We need social and civic mindfulness. Because merely destressing and being "in the moment" evades power and politics
A book titled McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality is going to be making some of the standard critiques of mindfulness. Ronald Purser goes through them in this Open Democracy article. Here’s one of them excerpted:
Stress, we are told by the mindfulness apologists, is a noxious influence that ravages our minds and bodies, and it is up to us as individuals to ‘mindful up.’ It’s a seductive proposition that has potent truth effects.
First, we are conditioned to accept the fact that there is a stress epidemic and that it is simply an inevitability of the modern age.
Second, since stress is supposedly omnipresent, it’s our responsibility as stressed-out subjects to manage it, get it under control, and adapt mindfully and vigilantly to the thralls of a capitalist economy. Mindfulness targets this vulnerability, and, at least on the surface, appears as a benign technique for self-empowerment.
But in her book One Nation Under Stress Dana Becker points out that the stress concept obscures and conceals “social problems by individualizing them in ways that most disadvantage those who have the least to gain from the status quo.”
In fact, Becker has coined the term stressism to describe “the current belief that the tensions of contemporary life are primarily individual lifestyle problems to be solved through managing stress, as opposed to the belief that these tensions are linked to social forces and need to be resolved primarily through social and political means.”
Uncritically ingesting the cultural premises of stressism, the mindfulness movement has eagerly promoted itself as a scientific remedy. But the focus is still squarely on the individual who is expected to heal the so-called ‘thinking disease’ of modern civilization. By practicing mindfulness, we are told, we can skillfully switch from our frantic ‘doing-mode’ to a more harmonious ‘being-mode,’ learning to let go and flow with stressful situations.
Yet can there be a mindfulness that isn’t just about “endlessly coping with the problems of capitalism by taking refuge in the fragility of the present moment….leaving us mindfully maintaining the status quo”? Thankfully, Purser thinks there is:
None of this means that mindfulness ought to be banned, or that anyone who finds it useful is deluded. There are emerging forms of social and civic mindfulness that avoid this trap.
These methods are breaking free of a biomedical focus on individual pathology. They integrate social justice activism with contemplative inquiry. They cultivate critical thinking, rather than non-judgmental disengagement.
Innovators in the field are rewriting mindfulness curricula by employing anti-oppressive, critical pedagogies:
Mushim Patricia Ikeda, along with teachers at the East Bay Meditation Center, has developed numerous programs that connect social justice concerns with Buddhist teachings on interdependence to foster solidarity and mindfully-engaged activism.
And the Mindfulness and Social Change Network in the United Kingdom is experimenting with mindfulness practices that address social, political and environmental issues. [See their “How mindfulness supports activism”]
When we recognize that disaffection, anxiety and stress are not just our own fault but are connected to structural causes, mindfulness becomes fuel for igniting resistance.
We’ve explored mindfulness on this blog as one of the resources to bring to a model of flourishing citizenship known as “I - We - World”. And it’s by no means the only one, which can include arts (practice and reception), craft, relationship skills, physical health.