The Mindful Cranks

The Mindful Cranks broadly explores the cultural translation of Buddhism in the West, various facets of Buddhist modernism, and the mainstreaming of mindfulness in secular contexts. The podcast serves as a forum for voices that go beyond the dominant narratives which have been thus far uncritical of consumerism, medicalization, psychologization, corporatization and self-help approaches. Drawing from a wide range of disciplines — the humanities, philosophy, cultural studies, education, critical pyschology, religious studies, and sociology—The Mindful Cranks welcomes new conversations that challenge the priviledging of scientific materialism, methodological individualism, reductionism, and neoliberalism. Our guests are leading edge scholars, authors, teachers, practitioners and activists that share a mutual interest in civic mindfulness and socially engaged contemplative methods. A wide range of diverse perspectives–including critical theory, critical pedagogy, ethnography, Foucauldian governmentality, feminism, hermeneutics, critical race theory, critical management studies, socially engaged Buddhism, political economy–provide the “cranky” intellectual tools for socially engaged contemplative change.
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Now displaying: 2019
Dec 30, 2019

In Episode 19, we speak with Candy Gunther Brown, Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University about her new book, Debating Mindfulness and Yoga in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion? (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

Dec 13, 2019

In this episode, we join David Forbes and special guest host Nomi Naeem to discuss David’s book, Mindfulness and Its Discontents: Education, Self and Social Transformation, published by Fernwood Press (2019). The first half of the interview was recorded at the Brooklyn Public Library, so the audio quality is not quite up to par, but it’s acceptable. Our wide ranging discussion examines the shortcomings and problems of how mindful school programs that have fallen prey to a neoliberal agenda, reinforcing individualistic skills of “self-regulation” of anger and stress. We explore how mindful school programs have failed to resist the sources of stress that stem from racist, inequitable, social unjust systems. David also provides a sketch of a “counter-program” that offer a way to make mindfulness a force for democratic education.

David Forbes, PhD, is an emeritus in the Urban Education Doctoral Program at the CUNY Graduate Center where he teaches a course on critical mindfulness in education. He has written on and consults with K-12 educators about pivoting from neoliberal to transformative integral social mindfulness practices in schools. He is coeditor, with me, of the Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context, and Social Engagement (Springer 2016) and co-host of this podcast, The Mindful Cranks.

As a counselor educator David taught School Counseling at Brooklyn College/CUNY for nineteen years and wrote Boyz 2 Buddhas: Counseling Urban High School Male Athletes in the Zone (Peter Lang 2004) about his experience practicing mindfulness with a Brooklyn high school football team. At Brooklyn he was co-recipient of a Contemplative Program Development Fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and is a member of the Mindfulness and Social Change Network based in the UK from which he is featured on a website, "Being Mindful of our World: A Collection of Social Mindfulness Voices."

Muhammad Naeem, Nomi, is a Senior Librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Apr 26, 2019

In this episode, we discuss David Loy’s latest book, ECODHARMA: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis, available from Wisdom Publications. EcoDharma is a landmark work that is simultaneously a manifesto, a blueprint, a call to action, and a deep comfort for troubling times. David masterfully lays out the principles and perspectives of Ecodharma—a Buddhist response to our ecological predicament, introducing a new term for a new development of the Buddhist tradition.

David Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Zen tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. David began Zen practice in Hawaii in 1971 with Yamada Koun and Robert Aitken, and continued with Koun Roshi in Japan, where he lived for almost 20 years. He was authorized to teach in 1988 and leads retreats and workshops nationally and internationally at places such as Spirit Rock, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Omega Institute, Upaya Zen Center and many others. David was a formerly a professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy, and recently received an honorary PhD from his alma mater, Carleton College for his scholarly work on socially engaged Buddhism. David Loy is one of the founding members of the new Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, near Boulder, Colorado.



Mar 27, 2019

Dr. Steven Stanley is a critical psychologist in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, Wales. He is interested in the history and philosophy of psychology and its intersection with Buddhism and is currently studying the therapeutic culture of late modernity with a particular focus on the mindfulness movement. Alongside his academic research, Stanley has a 20-year meditation practice, and has undertaken the two-year Committed Dharma Practitioner Programme at Gaia House, Devon, and Pāli Summer School at Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Oxford. He is leading co-editor of the Handbook of Ethical Foundations of Mindfulness and the Principal Investigator of a three-year research project Beyond Personal Well-Being, a landmark study which is mapping the mindfulness movement in the United Kingdom, funded by The Leverhulme Trust.

