What is the purpose of being mindful

Totalitarianism of self-optimization : The dangerous consequences of mindfulness

Take a moment. Let this sentence sink in. To take. You. yourself. Time. Don't think about whether you have the time, just take it.

You owe it to yourself, you are worth it. Do you already feel how the confusion in your head dissolves, how clarity replaces it and a feeling of inner calm overcomes you? That feeling is your mindfulness, that feeling is you.

Perhaps this little meditative experiment has long been part of your daily practice, if not, you may know people who have recommended more mindfulness in life to you. It has become damn hard to ignore the doctrine of mindfulness, the panacea for the ailments of modern life.

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

Mindfulness should convey a non-judgmental feeling of simple being and through focusing exercises, such as consuming a raisin at a snail's pace, but very intensively, to create a mental hygiene that makes it possible to withstand the pressure of high-performance society.

Ronald Purser warns against consuming spirituality quickly

Large corporations such as Google, SAP, RWE or Apple have been offering their employees mindfulness seminars for a long time, and practice is also gaining ground in the cultural sector. The Berlin exhibition house Me Collectors Room organizes mindfulness workshops in which visitors should learn a more intensive art experience.

In Germany alone there are 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. Actually, that's to be welcomed because, yes, we have stress, and, yes, we are distracted, all the time and everywhere. But can mindfulness really be the path to enlightenment?

For the chief guru Kabat-Zinn it is clear: Mindfulness is the only chance mankind has to overcome its “thinking sickness” and its collective attention deficit and to survive the next decades.

Mindfulness promotes stress

Two of his harshest critics have now published their doubts about it in book form. Ronald Purser once coined the term "McMindfulness" and now warns in the book of the same name against a quick consumption of spirituality without increasing knowledge.

Mindfulness is supposed to free us from stress and suffering, but promotes this, according to Purser, by anchoring the causes of the malaise in our heads. So it is not the external conditions that are to blame for my stress, but me.

The causes of the stress are not called into question, but the adaptability of the individual. The suffering is thereby decontextualized or recognized as an fait accompli, creating a blindfold mentality that ignores the real problems. The ego becomes both a scapegoat and a salvation.

Like Purser, David Forbes also comes to the conclusion in his book “Mindfulness and its discontents” that mindfulness in most cases legitimizes the prevailing states instead of calling them into question. Stress is characterized as a genetic holdover from the Stone Age, as does Kabat-Zinn that we can meditate away.

"Feel - don’t think" is the mantra of the enlightened, who - as Purser makes clear, accept social imbalances. It is a retreat into private solutions in the face of increasing 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 take your dog for a walk with care

The doctrine of mindfulness fits perfectly into today's ego-fixation, which dominates the code of life of many. The self is a work in progress that you have to work through. Self-optimization trends such as the quantified self, in which the own body becomes a completely measurable organism, or biohacking, in which the physique and psyche are to be improved through an increase in supplements or interventions in the DNA structure, are trendy.

Just like with these, mindfulness is about regaining (back) autonomy over your own body in order to strengthen consciousness and make it more resistant - in every area of ​​life.

In his weekly "New York Times" column "Meditation for Real Life", the journalist David Gelles gave tips for years on how to deal with everyday life most carefully, "be mindfully ill", "mindfully go for a walk with the dog" or " mindfully survives seasonal allergies ”- very simple: If the nose is swollen shut, simply draw attention to another part of the body without evaluating 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 inefficiency in life and has made self-help literature a million dollar business. It is no longer noticeable how much dependency and 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 shifted to the individual

The focus on the self, writes Purser, is the living out of the neoliberal individualism mantra, which puts responsibility on the individual and undermines the sense of society. The doctrine of mindfulness, like neoliberalism, preaches that social rethinking must first take place in the individual, but it robs them of the emotions necessary to drive this forward.

There is no place for anger or anger, they are not part of mental hygiene. But a sedated consciousness that only revolves around itself does not initiate change. Anger, sadness or helplessness are precious emotions that are driven out almost in a religious way.

Illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders are reduced to manageable character traits that can be trained off. Depression is not only a widespread disease because many people get sick from it, but also because it often has its origin in social conditions.

Mindfulness is a coping mechanism, but not a good one. It puts you on a level of sensitivity at which you can keep the appearance of functionality, even just before the inner collapse. She pretends normality where outrage is appropriate. It turns overwhelmed workers into consciousness entrepreneurs who want to make their own bodies so resilient that they obediently endure hardships. Even more so, so that they become better than the competition.

With the smartphone on the path to enlightenment

Since the 1990s, companies have increasingly relied on meditation to help workers reduce stress and increase productivity. But behind this is not only care, but also economic considerations. Mental illness is a major cause of absenteeism that negatively impacts business results.

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

Most absurd, however, is that there is also money flowing for this form of self-exploitation. Not only for guidebooks and seminars, but also for products that are supposed to create a mental balance. "Anxiety consumerism" describes a growing industry that produces relaxation objects: coloring books for adults, e-cigarettes with aromatherapy essences, weighted blankets for muscle relaxation.

The Global Wellness Institute estimates the wellness industry had sales of more than $ 4 trillion in 2018. Meditation apps like Calm or Headspace are multimillion-dollar companies that make their profit from the paradox that smartphones may make you sick, but are apparently also the most convenient way to enlightenment - five minutes a day is enough.

If mindfulness is to be more than a selling point or temporary problem relief, it has to become more political. As a purely spiritual supplement, it fixes grievances rather than promoting awareness of true alternatives. Mindfulness and meditation actually help you become more resilient, but resistance rarely serves the right purpose.

It's not just about regaining autonomy over your own mind, but also over your own circumstances. Living in the now, as mindfulness demands, must not be at the expense of the future. Otherwise it will soon need more than coloring books and blankets so that you can fall asleep calmly in the evening.

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