McMindful Thinking

21/06/19 . Blog

My old sociology prof used say that most sociology was either trivially true or interesting but false. The new book McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser manages to be a bit of both.

The book argues that Mindfulness has become a $4bn industry. In an article for The Guardian, Purser estimates that there are 60,000 books on Amazon with a variant of “mindfulness” in their title ‘touting the benefits of Mindful Parenting, Mindful Eating, Mindful Teaching, Mindful Therapy, Mindful Leadership, Mindful Finance, a Mindful Nation, and Mindful Dog Owners.’ In health, we’ve seen some of this mindless bandwagon-jumping too.

But that mindfulness has been appropriated and sold back to us shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It’s how capitalism works - that’s the trivially true bit. Music, the internet, sex, travel. It happens to anything remotely interesting that human beings come up with. But just because more and more clicks on the internet are being monetised doesn’t mean that the internet is a bad thing. Just because I can buy a mindfulness colouring book doesn’t mean mindfulness is all washed up.

The interesting but false bit is the idea that by practising mindfulness, practitioners are somehow supporting the status quo. Acceptance of the moment as a part of a process for the restoration of some internal equilibrium does not, for me, imply acceptance of the society that has, in part, caused the disequilibrium in the first place. The fact that we might find some answers within doesn’t mean that the cause of the problems are not without. Indeed, calmness, and a technique to get there, will surely make you better able to challenge the system?

Purser concludes that ‘the cruelty (of mindfulness) lies in supporting the status quo while using the language of transformation.’ And that would be true were mindfulness simply something that was done to us. But it seems to me that the whole point of it is that it is not. It’s something we can do for ourselves. What you do afterwards - whether you embrace the neoliberal mindset of winners and losers or oppose it - is up to you. At least you’ll be doing it with a clear head.

  • McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser (Repeater Books; July 2019)
  • What is mindfulness?

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