News Brief: Mindfulness Conquers World
by Dan Jordan
This morning I was sitting down to write a bit about why the current fad in America for all things “Mindful” drives me up the damn wall. Then I came across this piece which, while it isn’t exactly the point I was getting at, did highlight the fundamental problem I see with Mindfulness in America.
This problem is Mindfulness as something that can and should be utilized devoid of any larger practice, be it spiritual, religious, secular, or some combination thereof, that is devoted to living a good, moral life.
From the “news” story:
Standing before a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” Briss read from a list of activities of global importance that used to be done mindlessly but now have been brought into the full light of mindfulness. “Before, the President ordered drone strikes, but now he orders drone strikes mindfully. Before, corporate executives fired thousands of workers and raised their own salaries, but now they fire thousands of workers mindfully and raise their own salaries mindfully. The list goes on and on.”
While this is satire, the point it makes is spot on. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool. In fact it is one of the most powerful tools for living a good life because it can enable you to get a better sense of what is actually going on in your mind. But to be truly useful it needs to be a part of a larger practice.
Devoid of any context, mindfulness leads swiftly to selfishness. In fact it heightens one’s sense of selfishness. Being “mindful of yourself” places the emphasis on You: on the experiences you are having, on your own desires, and on your own needs.
With proper, diligent practice you can start to see and experience these desires and needs as being transient. You will likely find that it becomes easier to let go of anger and other destructive patterns of thought because you can see them for what they are: impermanent mental states.
Learning to let go of these impermanent mental states will enable you to live both a good, happy life and a more selfless, less selfish life. (I would argue the former is impossible without the latter.) You will find that what makes you you is the interconnectedness of the world, and not in any vague New Age-y Quantum Attracted Particles of Universal Law or Something way.
(For a small example of this interconnectedness, next time you are grumpy, watch how the people around you become grumpy too. Or consider that old saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I seem to be.” What you put into the world will directly affect your experience of it in a very real way.)
So within the context of trying to live a moral, reflective life, there are few better tools than mindfulness. But you can’t just be mindful of the things you do in your daily life and hope to be happy if you aren’t happy to begin with.
In a society in which we are already heavily conditioned to be consumers of media, experiences, and art created by others; in which we vote for people because we’re on this team and we don’t like that other team; in which cynicism reigns and morality and spirituality are largely laughed at and ignored, mindfulness will become just another means of consuming things and living in the world as we are used to it.
This is a shame because mindfulness can and should be used as a tool for genuine personal and spiritual growth. However living your life that way takes more effort than mindfully eating dinner and saying, “My – I am very aware of how delicious this dinner is!” It takes seeing yourself as you actually are (your strengths and weaknesses) and then working with this information. It takes working through failures and set backs. It is hard.
Mindfulness, at least at the level it has permeated the mass consciousness of America, is not packaged this way. It’s packaged as another self-help fad. You want to feel good, right? I mean, who doesn’t? Try being Mindful! But the way to actually feel “good” is to become less focused on yourself and more focused on your family, community, friends, and the world around you. Being mindful of your life can help you live your life that way, but not on its own.