It is pretty astonishing really. Here we are in 2015 and meditation is the corporate and now educational cure all of workforce pacification. Now it seems we are going to roll it out to school children. I don’t think we are asking the right questions about the actual need for all this whipped up popularised non spiritual spiritual practice. We need to to ask ourselves why our workforces and children are suffering from all these anxieties and stresses that mindfulness is supposed to fix?
Yesterday’s article in the Guardian UK was another pointer for the need for an expansion of the debate into mental stress and anxiety into prevention rather than remedy. The articles points out a proposed survey of the impact of mindfulness on school children. It seems to be a thorough and properly done piece of research. A better piece of research might be getting clear about what is causing the undisputed sky-rocketing of emotional and mental health problems in children in the first place. And that is not hard to figure out.
Mindfulness, as someone quipped a few years ago “Buddhism without Buddha ” has become widespread. I used the word meditation above which was deliberate. Mindfulness encompasses and includes the meditative, reflective sets of practices that man has been developing, trying, using for millennia.
15 year or less ago if I had walked into one of my corporate clients or the local school and suggested we set up a mindfulness type programme i would have been laughed out the door. How things have changed!
Is this not good? Well I don`t necessarily believe it is and here is why.
It is clear that the workplaces and schools are not all they could be. And we are also living in times of increased pressure on our time, our family life, our career options. We are stressed, overweight, pretty unhealthy. At work, unless you are lucky and talented enough to be an employee of such corporate behemoths as Google you are probably one of the overworked, over stressed, possibly underpaid many. As anxiety is on the up along with depression, overeating, poor sleep and fatigue it is right that we try to find countermeasures to all this.
In schools the reactionary fantasy reach for the education of yesteryear, a Victorian relic, has resulted in unbearable pressures on children and families. Parents, driven by anxiety that their cherubs will some how lose out in the rat race to the gates of the 1 percent club enrol their children into an unholy alliance with the fantasy that pressure, competition and beat your buddy to the top is the path to the future. Notwithstanding the fact that no one even knows what the future for our young children will really look like we continue to judge the future by experience of the present. And when it comes to education the systems have singularly failed to update themselves to the realities of what’s going on and developing. No wonder significant citizens are migrating to unschooling and abandoning the clearly defunct system.
There is pressure all around for parents and mostly the kids. Parents could know better and can protest, dare I say, wake up to the delusion and even do something about it. Children, trapped in dependency on their parents and their zeitgeist are victims to the fantasy.
Why and how are we creating these environments in the first place? Who is creating them and why do they seem to be so costly to the human spirit and health? Ought we not be creating different kinds of environments in the first place that don’t generate these tensions and health problems? It makes no sense to makes ourselves ill in the first place. Much like our dysfunctional food system that shoves total junk, obesity, nutritionally deficient food into our daily lives generating epidemics of diabetes, obesity, depression and which then has to be countered by massive healthcare budgets to cope with the problems. Why not just clean up the food industry? Makes some sense.
But we don`t seem to be able to do that and it elicits cries of freedom to chose and the rights of commerce and business and so called parental choice. So we continue to reach for a fix to the ongoing problem rather than tackle the problem itself.
But these health issues are moving centre stage. And faced with workforce and classroom woe and the realisation that having so many people stressed and unhealthy actually costs the organisation money (a galvanising realisation ) enter stage left mindfulness.
The root of mindfulness is in the deepest part of man’s search for meaning, transcendence and enlightenment. Meditation is a practice aimed at freedom. Consciousness. Transcending the conditioned self to free the mind to find clear meaning and purpose. Freedom, consciousness, transcendence, enlightenment; these are the aims. This is the root, the very essence of mindfulness. The deep question is who am I? What is happening now? Being able to be the observer. All this will of course be an opportunity to reduce stress, to find a centre, to become fully awake and present.
And so when we do become present and look around what then? Mindfulness is a method for revolution of the individual. It is not just a palliative for suffering, it is a technique for transformation. Sooner or later the meditator realises that they are to some extent imprisoned. That they have allowed themselves to acquiesce in a world they may be inhabiting out of conditioning and not choice. And there is nothing so clear sighted as the meditative mind. All consciousness of this kind leads to social action. Think Tibet. Look at the profound mission the Dalai Lama pursues. Mindfulness can waken us up! But will it?
Well it won’t spur us to enlightenment and social action in a neutered form which I fear it is becoming or has become. Presented as just another way to pacify the many, gutted of its true purpose we may be doing the very thing that will not serve us all in the long run. Keeping people acquiescent and conforming.
Mindfulness ought not be used as yet another sop to the many who are experiencing unethical exploitative and un-compassionate economic model of unfettered capitalism at work and in schools. Let it not become the administered drug of choice doled out by our increasingly unequal neo-liberal economically dominated systems.
We all could consider whether we want profoundly important set of practices that speak to the highest yearning of human beings to fulfil their potential consciousness to be hijacked and spiritually neutered to deliver, not a freedom, but a narcotic to the exploited many. This follows in the tradition of religion being the opium of the masses. Commercial, commodified mindfulness may well not be true mindfulness at all but another drug doled out to us for the purposes of acquiescence to that which we ought to be protesting, resisting and changing.
My hope is that there will turn out to be a sting in the tail. Maybe mindfulness will be a radical enlightened trojan horse. Brought into the centre of organisations and schools where it will not pacify and dull but create self and environmental awareness, enlightenment, individual empowerment and collective social action.
Maybe in its wholesale embracing of mindfulness some of the less enlightened and inhumane parts of our society will get more than they bargained for in the form of feisty, non compliant, active and above all compassionate citizens.