In this episode, Steven Stanley shares with us the critical research he has been conducting on the mindfulnesss movement, ranging from his historical scholarship of meditation and mindfulness, particularly as applied to ethical and moral issues, to his qualitative analyses of what contemporary mindfulness teachers actually do in their interactions with students MBI courses, as well as his innovative breaching experiments that incorporate contemplative methods. A recipient of a prestigious grant from The Leverhulme trust, Steven provides an overview of his fascinating empirical research that is “mapping” the mindfulness movement in the United Kingdom.

Mar 26, 2019

Wakoh Shannon Hickey has been an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. Her research interests include American religious history, particularly minority traditions and women leaders; Buddhism in East Asia and the West; religion and medicine; and inter-religious dialogue, with particular interests in Buddhist-Christian dialogue and issues of race and gender. Wakoh currently is a Spiritual Support Counselor (chaplain) in Sonoma/Napa, California, for Hospice by the Bay, one of the oldest and largest non-profit hospice agencies in the United States. Wakoh was ordained in 2003 as a priest of Sōtō Zen Buddhism, which she has practiced since 1983.

In this Episode, we interview Wakoh Shannon Hickey, author of The Mind Cure: How Meditation Became Medicine (Oxford University Press, 2019), as she traces the 18th and 19th century Mind Cure and New Thought movements, and how this early history shaped and paved the ground for the modern self-help and mindfulness movements. Many of the first Americans to advocate meditation for healing were women leaders of the Mind Cure movement, which emerged in the late nineteenth century. They believed that by transforming their consciousness, they could also transform oppressive circumstances in which they lived, and some were activists for social reform. Trained by Buddhist and Hindu missionaries, these women promoted meditation through personal networks, religious communities, and publications. Some influenced important African American religious movements, as well. For women and black men, Mind Cure meant not just happiness but liberation in concrete political, economic, and legal terms. The Mind Cure movement exerted enormous pressure on mainstream American religion and medicine, and in response, white, male doctors and clergy with elite academic credentials appropriated some of its methods and channeled them into scientific psychology and medicine. As mental therapeutics became medicalized, individualized, and then commodified, the religious roots of meditation, like the social justice agendas of early Mind Curers, fell away. After tracing how we got from Mind Cure to Mindfulness, Wakoh tells us what got lost in the process.

Feb 10, 2019

In this Episode, we interview Jaime Kucinskas, author of The Mindful Elite (Oxford University Press, 2019), as she draws on first-hand accounts of the elite mindfulness circuit and describes how white, affluent and privileged networks became co-opted and beholden to institutional and corporate interests. In their efforts to "scale" mindfulness and make it accessible to the masses, Jaime tells us how this messianic movement led to a glaring social myopia, coming to reinforce the problems the Mindful Elite aspired to solve.

Jan 10, 2019

Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University's Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. His training was mainly philological, concentrating on Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan Buddhist literature. Glenn has been concerned with how to make classical Buddhist literature, philosophy, and practice relevant to contemporary life. Since the early 1990s, Glenn has taught in the religion departments of several universities, including the University of Georgia (where I received tenure), Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Won Institute of Buddhist studies.

Glenn Wallis is the founder and director of Incite Seminars. As he describes it, “Glenn founded Incite Seminars as a very personal response to the escalating social inequality, intensifying racial unrest, and eviscerating techno-consumer capitalism that he increasingly witnessed all around him.” Incite Seminars was thus founded on the conviction that education in the humanities offers us a means to recognize, resist, and counter the forces of personal alienation and social division—forces such as hopelessness, bigotry, passivity, and self-delusion.

In this episode, David Forbes and I discuss with Glenn the ideas in his recent book, “A Critique of Western Buddhism” (Bloomsbury, 2018). We cover a wide range of topics, some from his provocative blog, Speculative non-Buddhism, such as the “Elixir of Mindfulness.”

Our conversation dives into a critique of Western Buddhism via Laurelle’s “non-philosophy” – in our case, “non-Buddhism.” Glenn helps us to understand such notions as the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism, “decision,” the “organon,” and how Western Buddhism backs away from the potency of the Real. Typical Western Buddhist concepts such as wisdom, emptiness, anatta (no-self), “the Dharma” – ideas which could be forces for thought and transformation – are turned around, and returned to the safe and familiar shores of the already known. Western Buddhism seems to suffer from a perpetual parapraxis – a series of misturnings – that relegates it to a form of spiritual self-help, ensuring its entrapment in a self-sealing echo chamber. Thinking things through is itself a form of practice/praxis. Glenn joins us in challenging the common tropes of the mindfulness movement – particularly Jon Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis that our ADD Nation is suffering from a so-called “thinking disease.” Turning this nonsense on its head, we discuss how thinking – how a force for thought – can cut through the tendency to stay ensnared in the World, liberating thinking for a counter-subject formation that resists capitalism and the neoliberal order.