While use of mindfulness techniques is everywhere touted, the signs are rather that Americans are ever-less capable of being mindful. One concrete measure showing this is the case is the surge in the American Caesarian rate.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 1, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Caesarians and Mindfulness
In my end-of-the-decade summary of the American mind, I noted that - although mindfulness is highly touted in the media - our society is becoming ever less mindful.
I am not a seminal thinker on mindfulness, but I have learned about it through my work with addiction. My understanding of mindfulness is that it comprises a learned ability to focus on physical and emotional processes as a way of controlling them.
Every self-help guru, every health program, every self-improvement book discusses mindfulness. But how are we doing with it as a society? It is difficult to come up with hard measures (other than, as I did in my decade review, referring to childhood obesity rates and the explosion of psychiatric medication use).
But one concrete measure could be the rate of Caesarian births. In the 1980s, a great premium was placed on natural childbirth. Birthing classes proliferated for baby boomers. These classes taught breathing and physical mind presence techniques to aid the delivery process. These are the hallmarks of mindfulness, and - indeed - birthing classes now bear that name.
In the 1980s, the Caesarian birth rate rose in the U.S. to nearly 25 percent. Many health bodies instead suggested a 10 percent figure was ideal.
Flash forward to the present - the Caesarian rate is approaching a third of live births in America. The primary reason for this is the increased medicalization of birthing, including most notably fetal monitors, which both restrict the freedom of the birthing mother, and provide data often felt to require a Caesarian. It is no longer thought advisable that mothers and their attendants should interpret the physical sensations of birthing without technological assistance.
And, so, a generation of parents who felt it was a major issue to confront the difficulties of natural childbirth are now attending the Caesarian births of their grandchildren. Their own children simply are not capable of completing natural, vaginal childbirth.
Thus, the contemporary Mindfulness Movement is not important in terms of changing how we live, but rather as a signal of what we have lost - and cannot regain.