowing is what's transformative.

a master's in mindfulness could be a useful credential; it's hard to put realization on a resume. :)


It's tricky - you're right, a master's in mindfulness could be a useful credential and I mean, devoting 2 years to studying mindfulness?? C'mon, how awesome is that?! On the other hand, if you don't include the heart, where does that leave the practice? Yep - it's hard to put realization on a resume. :)

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