MINDFULNESS – whether we seek it through activities like meditation or yoga – is increasingly nudging its way up our "to do" lists. And for some Waitrose customers, it’s now on their shopping lists. Slotted in amongst larder essentials such as Tuscan virgin olive oil, organic apple cider vinegar and hand-milled Egyptian red quinoa, Waitrose clientele will now be able to replenish their stocks of mindfulness as the supermarket trials in-store yoga classes in several branches in the south of England. If successful, Waitrose plan to roll out the yoga mats across many of their UK outlets.

I’m all for mindfulness. Anything that can make us more aware of how we think and feel and which helps us focus on the present is generally a good thing. However, our expectations about the power of meditation to magically transform us into a newer, calmer, more Zen kind of self, are unrealistic and misplaced. This seems to be backed up by new research published last week and co-led by Coventry University in the UK (along with research partners at universities in New Zealand and Holland) which suggests that meditation may not necessarily make you a nicer person.

The Coventry research reviewed 22 previously published studies on mindfulness/meditation, involving 1,638 participants. The results show that claims for the effectiveness of mindfulness practices in reducing aggression, making us less prejudiced and more socially-connected, are fundamentally flawed and methodologically biased because the authors who conducted many of the 22 studies were also the very same people who taught the meditation.

Developing true compassion is a messy business that usually involves getting our hands dirty in the fields of lived experience. It is not something we can acquire off the shelf in hermetically sealed jars or bubble wrapped packages.

Real compassion means caring about the suffering of others, without judging them and without feeling disgust, fear or contempt.

While it’s relatively easy to feel compassion for those to whom we are biologically related or closely attached, it’s a much bigger ask when it comes to feeling it for total strangers such as homeless people, refugees or victims of natural disasters on the other side of the planet. This kind of compassion demands discipline of mind and the ability to think about your own thinking (not easy in a world where greed is good and we are encouraged not to think for ourselves and to follow the herd). And, bad news for the well-heeled who shop in posh supermarkets, it’s even harder for them to feel compassion because their socio-economic privilege makes it more difficult to recognise suffering in others (because they haven’t experienced it). Conversely, if you are poor, deprived or socially disadvantaged, your compassion bandwidth is much broader and more sensitive to the suffering of others (because you are much more likely to have suffered in some way).

The swing towards mindfulness and all things meditative is probably a step in the right direction, but if we do it with the sole intention of making ourselves feel better, fitter and smugger about who we are, then it’s a compassion faux-pas, a mere cherry on the top of a world jam-packed with suffering.

Only when we can extend compassion to others, to strangers, does it have any meaning. Being a whizz at meditation or yoga and developing a knack for calming your mind and lowering your heart rate is all very well, but, primarily, it benefits the self. Mindfulness and compassion have to involve and be connected with the lives and feelings of others if it is to have any material impact on making the world a better place.

I read a report recently which said that on the day Trump became president, there was a massive surge in the downloading of meditation apps which are used to reduce anxiety and anger.

Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be good at very much at all, but he is a master at winding people up and making them feel outraged. Maybe if we managed to use meditation to pay attention and think about how to defeat the awfulness that is Trump and the global inequalities and problems that led him to the White House – rather than just using it to calm ourselves and soothe our outrage – we might actually start to build a better world for all, with nicer folk in it.