"Mindfulness Involved: Exploring the intersection of meditative practice, contemporary subjectivity and ecosocial change " is the title of the doctoral thesis that Joseba Azkarraga Etxagibel have read the 2 July at the Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, within the Doctorate Program in Psychology. The thesis has been directed by Josep Gallifa i Roca.
Joseba Azkárraga was trained as a Mindfulness Monitor at the MBTB (Mindfulness based on the Buddhist tradition), during the first promotion of 2015.
This fragment is the presentation of the thesis.
You sit back and just watch what happens, accepting what emerges. For a moment stop doing projects and setting goals. Stop projecting into the future, also to delve into the past. Leave aside those two features of the human condition that devalue the present: memory and anticipation. What is the reason that such a practice has penetrated Western societies? What does the Western individual find in Eastern-style meditation??
For the author of this work, the meditative practice of oriental origin was a discovery of great impact, probably on a par with that produced by another great introspection device, analysis and (auto)knowledge - in this case conceived in the bowels of Western culture -, how is deep psychology (especially psychoanalysis). From that biographical imprint, This work aims to analyze meditation and the meaning of the very successful emergence of mindfulness in contemporary society and subjectivity.
There are many thinkers, Western philosophers or psychologists who have become interested in meditative practice. Eminent figures of Western psychology and psychiatry such as Karl Jaspers showed interest, Jung, Erich Fromm y Karen Horney; and also great philosophers like Heidegger, Martin Baber, Simone Weil y Michel Foucault. in addition, there are countless writers, Western artists or mystics who have revealed their fascination with this form of wisdom that is beyond thought, which is not intellectual speculation, but it is more on the side of the art of the good life.
Western meditation is usually about thinking, think about something, and the typical meditative image refers us to a head resting on one hand and looking down. That is to say, logos. Either it has to do with ceremonies and rites where believers are invited to contemplate the Deity, call this God, Yahvé o Alá. Oriental-Buddhist meditation is different. Oriental meditative techniques work attention, the logos shining by its absence. Attention in the first place on the most immediate: own breathing. But also attention to the whole body, as well as on sensory activity, emotional and cognitive-intellectual. Therefore, the observation focuses so much on the body, as in emotions and mental contents. It's about focusing on the present moment, attending to what happens at this precise moment.
The point is that the human mind constantly travels into the past or into the future. (the constant mental chatter of which the beginner becomes vividly aware). Thus, it continually evades the present moment through the formulation of large companies or entangled in small vicissitudes of daily life.. The meditative state is an invitation to detach and disidentify from these thoughts, to abandon them by paying attention to what happens here and now, from non-reactivity, in such a way that these thoughts are born, develop and die in the absence of attachment of the meditative mind. The meditator limits himself to testifying what happened and develops within himself an equanimous observer in the face of constant sensory activity, emotional or mental, returning again and again to focus on the present moment. It is to reflectively and actively attend to what is happening in the current moment. It is not only an invitation to develop a (new) position of caring observer of oneself, but it is also an invitation to observe how the subject relates to what emerges (seeing if there is avidity / attachment, aversion / rejection, or neutrality).
It is about, well, of a quality of mind, of the basic ability of humans to be fully present, aware of where we are, what do we do, what do we experience, how we relate. This basic skill can be cultivated through certain methods and, among other wisdom traditions, highlights the meditative practice developed by the Buddhist tradition. Although we should recognize that meditative practices precede Buddhism, who were not necessarily religious in their beginnings, and that there are similar practices in other wisdom traditions throughout the world.
The human capacity to live absent from the present time, thanks to memory and imagination, has been a huge evolutionary advantage, as well pointed out by the psychiatrist and psychobiologist Vicente Simón (2011). Thanks to memory we can avoid what hurt us and look for what produced gratification. For his part, thanks to imagination or the ability to produce fantasies, we can plan life, avoid danger, or savor success (the anticipated feeling of triumph). But nevertheless, what has been a notable evolutionary advantage also has drawbacks: memory is responsible for disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and significant negative emotional charges; the imagination produces a state of constant desire that generates a feeling of lack and dissatisfaction, at the same time that it can generate a state of anxiety and excess fear. Thus, meditative practice offers stillness and calm.
