Hide the Religion, Feature the Science: 60 Minutes Drops the Ball on Mindfulness
Watching 60 Minutes, the viewer would have virtually no opportunity to realize where this mindfulness comes from—the piece treats it as having essentially sprung from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s well-functioning brain.
In fact, mindfulness is a Buddhist meditation practice, and it was from Buddhists during Buddhist meditation retreats that Kabat-Zinn learned about mindfulness in the first place. If you know what to look for, there’s lots of Buddhism on display during Cooper’s report, but none of it is ever attended to, and the average American probably can’t decipher what’s being shown.
So we see Buddhist meditation practices (mindfulness, called sati in the Buddhist Pali language), Buddhist meditation postures and gestures (Kabat-Zinn holds his hands in a mudra position), Buddhist meditation cushions (zafus and zabutons, imported via Japanese Zen Buddhism), Tibetan Buddhist hand cymbals, and actual Buddhists (Chade-Meng Tan, among others) on-screen, yet they are never decoded so that we can understand them. Buddhism is never referenced at any point, except for a brief allusion to “the Zen people from ancient China” as folks who knew better than us. This is an example of what I call mystification: the obscuration of mindfulness’s roots and usual context so that it can be extracted from religion and recontextualized to fit new purposes.
Instead of religion, the context for mindfulness on 60 Minutes is medical science. We’re shown headlines from journal publications that claim to measure health benefits from mindfulness practice, and Anderson Cooper gets himself fitted with a brain machine so we can watch him stress out and then calm down with mindfulness. Cooper throws a softball question to Kabat-Zinn, inviting him to explain to us why this mindfulness stuff isn’t “New Age gobbledygook,” which provides a further opportunity to reinforce that this is all perfectly natural activity approved by doctors and scientists.