Mary Sykes Wylie

How the Mindfulness Movement Went Mainstream -- And the Backlash That Came With It

In 1979, a 35-year-old avid student of Buddhist meditation and MIT-trained molecular biologist was on a two-week meditation retreat when he had a vision of what his life’s work—his “karmic assignment”—would be. While he sat alone one afternoon, it all came to him at once: he’d bring the ancient Eastern disciplines he’d followed for 13 years—mindfulness meditation and yoga—to people with chronic health conditions right here in modern America. What’s more, he’d bring these practices into the very belly of the Western scientific beast—a big teaching hospital where he happened to be working as a post-doc in cell biology and gross anatomy. Somehow, he’d convince scientifically trained medical professionals and patients—ordinary people, who’d never heard of the Dharma and wouldn’t be caught dead in a zendo or an ashram—that learning to follow the breath and do a few gentle yoga postures might help relieve intractable pain and suffering. In the process, he’d manage to reconcile what was then considered fringy, New Age folderol with empirical biological research, sparking a radical new approach to healing in mainstream medical practice.

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Falling in Love Again: The Amazing History, Marketing, and Wide Legal Use of Today's "Dangerous" Drugs

In the fall of 1987, a story appeared in the business section of the New York Times about a new antidepressant drug, fluoxetine, which had passed certain key government tests for safety and was expected to hit the prescription drug market within months. Just this brief mention in the Times about the prospective appearance of the new, perkily named Prozac propelled Lilly shares from $10 to $104.25—the second-highest dollar gain of any stock that day. By 1989, Prozac was earning $350 million a year, more than had been spent on all other antidepressants together in 1987. And by 1990, Prozac was the country’s most prescribed antidepressant, with 650,000 prescriptions filled or renewed each month and annual sales topping $1 billion. By 1999, Prozac had earned Lilly $21 billion in sales, about 30 percent of its revenues.

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Is the Internet Making You Lose Your Mind?

Let's face it: whatever expert opinion may say, we all know that the Internet is addictive. Of course, you can substitute "seductive" or "habit forming" to avoid the overused diagnostic buzzword, but have you ever noticed how often you visit your favorite site or check e-mail whenever you get stuck with a work-related problem or feel bored or restless or anxious or depressed? Relief is just a click away! Does this remind you of the cigarette break you used to take when you were still smoking, and for the same self-soothing reasons?

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Has the American Dream Become Our Nightmare?

For much of our history, we haven't felt any need to negotiate our national faith in unlimited upward mobility. To the great American middle class, the path forward and upward to economic comfort and security was clear, dependable, beautifully simple: you went to work every day, earned a little more money every year, saved what you could, and didn't radically overspend. In return, you were rewarded with your fair share of the most bountiful and productive society ever to exist on earth. You knew the value of money, you appreciated the value of money, and money thanked you, in its way, by allowing you to graze pretty freely throughout that fruited plain spanning the land from sea to shining sea.

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The Vast Conspiracy to Create Insomniacs

It's 3:00 a.m. Your eyes suddenly snap wide open and stare unblinking into the darkness. You try to remember the dream you were having, but it's gone, and anyway you're now as tightly tuned as a bowstring to the mysterious night noises of your house—pings, drips, rustles, hums, creaks—that send little electrical jolts zinging unpleasantly through your nervous system. You determine not to move, because that would be to admit you really are irrevocably awake. So you lie very, very still and clamp your eyes tightly shut again, though they fight back, quivering in the effort to reopen.

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