Neil portrayed by Nigel Planer (BBC News photos)

Images of mindfulness: the Hippie

In All articles, Making sense of mindfulness by Norman Lamont2 Comments

Neil portrayed by Nigel Planer (BBC News photos)

Neil portrayed by Nigel Planer (BBC News photos)

This is the last in a series of posts about people’s preconceptions of mindfulness as pictured by Chris Goto-Jones of the University of Leiden. We’ve looked at the Scientist, the Monk, the Warrior and the Zombie. The final character is the Hippie.

Hippies in the UK and US

Like the Zombie, the Hippie sums up a collection of adverse views of mindfulness. Unlike the Zombie, however, there are some to whom the Hippie is a positive image. It has to be said that this population is probably in decline, certainly in the UK, where the Hippie image has become crystallised in popular culture by Neil from The Young Ones, a well-meaning but inarticulate and vacuous shambles. In the UK, the idea of hippies has tended to mean only a fashion style, with the associated hedonism of psychedelic drugs. In the US, however, it was a different story, one not always appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. The generation who embraced the hippie movement in the late 60s, especially the young men, were always just one government letter away from being sent to a war in Vietnam that few believed in and which even then, seemed unlikely to lead to any kind of victory. Imagine the war in Iraq or Syria today being fed by a compulsory enlistment of men between 18 and 26 and you get a sense of the threat that generation lived under. While some of the US hippie movement was about hedonism and music, and some about draft-dodging, it was also a focus for social radicalism, the birth of hugely influential movements like the Greens and the women’s movement. These young people were under threat and they responded with their own visions of how society could be better.

To that degree, there may be a positive association in some people’s minds between mindfulness and social radicalism, environmentalism and anti-capitalism. It may be overgeneralising but I think we could imagine most mindfulness practitioners being oriented towards liberalism than authoritarianism, even today.

However, that very association can lead to suspicion and mockery, particularly in the UK where the image of the Hippie is less nuanced and more of a comedy character. Rather than being seen as one step away from the Monk or Warrior, the Hippie for many is one blissed-out step away from the Zombie.

How to use these characters

First of all, look at your own motivation for your interest in mindfulness. Do you find spiritual imagery or language attractive or off-putting? Does the emphasis on scientific research findings to justify the practices reassure you, or make you wonder if something is being lost? Does part of you want to achieve levels of effectiveness in everyday life that might be labelled, even jokingly, as ‘powers’? Do you feel defensive if friends label you a hippy or even a mindless zombie?

There’s no point in categorising yourself or pinning a ‘Warrior’ badge on yourself – we all have different motivations and these vary from day to day and will shift according to who we’re influenced by. But teasing out these strands can help you understand what’s drawing you to mindfulness and may also help you deal with resistance to suggestions or practices that challenge your semi-conscious stereotypes.

They will also help you to understand the views of friends and family who may not share your interest and may be worried about what will happen to you if you get more involved. When friends talk about mindfulness, try to tease out for yourself which ‘characters’ are speaking.

These characters come from the online course De-Mystifying Mindfulness, from the University of Leiden on the Coursera platform.


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