22 July 2019

Hot Off The Press

Once in a while, an article about mindfulness appears in the mainstream Press that is worth reading. The standard fare about calming down / spacing out / focussing in / floating off / etc. / etc. / etc. takes a break. The smooth flow of sound bites about inner peace and the scientifically proven health benefits of meditation drops to a hush. Into the space pops an insightful and refreshing critique of what’s really going on.

This year’s contribution came courtesy of The Guardian, along with the confusing title ‘The Mindfulness Conspiracy’ (read it here). Fortunately, the spin stops at the title, most likely because the author, Ronald Purser, is no lifestyle journalist, but that rare combination of a recognised authority who is unafraid to ask searching and difficult questions of other authorities.

Even if you have only a cursory interest in mindfulness, Purser’s piece deserves a read. He documents how secular mindfulness, having found itself as a major player in the ‘mood economy’, is succumbing to a graceless slide into a swamp of greed and exploitation – the very swamp it was designed to steer practitioners away from in the first place.

Selling the Family Silver

Here lies the perennial problem of all liberation movements, whether they be ‘inner’ or ‘outer’: what starts out as a revolution becomes a surrender. In this case, the quest for a better life, a fairer world, gets hijacked, privatised and co-opted for social, economic and political control. According to Purser, the commodification of mindfulness has left it “void of a moral compass or ethical commitments, unmoored from a vision of the social good.”

In recent years, a lucrative self-help industry has found ingenious ways of packaging mindfulness and selling it as a technique for stress-reduction and “personal life-hacking optimisation.” In so doing, its practice often degrades into a form of “auto-exploitation” whereby it merely aids one’s capacity to cope with the socio-economic toxicity that precipitated one’s stress in the first place.

Who could have predicted that, only a decade ago, the so-called mindfulness revolution would wind up as the touchy-feely arm of a profiteering medico-wellbeing industry that never wastes an opportunity to pathologise stress in order to generate rationales, remedies and treatments for it?

More on this subject in the next post.

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