Here is how you become a millionaire by Christmas. Set yourself up as a mindfulness expert, because right now it is the hottest thing in town. Millions of unhappy people, desperate to find some relief from their anxieties and existential angst are buying into the idea that mindfulness is the new Prozac. All you need do is suck on a raisin for twenty minutes, with full attention on all the sensations, and all will be well with the world.
There is a very good piece published in The Guardian newspaper on this latest craze. The main argument is that people seem to be quite willing to accept that their life is a pile of unsatisfying crap provided they can find some temporary relief through mindfulness. Very few people it seems are prepared to address the root cause of their discontent, resembling monkeys with their hand in the cookie jar, unable to pull their hand out the jar while they grasp the cookies.
It has to be said that mindfulness is of particular interest to the professional classes – lawyers, accountants, bankers and so on. Many of these people have sold their souls so they can boast about their holiday home, their latest white-water rafting holiday in Peru, the Michelin rated restaurants they eat at, their designer labeled cloths, and any other external artifact that makes them feel they are worth something. In order to get all these ego boosting accessories these people work in toxic environments full of political intrigue and poorly disguised animosity. And they will work long hours, sabotage each other’s efforts, and bore each other with endless boasting. Alcohol is the traditional means of getting relief from all of this, but now we have mindfulness.
If mindfulness is going to appeal to these lost souls it has to be presented as a route to a calm, uncluttered state of mind. And so the mindfulness gurus generally promote their wares using minimalist images borrowed from a zen like environment – uncluttered meditation halls, a bowl of freshly murdered flowers, simple robes, and images of people sat in a meditation posture with eyes closed, begging us to believe they are in a better place than we are.
Of course mindfulness is going to do nothing if a person’s life is a total fuck-up. They may feel a little more relaxed after sucking on a raisin for twenty minutes, but once back in life they are faced with the same pile of crap – a combative relationship, a poisonous work environment, competitive social life, and above all, absolutely no understanding of themselves or the world.
There is a touching gullibility that people who are suckers for corrupted imports from the East such as mindfulness display. While most people are quite willing to acknowledge the corruption, violence, and power hungry aspects of western religions, they switch off their critical mind when something is presented that has an Eastern flavor. Such people might do well to the read the Critique of Zen by Ernest Becker, the guy who wrote The Denial of Death. Zen, and more broadly Buddhism, has been used to suppress populations in exactly the same way Western religions have. It isn’t all peace, love and light.
In my opinion the Western philosophical tradition has much more to offer than mindless mindfulness, but of course there are no simple answers, and the allure of saffron robes, meditation halls, visually exotic practices and mystifying scriptures is wholly missing. Eye candy sells, and those selling inner peace and contentment know this as well as any other snake oil salesman.
Finally, here is the real irony in all of this. If you want greater contentment and inner peace you have to buy a one way ticket into hell – your own inner hell. And you need to become comfortable with it – your bestial nature, your instinct to dominate, to exploit others, to hate, envy. Turning your mind off, and with it your understanding, is just a recipe for even more neurosis and unhappiness. I know this is a futile plea since most people will not have the courage to look at their inner state and will seek palliatives – mindfulness being the latest money spinner for the charlatans that sell such quack remedies.