With everything, el mindfulness (Cebolla et al., 2014) —The Western and secular adoption of meditation of Buddhist origin — is a state in which the practitioner is attentive to what is happening in the present, with openness and acceptance (no judgment). A) Yes, mindfulness involves, on the one hand, self-regulation of attention (attentive to bodily events, emotional or mental) Y, for another, an open orientation toward immediate experience. Some authors speak of mindfulness as a complex cognitive process that can be called way to be, in front of our usual daily life anchored in the Way of doing. The latter would be oriented to the achievement of a goal (mind is mostly in the past or future), While in the way to be there is no goal, the focus is on observing and allowing the experience of the phenomena that constantly emerge in our routine lives (sensations, emotional or mental content), without judging them and without exerting any pressure to change them. How does all this impact contemporary subjectivity?
Structure of the thesis
In this research work we intend to analyze how meditative practice is related to contemporary subjectivity. We will do it from two perspectives that constitute two different ways of approaching human subjectivity. A psychosocial perspective, based mainly on the sociohistorical psychology of Norbert Elias. And a second psychodynamic perspective, strongly informed by Jung's analytical psychology and enriched by other transpersonal authors, which also serves as a bridge to introduce us to the field of eco-psychology. Those two looks, one psychosocial-eliasian and the other psychodynamic-transpersonal, they constitute the two fundamental nerves that run through the reading that we propose on human subjectivity, although the reader will quickly observe that the two perspectives slide in times, different shapes and modulations.
We open the work with a generous exposition of the fundamental bases of the sociohistorical psychology of Norbert Elias. Why Elias, being a rather unknown author in the field of psychology? We believe that it is one of the great contributions to the analysis of contemporary subjectivity. The Eliasian contribution can be read as the attempt to carry out a psychology well informed by sociology and history.; or also as "a highly original synthesis between historical sociology and psychoanalysis" (Zabludovsky, 2007, p. 30). His intellectual legacy is an attempt to understand the relationship between, on the one hand, social and historical processes (sociogenesis), and on the other, the formation of personality structures and individual psychology (psychogenesis). Individual and society go hand in hand.
In Elias's opinion, the historical evolution that Europe has undergone from the high Middle Ages to the present day can be understood as a process underway towards a growing social and personal civilization. Which means that, parallel to the constitution of the modern state (his monopoly on violence), increasing interdependencies and social complexity, individual behaviors and emotions are increasingly self-controlled. That is to say, At the ‘macro’ level, there is the pacification and complexity of society, and at the ‘micro’ level (psychological) increased self-control of behaviors, affections and impulses. It is therefore a vision in which biographical microprocesses are intimately linked to sociohistorical macroprocesses.
Elias' magnum opus, The process of civilization, is the one that interests the most in this research. It deals with the aforementioned processes of social change and the historical conformation of personality structures.. We could say that Elias, in a way, is located in the field of study of psychic changes throughout history. The process of civilization refers to an essential change in human behavior and sensitivity: of a behavior (plus) regulated by external constraints to a behavior (plus) regulated by self-duress, with the progressive increase in the threshold of shame and scruples. That is to say, psychic structures are not historically invariable products, but entities subject to transformations.
Therefore, Elias's vision points out that certain social transformations produce powerful effects on the psychic configuration of individuals, giving rise to modern subjectivity, whose characteristic is a greater degree of control and attention over one's own behavior and that of others. The individual is thus freed from the slavery of direct emotion and drive., although at the price of greater shame, anguish, internal tensions and fears. Increases the distance between the animal spontaneity of human creatures (the emotional condition of early childhood) and the level of (auto)regulation socially required of adults. Linking socio-historical processes with the behavior and affective structures of human beings, Elias's contribution allows us to understand our contemporary subjectivity — the changes in consciousness, in behaviors, in the impulsive structure and in the affections and emotions of humans - in intimate relation to the society in which we live. This research thus intends to rescue for the psychological discipline the substantial and significant contribution of Norbert Elias, because, although his contribution has been excellently received in other social sciences (especially in the field of sociology), the psychological aspect is as notable as it is unknown in the field of psychology, despite the fact that for some authors (Weiler, 2011, p. 15) the aforementioned psychogenetic process could be considered to be the backbone of his theory.
