In modern business institutions stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments.
I have been studying Mindfulness and practicing meditation for a few years. For a short while I also participated in a formal teacher training course. I find meditation in the Buddhist tradition very compelling, and very-very difficult. My mind is no good at keeping still. And maintaining a praxis on ones own is rather difficult. Still I try to sit – every day.
My favorite “online” teachers are: Pema Chödrön & Jack Kornfield. I also really like to listen to (and follow the guided meditations of) Tara Brach and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I find them all to be very serious in their work, and very well informed. I especially appreciate the combination of wisdom and humor I find in the work of Chödrön & Kornfield.
But there is – as I guess you know – a whole lot of westerners offering teachings, and especially stress-mastering courses these days. It has become an industry in its own ( a part of the kind of self-help industry that sees the subject and not the collective as having problems). I’m rather critical about much of this. Because, through my own praxis, I have learned that there is no quick fix, and that meditation is as much about sitting with/in pain as it is about stress relief. To me this is a life-long ethical process, not a defined project with a certain goal.
Uncoupling mindfulness from its ethical and religious Buddhist context is understandable as an expedient move to make such training a viable product on the open market. But the rush to secularize and commodify mindfulness into a marketable technique may be leading to an unfortunate denaturing of this ancient practice, which was intended for far more than relieving a headache, reducing blood pressure, or helping executives become better focused and more productive.
While a stripped-down, secularized technique — what some critics are now calling “McMindfulness” — may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.
This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati). The distinction is not moralistic: the issue is whether the quality of awareness is characterized by wholesome intentions and positive mental qualities that lead to human flourishing and optimal well-being for others as well as oneself.