22 August 2019

No More Heroes

As I noted a few years ago, when assessing the growth of mindfulness in society at large, anything that becomes fashionable is susceptible to dilution and corruption. Uprooted from its ethical foundations, mindfulness can, in theory, be utilized for any number of human endeavours, from assassination and burglary to wine-tasting and golf. But when you divorce mindfulness from empathy, compassion and awareness of causality, what results is little more than a highly attentive, egocentric state of mind that is dissociated from the world around (Mindfulness for Unravelling Anxiety, pp109-110).

The ignorance, spin and profiteering that occur in regard to mindfulness aren’t new. Nor is the rhetoric of ‘self-mastery’, ‘resilience’ and ‘personal happiness’. Perhaps what is becoming clearer as we approach the third decade of the 21st Century is the inability of the mainstream mindfulness movement to deliver on its promise of a paradigm shift in human society.

Super Size Me

More striking again is the banality of the mainstream. Hollowed out of meaning, mindfulness in the marketplace regularly trades in its depth and mystery for a generous splash of self-promotion as the quickest fix in town.

McMindfulness is everywhere and aptly named. As Ronald Purser notes in a recent article in The Guardian, just as burgers and fries at McDonald’s are the same wherever you go, there is a similar lack of variation in the content and structure of mindfulness courses around the world.

This is evidenced by the manifold programmes and curricula implemented by a self-appointed establishment of training organisations, which refuse to engage with issues of social and economic justice, environmental destruction, climate destabilisation and cultural toxicity. The movers and shakers of mainstream mindfulness have opted to play no part in the revolution they once proclaimed for our interrelated, interdependent world.

Purser outlines how these programmers have reduced themselves to promoting a product – a market-friendly palliative offering new and improved ways of handling life’s rat race whilst insisting that one remain a rat (– not a problem if you are a rat, but you’re not).

Mindless Nation

We are trapped in a “neoliberal trance”, says Purser, quoting what the education scholar Henry Giroux has called a “disimagination machine”, a process that stifles critical and radical thinking. “We are admonished to look inward, and to manage ourselves. Disimagination impels us to abandon creative ideas about new possibilities.”

On this subject, the last time I took any notice of mindfulness in the Press was also in The Guardian (see here). On this occasion, however, it was definitely business as usual: a puff piece about a meditation pod that is custom-made for office workers. The idea is that you “step in” then “float out” a few minutes later and get back to work. About as world changing as a cigarette break, then?

What grabbed my attention was not the underwhelming pod but the accidental precision with which the writer captured something of our brave new mindful world: “Meditation used to be about the quest for deep existential truths: the inner peace it fostered was a side-effect that took off, like the discovery of Post-it notes by scientists who were trying to create the world’s strongest glue.”

What a nifty way of inadvertently summarising the collision of ancient wisdom and modern world. Yes, I know, it is usually described as a ‘meeting’ or an ‘encounter’, but such words do no justice to the dismemberment and ruin that are becoming apparent.

The normal routine for rounding off articles on mindfulness is with a little flourish – something upbeat and positive that seeks to remove any need for the reader to sit with uncomfortable truths. Well, I’m not going to do that, not this time.

The Power of Practice

Recently I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. We had planned to walk and talk on the seafront but a high wind ma...