Volume 9   Number 1     Fall 2015

From Reified Self to Being Mindful: A Dialogical Analysis of the MSBR Voice

Michelle H. Mamberg
Bridgewater State University

Thomas Bassarear
Keene State College

pp. 11-37

ABSTRACT. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs are being incorporated into healthcare systems worldwide. To cultivate present-moment, non-judgmental awareness, MBSR is taught using meditation instructions couched in particular forms of language.  Yet the scholarly literature, while replete with empirical validation studies, has little to say about MBSR discourse. Further, although the program may be seen as a cultural hybrid (i.e., American Buddhism), drawing as it does upon traditional mindfulness practices and concepts, MBSR research paradoxically employs methods which presuppose Western notions of self.  In contrast, we identify conceptual similarities between the Buddhist notion of anatta, or non-self, and Dialogical Self Theory’s (DST) treatment of self as an ongoing process of changing positions in dialogue with each other.  DST is ideally suited to studying discourse aimed at diminishing self-reification.  Interviews with MBSR practitioners (N = 20) yielded self-narratives which were subjected to a DST analysis, guided by the research question, “How do MBSR practitioners portray themselves when discussing their mindfulness practice?”  Our intention was to delineate how practitioners take up the unique “MBSR voice” in their self-portrayals.  Our findings could be laid out along a developmental continuum: portrayals were seen to range from unreflective voicing of a reified self, to more developed self-narratives in which mindful awareness (a meta-position) was portrayed in dialogue: bringing an inquisitive, present-focused, and compassionate awareness to habitual reactions.  The telos of development, as seen from both theoretical perspectives, entails de-positioning: describing simple awareness of being.  Our analyses display how the MBSR voice de-reifies self, and how that voice may be taken up by practitioners, to varying extents.   Concurrently, DST is demonstrated to be theoretically and methodologically applicable to studying MBSR discourse.

 Keywords: self narratives; mindfulness meditation; MBSR; dialogical self; Buddhist Psychology