Kabat-Zim initially adapted the Buddhist teachings and practices to help patients deal with pain and anxiety, but soon saw an opportunity to market mindfulness to the stressed-out masses as secular spirituality.
Market forces are already exploiting the momentum of the mindfulness movement, to reorientate its goals to serve the market’s needs.
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The inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction proclaims that mindfulness may "be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years”.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without passing judgment. Although it might help people cope by reducing stress and chronic anxiety, it does not offer any solutions to our unjust society.
Although mindfulness originated from Buddhism, it has been stripped from most of its teachings.
What remains is nothing more than a self-help tool to help one get used to the very conditions that caused the problems. While is it a noble aim to reduce stress and anxiety, it is more important to acknowledge and address the underlying cause of the suffering.
The message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause is in our mind - a "thinking disease" or a kind of attention deficit disorder.
Rather than discussing how attention is monetized and manipulated by corporations, mindfulness advocates to view the crisis as an internal battle. The result is that we meekly retreat into the private sphere without critically engaging with the causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.
Proponents of mindfulness believe that the practice is apolitical. The practitioners of mindfulness are taught to become attentive and resilient, to de-stress while improving productivity. They quietly surrender so they may keep functioning within the system that exploits them.
The branding of mindfulness reinforces the idea that it is an individual's private concern. In turn, mindfulness becomes easy to co-opt for social, economic and political control.
The presentation of mindfulness is packaged in a friendly way that is warmly received in popular culture. It has then also become a useful tool for those who favor neoliberalism.
Neoliberal ideology holds that all decisions about how society is run should be left to the workings of the marketplace. When mindfulness is mastered in a neoliberal society, it helps you to survive in capitalism, by keeping your attention focussed on the present without judging it.
The rhetoric of “self-mastery”, “resilience” and “happiness” assumes wellbeing is simply a matter of developing a skill - that we can train our brains to be happy by using mindfulness.
Therefore, personal troubles are never attributed to political or socioeconomic conditions, but as phycological. This has become enticing to government policymakers: What better way to reframe societal problems of racism, poverty, addiction and inequality than in terms of individual psychology, where vulnerable subjects can provide therapeutic help to themselves?
We are repeatedly told that to change the world, we have to work on ourselves - by changing our minds to be more accepting of circumstances. We are told to look inward and to manage ourselves at the expense of critical thinking.
Mindfulness promises a good life, enticing us to accept things as they are. We are perhaps sold a cruel optimism.
Mindfulness is not a cure all. With all the hype around mindfulness it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether the information is quality-controlled and reliable. We need to be careful not to overstate it's usefulness.