The Dangerous Consequences of Mindfulness Teaching

Take a moment. Let this phrase work for you. Take. She. itself. Time. Do not think about whether you have time, just take it.

You owe it to yourself what you deserve. Can you already feel that clutter in your head dissolves, clarity replaces it, and a sense of inner calm overcomes you? That feeling is your consciousness, that feeling, it’s you.

Maybe this little meditative experiment has long been a part of your daily practice, but if not, you may know people who have recommended you more mindfulness in life. It has become damn hard to ignore mindfulness, the universal remedy for the sufferings of modern life.

As early as 2014, the American “Time Magazine” proclaimed “Mindful Revolution” on the front page and praised mindfulness as a way out of the hamster wheel of everyday stress. The concept goes back to molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed his stress reduction through mindfulness meditation in the 1970s and is at the forefront of movement today.

Mindfulness is intended to instill a non-judgmental sense of simple being and through focus exercises, such as consuming a raisin at a snail’s pace, but very intensely, establishing a mental hygiene that allows one to withstand the pressures of high-performing societies.

Ronald Purser warns against a rapid consumption of spirituality

Large companies such as Google, SAP, RWE or Apple have long offered their employees mindfulness seminars, and practices are also becoming more and more popular in the cultural sector. The Berlin exhibition hall Me Collectors Room arranges mindfulness workshops, where visitors must learn a more intensive art experience.

In Germany alone, there are now over 1000 certified mindfulness teachers who train their fellow human beings in resilience and concentration. Many health insurance companies even cover part of the costs. In fact, it’s welcome, because yes, we’re stressed, and yes, we’re distracted, all the time, everywhere. But can mindfulness really be the path to enlightenment?

For senior guru Kabat-Zinn, one thing is certain: Mindfulness is humanity’s only chance to overcome its “mental illness” and its collective attention deficit and to survive for decades to come.

Mindfulness increases stress

Two of his harshest critics have now published their doubts in book form. Ronald Purser once coined the term “McMindfulness” and now warns in the book of the same name against consuming spirituality quickly without gaining more knowledge.

Mindfulness is designed to relieve us of stress and suffering, but according to Purser, it encourages them by anchoring the causes of discomfort in our minds. According to this, the external conditions are not to blame for my stress, but I am.

The causes of stress are not questioned, but rather the individual’s ability to adapt. Suffering is thereby decontextualized or recognized as a fait accompli, creating a flashing mentality that ignores the real problems. The ego becomes the scapegoat and its own salvation at the same time.

Like Purser, David Forbes concludes in his book Mindfulness and its Discontents that mindfulness in most cases legitimizes prevailing states rather than challenging them. Stress is characterized as a genetic retention from the Stone Age, like Kabat-Zinn, which we can meditate away.

“Feel – do not think” is the mantra of the enlightened, who – as Purser makes clear – accept the imbalances in society. It is a retreat to private solutions in the face of growing collective problems. Your own well-being becomes a task that can only be mastered through iron self-discipline.

David Gelles gives tips on how to walk carefully with the dog

The teaching of mindfulness thus fits perfectly into the ego-fixation of today, which dominates the life code of many. The ego is an ongoing work that you have to work your way through. Self-optimization tendencies such as the quantified self, in which one’s own body becomes a completely measurable organism, or biohacking, in which the physique and psyche must be improved by increasing the use of dietary supplements or interventions in the DNA structure, are in vogue. .

Like these, mindfulness is about gaining (back) autonomy over your own body to strengthen your consciousness and make it more resilient – in all areas of life.

In his weekly New York Times column “Meditation for Real Life”, journalist David Gelles gave tips for years on how to be most alert in everyday life, “to be alert when you are sick”, “consciously walking the dog” or ” consciously survive seasonal allergies ”- very simple: If your nose is raised, simply turn your attention to another part of your body without making any assessment of your own physical condition.

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Gelle’s texts illustrate the totalitarianism of self-optimization with a wink, but are symptomatic of a development that does not tolerate any inefficiency in life and has made the self-help literature a million-dollar business. It is no longer noticeable how much dependence and a little self-determination there is in self-help. As comedian George Carlin put it: “If it’s in a book, it’s not self-help, it’s just help.”

The responsibility is transferred to the individual

The focus on the self, writes Purser, is the realization of the neoliberal mantra of individualism, which shifts responsibility to the individual and undermines the sense of society. Like neoliberalism, mindfulness teaches that social innovation must first take place in the individual, but it deprives them of the emotions necessary to propel it forward.

Anger or rage have no place anymore, they are not part of mental hygiene. But an anesthetized consciousness that revolves only around itself does not initiate change. Anger, sadness, or helplessness are precious feelings that are almost religiously dispelled.

Diseases such as depression or anxiety disorders are reduced to traits that can be overcome and trained away. However, depression is not only a widespread disease because many people suffer from it, but also because it often has its origins in social relationships.

Mindfulness is a coping mechanism, but not a good one. It puts you on a level of sensitivity where you can maintain seemingly functioning, even on the verge of inner collapse. She pretends normality where indignation would be appropriate. She turns overwhelmed employees into entrepreneurs who want to make their own bodies so resilient that they can endure hardships obediently. Even more so they are better than the competition.

With the smartphone to the path of enlightenment

Since the 1990s, companies have increasingly turned to meditation to help workers reduce stress and increase productivity. Behind this lies not only care but also financial calculation. Mental illness is a major cause of absenteeism, which has a negative impact on business numbers.

According to this year’s DAK health report, 5.3 million Germans suffer from depression. The disease is the third most common cause of sick leave. Through mindfulness and meditation, large corporations have succeeded in anchoring terms such as “emotional intelligence” or “mental capital” as desirable qualities in the minds of their workforce. Instead of questioning the absurd demands of the labor market, one’s own adaptability is optimized.

But the most absurd thing is that money is still being made for this kind of self-exploitation. Not only for counseling literature and seminars, but also for products that aim to create a mental balance. A growing industry that produces objects of relaxation is described as “anxiety consumerism”: coloring books for adults, e-cigarettes with aromatherapeutic essences, weighted blankets for muscle relaxation.

The Global Wellness Institute estimates that the wellness industry generated more than $ 4 trillion in revenue in 2018. Meditation apps like Calm and Headspace are multi-million dollar companies that take advantage of the paradox that even though smartphones make you sick, they also appear to be the most convenient way to enlighten – five minutes a day is enough.

If mindfulness is to be more than a selling point or a temporary fix, it needs to become more political. Purely as a spiritual supplement, it reinforces complaints instead of raising awareness of true alternatives. Mindfulness and meditation help to become more resilient, but resistance rarely serves the right purpose.

It is not only about regaining autonomy over your own mind, but also over your own circumstances. Living in the present, as mindfulness requires, must not be at the expense of the future. Otherwise, you will soon need more than coloring books and warm blankets, so you can fall asleep peacefully in the evening.

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