Fostering the Mind of Poverty

Is it unethical to bring awareness to certain life circumstances?

by Lynette Monteiro & Frank Musten

The Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic Teacher Training Retreat brings out the best in our participants and this session was no different.  One of the questions that arose from our examination of the impact of the various exercises we invite a class to do was particularly thought-provoking.  This question is also central to refining our intention as teachers of and participants in any Mindfulness-Based program.

“What are the ethics of an exercise that brings attention and awareness to a lack in their life?”

We take many levels of our comfort for granted; Cheri Maples, co-founder of the Center for Mindfulness and Justice, calls these assumptions “unearned assets”.  By virtue of our gender, race, creed, and access to education, certain avenues that get us what we need are available to us.  By virtue of our education, we enjoy a “value-added” level of credibility when we speak to people.  Our patients grant us, in our initial meeting, a trust and assumption that we likely are competent because of the title and degree.  We don’t have to work for these “credibility assets” because they come as a package along with the labels.

The specific question asked by one of our participants was about the ethics of asking someone to do the raisin exercise if this person may be in a financially tough situation and may not have enough food at home.  On the surface this may seem like a non sequitor however it raises a deeper question about the impact of our work as mindfulness teachers.  What are the unearned assets we bring to class?  What are the assumptions we operate from that could highlight a hardship or a lack in our participants’ lives that may not be helpful?

This is a tough and complex question.  Let’s look at the intention of mindfulness.  It is to bring not only awareness but also value to our life as it is.  Our tendency is to only see what is missing, to see the glass half full.  When we start from this stance our tendency is to continue down the path of probing for lack.  “What if my participants don’t even have a glass; what if they don’t even have potable water?”  This is where, we believe, the true work of practice happens.  The issue is absolutely about the glass and the water.  And it is neither about the glass nor the water. Continue reading