Triumphalism is a sense of superiority and expectation of ultimate triumph, often reflected in exultation about the achievements of one’s religion or ideology (as confirmation of progress towards an ultimate triumph). Granted, triumphalism is an “observer’s category” and is generally used pejoratively. Few people would call themselves triumphalist. Still, the idea of triumphalism captures something that is quite real. Here are a few quotes from an excellent exemplar of the triumphalist spirit within the mindfulness movement, Jon Kabat-Zinn from Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness ( Kindle page numbers):

“…the scientific investigation of mindfulness and its effect on health and well-being has grown tremendously … exploding scientific evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness…240-252 [my italics]

“…the research in this area is expanding exponentially.” 313 [my italics]

“In MBSR, we try to inspire people …We do this by touching on the ways in which new scientific research and thinking are transforming the practice of medicine itself… This transformation in medicine is sometimes referred to as a paradigm shift, a movement from one entire worldview to another.” 3289-3322 [my italics]

“The most rigorous of the physical sciences [physics] has had to come to terms with new discoveries showing that, at the deepest and most fundamental level, the natural world is neither describable nor understandable.” 4323 [my italics]

“This new way of being in relationship to stress and potential stressors can be hugely liberating.” 5602 [my italics]

“Science is now searching for more comprehensive models that are truer to our understanding of the interconnectedness of space and time, matter and energy, mind and body, even consciousness and the universe, and what role the human brain…. plays in it all.” 3330 [my italics]

Here is the narrative of a relentless but inevitable march towards the triumph of mindfulness as a scientifically-validated way of being, the current scientific embrace of mindfulness foreshadowed but radically discontinuous with what came before (at least in the West). Hence, the emphasis on newness: no incrementalism here – we’re talking a movement “from one entire worldview to another”. Just as the gap between the mindful and the rest is unbridgeable in modern society, there is no straight line from the old science to the new science.

It’s really quite odd. That the world is “interconnected” is not exactly new or revolutionary. Ditto for the idea that at some level the world is indescribable or beyond understanding. These perspectives go way back and own nothing to the mindfulness movement.

Regarding the apparently widespread and growing scientific support for the benefits of mindfulness, neuroscientist and meditation researcher Catherine Kerr says: “It is not like any of this is grossly inaccurate. It is just that the studies are too cherry-picked and too positive.” I would add that the triumphalist spirit, borne of religious and ideological fervor, encourages such selectivity because it is essentially anti-scientific. Science starts with a tentative proposition that something may be the case. Triumphalism starts with certainty that something is the case – and in time the essential truth will be revealed to all.