26 September 2019

Taking the Mick Out of Mindfulness

The commodification of mindfulness as a ‘feel good’ therapy prescribed for personal gain now has a name: McMindfulness. Such a package assumes its rightful place in the burgeoning catalogue of problem-focused, goal-orientated therapies designed to soothe overloaded human minds.

McMindfulness is a fitting product for an ethically unencumbered marketplace trading on human desire and aversion, but it lacks authenticity for this very reason. It also relegates mindfulness to a bland technique dedicated to attaining ‘presence’ and so neglects the practice’s broader purpose of ‘holding in mind’, seeing clearly and remembering what is of value.

When a practice for cultivating awareness becomes blind to itself – and, by extension, its interdependent nature – the awareness that results is partial and sterile.

Dead Calm

Elevating the ‘present moment’ into some kind of special state, or goal, is an easy trap to fall into. Mindfulness practice may be a worthy antidote to getting unhelpfully lost in the past and future, but it can just as easily lead to getting uselessly stuck in the here and now. Chasing the calmness of ‘being present’ is usually the cause of this.

Conversely, skilful practice is about letting go of any insistence to be present and giving up on acquiring calmness. This is a delicate balance and easy to miss – all the more so if we forget to reflect on what we are doing, practice-wise, and why we are doing it. Wise reflection is essential to mindfulness. When we abandon this and lose our spirit of enquiry, something in our practice dies.

Walking the Tightrope

The obstacles are many on the path of mindfulness, but they teach us so much. I have learned the hard way over the years that practice is like walking a tightrope – skill and effort are required and it is possible to lose balance at any moment. I go chasing contentment, only to wind up disappointed. I go chasing ‘enlightenment’, only to remain ignorant. Guess what happens when I try to be ‘a great meditator’!

The good news is that when I give up on chasing, balance restores itself and the practice glides. Such moments bring a refreshing humility – I am engaging with something bigger than and beyond ‘me’. Practice ceases to be a private affair. Mainlined into the flux of existence, I may even, for a fleeting moment, glimpse my non-separation from this world of beings and the ever-changing mystery and wonder of it all.

From: Mindfulness for Unravelling Anxiety, 2016.

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