Mindfulness is... simply a practice of becoming more aware of what we think and feel. This gradually allows us to take action with clarity of choice. One of those actions could be to accept the situation and get on with enjoying your life. Another option is to act with courage to make positive change. Either way it is done with more peace, and that is the point. When we act from this place we are more effective and our bodies are more in tune, therefore more healthy. We are much more likely to take appropriate action to the context with eyes wide open for changing circumstances. Gradually Mindfulness practice brings a deep realisation that inner or outer war and panic simply creates more of the same. It always comes back to internal balance, which can only be achieved by tuning in. I may repeat these points a few times as I respond to the repetition in the journalist's article.
In response to some excerpts:
"Mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids."
- Yes. If we are to take clear action we must first step out of the story fed to us by society and our past. We must feel, as a step towards gaining perspective. It's taking a step away from magic thinking and even physical or metaphorical steroids and towards ‘reality’, as closely as we can experience it. I am a zealot too, just like the journalist who wrote this and just like you. When we get passionate we act with zeal! Mindfulness practice helps me to acknowledge that fact without reacting from over-eagerness. I find if I act without this awareness I often make situations worse.
"Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training…(it) is a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help. Instead of setting practitioners free, it helps them adjust to the very conditions that caused their problems. A truly revolutionary movement would seek to overturn this dysfunctional system, but mindfulness only serves to reinforce its destructive logic."
- Yes! The ability to concentrate and to choose what to concentrate on is a valuable skill that is being stripped from us by a world of distraction and stimulation. We train to be more self-disciplined in focusing on how we are, what we want and what we can do to create it. If we feel discomfort we feel it fully. This allows us to 'appreciate' it, realise the underlying physical need and then act to change it, or accept it, based on the context. The illogic of irrational fear is what we seek to dissolve; mindfulness therefore empowers people to create positive change, whilst feeling peaceful in the body.
"By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves."
- Yes. I think all mindfulness practitioners, like myself, recommend working alone and then with others, stepping out of individual comfort and into collective sharing. In order to do that one must first gain clarity on what one feels and thinks. This is a part of the process called meditation and self-enquiry. Some parts you can only do by yourself"
"By practising mindfulness, individual freedom is supposedly found within “pure awareness”, undistracted by external corrupting influences. "
- Sadly not - this is part of the fake news myth of mindfulness. Some of the first myths we dispel are childish notions of 'pure awareness' and that we might live in those spaces. Another myth is that meditation should relax us by stopping thought. No way! I love to think! Instead we seek to slow the mind down and look at it with clarity and relate to ourselves with kindness. Through this process I’ve learned to love my thoughts and channel them creatively.
In contrast many modern habits aim to help stop people thinking through distraction and momentary pleasure or even drama. I’m talking about
“...most teachers of mindfulness rule out a curriculum that critically engages with causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society”
- Yes. One aim of mindfulness is to focus on one thing at a time. During the practice we don't get drawn into endless analysis, as this is part of inaction. We step back and come back to the senses. There is a time for discussion of socio-political systems, and that is not in a mindfulness class or during a meditation. Afterwards we can look afresh at the topics of today and be inspired to give our truth.
"Mindfulness has been oversold and commodified, reduced to a technique for just about any instrumental purpose. It can give inner-city kids a calming time-out, or hedge-fund traders a mental edge, or reduce the stress of military drone pilots. Void of a moral compass or ethical commitments, unmoored from a vision of the social good, the commodification of mindfulness keeps it anchored in the ethos of the market."
- Yes that's all correct. I believe that when one truly feels inside, ‘ethics’ emerge. Niggling doubts become self evident as we raise awareness. We listen to them and question them. This often leads people to change careers, finally, after years of ignoring niggling doubts and pains in the body. Or activists learn to pause and reconsider what causes they are fighting for and the most effective actions. It is a very wise thing to relax for periods of time and reflect. Not all activism is protest, as Gil Scott Heron pointed out:
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised…
You see I believe the revolution is live. Now. It won’t be on TV. It’s here between you and me. Anything else is a distraction. I believe it is great that we have people offering guidance in exchange for money. Mindfulness is priceless! So what we offer is incredibly valuable.
"The practice is apolitical, and so the avoidance of moral inquiry and the reluctance to consider a vision of the social good are intertwined. It is simply assumed that ethical behaviour will arise “naturally” from practice and the teacher’s “embodiment” of soft-spoken niceness, or through the happenstance of self-discovery"
- Yes, correct. Being a human mind and body is not political or moral, it is, as its basic form, organic and natural. We teach people to reconnect with that level, as it is often forgotten. This allows a greater clarity. Once we are more aware of ourselves we naturally face the pertinent topics of politics, ethics and society. We learn to be nice, appropriately. We also learn to be firm and put boundaries up, practicing self-care. It's all about balance; ‘giving’ - ‘receiving’, ‘taking time out’- ‘stepping into action’. This is only possible when you develop some inner peace.
"Mindfulness is easily co-opted and reduced to merely “pacifying feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level, rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress. Mindfulness is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, focus and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks. A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct."
- Yes again. We see so many people frustrated and anxious about these issues, yet impotent to act. When the human body lives in this state of frustration it crumbles. We teach techniques of peace and balance. In the long run this allows for greater, more effective action. In the short term it looks very still and calm (almost ignorant). Nothing could be further from the truth. We are empowering people to not react, but to respond.
We so often judge people and their motives. Yet every person is on their own journey and has their own struggles and life choices. I work wjth the staff in corporate groups. I'm hired to help staff well being. People sometimes worry that corporate mindfulness work is just a box ticking exercise or a way to get ‘more productive’. No problem! Because even if that was the intention of upper management the practice of going inside is universal and opens up hearts and minds to new perspectives. Perhaps an inner exploration helps the executive realise they don’t want or need to work so hard. This can be good for business because as people reorient themselves based on inner (intrinsic) wants and needs they become happier and healthier, which in turn means working more efficiently in less hours. Win Win!
Other times the executive might quit. If this happens enough businesses will realise that the systems they have need to change. They need to be more focused on staff well being, or on being more ethical in their practices. A revolution can happen gradually, which is more peaceful, more long lasting and perhaps even faster than a forceful revolution. One of the classic mindfulness reminders is: What we resist persists. When we look and see, the mind is set free.
"Rather than being used as a means to awaken individuals and organisations to the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, mindfulness is more often refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots."
- Not quite. We let people decide for themselves what is wholesome, by tuning in, instead of believing journalists who tell people what they should/shouldn't think and do. ;)
"To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves — to change our minds by being more mindful, nonjudgmental, and accepting of circumstances."
- That's right! Great first step, don't you think? If we try and take action from a place of self-confusion guess what? We create more confusion.
"All the promises of mindfulness resonate with what the University of Chicago cultural theorist Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism”, a defining neoliberal characteristic."
- Yes. it seem cruel to be kind sometimes. Rather than regurgitate the negative stories of society we seek to step away and find our personal truth. Perhaps we may return over-enthusiastic, optimistic and even naive. That can be just as problematic as a pessimistic story of blame (presented by zelous journalists ;). Gradually we find the right balance, through tuning in first, then appreciating now, and experimenting by taking action from the heart, not just the head. We choose to be kind and truthful. As Mo Gawdat says “The truth will set you free but first it’ll piss you off!”
Ultimately I believe the journalist has done a great job of stirring things up and inviting us to reflect. By practicing some mindfulness my hope is that readers keep open yet questioning minds, pausing and reflecting before they respond. Individually and together we can make wise chooses and transform internal emotions into creative action for positive change. I tried to do that here. I hope you enjoyed this.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com