Beyond Elias, we will leave a relatively wide space for another of the great thinkers of contemporary subjectivity, Michel Foucault. For two reasons: on the one hand, we are interested in the dialogue between the two due to the remarkable similarities between the two contributions, despite starting from two very different ways of looking at reality; and on the other, because the Foucauldian perspective has already been used for the analysis of different therapeutic practices, meditative and self-help. The Foucauldian vision supposes an enrichment of the Eliasian vision, insofar as it also contributes a historical and social theory of subjectivity. Both authors, Elias and Foucault, offer us an interpretation on the modes of subjectivation, closely linked to power relations and forms of knowledge (the impulse to promote new forms of subjectivity that oppose the type of individuality imposed and carved for so many centuries is much more evident in the work of the French author). What's more, We will complement both visions with other perspectives from the field of analysis and psychosocial reflection..
The second theoretical section proposes a different approach to human subjectivity, Jungian-transpersonal root. Its virtue is that it leads us to think about human subjectivity beyond the constitution of an ego with powerful executive capacities that allow optimal functioning in an increasingly interdependent world.. It leads us to glimpse later stages in which individual human development can be thought through terms such as post-goic development., self-transcendence, or transegoic life stages. Linked to it, on the phylogenetic plane it allows us to analyze the evolution of consciousness throughout the history of mankind. From this look, both the biographical trip (ontogenetic level) as the evolution of the collective consciousness (phylogenetic level) would potentially point toward the materialization of an identity characterized by the de-centering of the self and the mitigation of egocentricity.
That is to say, and said in the simplest way possible: with Elias —in dialogue with Foucault and with other psychosocial analyzes— we think of human subjectivity as growing self control; with rear vision (junguiana-transpersonal), we think of it as the crescent expansion of the self. Both perspectives will allow us to assess the impact of mindfulness on contemporary subjectivity.
What's more, the second theoretical look at subjectivity allows us to relate human subjectivity with the question that this work crosses squarely: the ecosocial challenge. El paradigma junguiano-transpersonal, beyond constituting an adequate platform to understand meditative practice and its effects on subjectivity, it is also a bridge towards eco-psychology: the highest or advanced stages (transpersonal) of human consciousness would have striking coincidences with the ecological self, understood as the construction of a self in growing connection and identification with others and with others. Naess pointed, father of deep ecology, that this broadening of the self would make possible a non-harmful action and a model of behavior, without relying on external moral impositions, but because damaging other living beings or the environment would imply damaging an integral part of ourselves.
Why slide the analysis of meditative practice towards the ecosocial question? Let us answer with another question: Is there really a more important question in our time?
For the analysis of the ecosocial question as the central question of our time we have analyzed the contribution of numerous authors, but we must acknowledge our debt to a special author: the philosopher, poet, translator and activist Jorge Riechmann. This research work draws directly on his central intuition that self-containment - as an effect of a great cultural and subjective transformation - is the quintessential key to a dignified solution to the enormous contemporary challenges.
From that extensive theoretical journey, the empirical section has two different parts, as a two-dimensional way of meditative practice. On the one hand, the teachings Zen of who is probably the most important reference of Zen Buddhist meditation in the Spanish State, Master Dokushô. His teachings have been collected both in the framework of Zen retreats and in the training process called MBTB (Mindfulness Based on Buddhist Tradition). Subsequently, in a second empirical block the experiences of the meditators themselves. Such analysis allows us to address the effects of meditative practice on subjectivity in both directions.: in the direction of increasing self-regulation (psychosocial vision- eliasiana) and towards a growing ecosocial sensitivity (eco-transpersonal vision).
Through the results obtained in the empirical work, the concept of involved mindfulness, which gives title to this doctoral thesis. It is defined as a model of mindfulness in which three different but strongly intertwined codes or languages converge, as constituent ingredients of said model (psychological code, transcendent code and political code). At the same time, It is argued that the analyzed model is sustained on the pillar of sufficiency as the ultimate foundation.
This research does not address mindfulness from a therapeutic or clinical perspective, as is usually more common in the field of psychology, but from a psychosocial perspective. We do, further, from a qualitative methodology, which is also less common in mindfulness research. In a way, in this work we have asked ourselves if, besides stillness and calm, meditative practice also offers wisdom. The wisdom - in the form of ecosophy - that is required to navigate this century of unprecedented challenges.
Joseba Azkarraga Etxagibel
Illustration by Luz Pérez González