Why You Should Read Mindful America by Jeff Wilson

Last week, we looked at the brief history of the term “mindfulness” and learned about seven ways it was translated into English language.

The idea for the article came from Jeff Wilson’s Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. Because I love this book, I want to share a few reasons why you should read it and what you will learn. Here’s a summary penned by the author himself:

Chapter 1 is the most historical section of the book, as it examines some of the mediating forces that have brought and continue to bring mindfulness to the United States.

Chapter 2 shifts to look at the ways in which mindfulness’s traditional Buddhist context is eroded away, a process of mystification necessary to make it available for a wider range of new American pursuits.

Chapter 3 [shows] how mindfulness has been taken up by the medical and psychology industries as an important new tool for their own ends.

Chapter 4 is concerned with how mindfulness moves further into the mainstream of American society, serving average American needs in the everyday middle-class American life.

Chapter 5 explores the marketing strategies that are used to bring Americans to mindfulness, and how mindfulness is used to make money in connection with various products, including mindfulness itself.

The final chapter looks at the moral aspect of mindfulness: for many Americans, mindfulness provides a sense of values and a way to not only reconnect with the sacredness of life but also to potentially save the world itself.

In the postscript, I consider some frames of analysis — primarily drawn from the study of American religious history — that can help us make sense of what is going on in the American rush to mindfulness.

The book will be interesting not only to Americans, but also to people from other parts of the world. Jeff Wilson writes:

Despite the particular focus on the United States, Mindful America should prove useful to people who wish to study this movement in Europe, Asia, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

I hope it will be of service to those who wish to keep a broadly international scope in view, without concentrating on any particular country, as well as those conducting firmly emplaced projects that consider aspects of mindfulness that manifest in very specific locations.

About the book’s author: Jeff Wilson is a professor of religious studies and East Asian studies for Renison University College, at the University of Waterloo. He has written several books about Buddhism and the interaction of Buddhism and various aspects of North American culture, including Mindful America and Dixie Dharma.

Complement with our article on seven alternative translations of the word “mindfulness.”

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