Thursday, September 24, 2015

THE NOT-SO-HEALTHY CORPORATIZATION OF MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness is big business. Large corporations such as Apple Computer, Hughes Aircraft, Google, Target, Ford, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, McKinsey, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Deutsche Bank and AOL Time Warner, and in Australia IBM and NAB to name just two, along with numerous so-called captains of industry following the meditative example left by the late Steve Jobs, are embracing mindfulness in a big way.

Mindfulness is seen as a way of increasing productivity and thus revenue. Well, after all, the evidence is clear and unambiguous: the regular practice of mindfulness produces
a calmer, more patient, stable and steady mind, improves one’s ability to cope with and release stress, enhances cognitive functioning and performance, improves concentration, capacity for focus, attention to detail and memory, results in faster sensory processing and greater responsiveness in the moment, and reduces mental distractedness. 


All of this---and much, much more---has to be good for business. Mindfulness is also a tool for enforcing compliance, something employers like to see. I mean, creativity is one thing, but no employer wants their employees to be too creative. You know what I mean?

I have a bit of a problem with the corporatization of mindfulness. Well, more than a bit of a problem. Let me explain.

Mindfulness, without the right intention, and completely severed from its spiritual roots, is not necessarily a good thing. It can even be a bad thing. Mindfulness has its roots most directly in Theravāda Buddhism, which for the most part is a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are a number of different schools. Now, you don’t have to be a Buddhist or even religious to practise mindfulness, nor does mindfulness involve or require any religious faith at all. Mindfulness does not require that you believe in one god or many gods, or become a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Christian, or whatever. People of every religion, and none, can derive lasting benefits from the regular practice of mindfulness including mindfulness meditation.


However, this fact cannot be ignored. Mindfulness meditation, even in its most secular form, has its ancestral spiritual roots in a specific type or practice of meditation known as vipassanā meditation, which is used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism. Vipassanā meditation is also known as insight meditation, insightful meditation, sensory meditation and thought-watching meditation. Now, there are several different techniques of vipassanā meditation just as there are several types or forms of Buddhist meditation, but whether mindfulness is practised as a spiritual discipline or as a psychological tool, right intention is extremely important.

Buddha Shakyamuni gained enlightenment through the practice of mindfulness. Enlightenment means waking up. You come to see things-as-they-really-are for the very first time in your life. Thereafter, nothing is ever the same again. Your whole outlook on life is different. The emphasis on worldly values disappears, if not immediately then certainly over time. You become more compassionate. You practise and seek to spread loving-kindness. This is not just a Buddhist thing. Christianity speaks of the same experience, but uses slightly different language and thought forms. Other religions do as well. So does Humanism which, in its secular form, is not a religion at all.


According to the Buddha, there are three kinds of right intention, which counter three kinds of wrong intention: first, the intention of renunciation, which counters the intention of desire; secondly, the intention of good will, which counters the intention of ill will; and thirdly, the intention of harmlessness, which counters the intention of harmfulness. Now, there are many decent and ethical businesses but we see so much evidence these days of corporate greed and wrongdoing. Witness the recent scandal concerning Volkswagen. I suspect it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I worked in the ‘big end of town’ for a few years. I saw the greed and the ugliness. I worked with so many people who thought that the answer to their existential angst was to make a shitload of money as fast as possible. Desperately trying to give meaning to their lives---lives that had lost all traditional spiritual and ethical values---these people would stop at nothing to make a commercial success of themselves. That was their sole aim in life. Pitiful beyond belief.

Of course, we are all guilty at times of greed, rapaciousness and harmful behaviour. Just look at our appalling consumer society. Consumerism---these days it's the de facto religion of the majority of Westerners. Actually, we all need to practise right intention and learn to moderate our seemingly insatiable desires, make do with less, and try to do no harm, including doing no harm to the environment.


Mindfulness should never be seen as a means to an end, unless the end be a noble one, namely, to become a more compassionate, more loving and kinder human being—a human being who seeks to heal, and not assist in the ongoing destruction, of our already very badly damaged world, a human being who, having undergone a Copernican revolution, has come to understand that the world does not revolve around him or her. There is an old Christian hymn written by Helen H Lemmel that contains at least one wonderful line---And the things of earth will grow strangely dim.’ Such is the experience, and the right intention, of which I speak.

Now, I know this much. The captains of industry who are paying good sums of money to have their staff trained in the art of mindfulness do not want them to become enlightened such that the things of the earth grow strangely dim for them. That would not be good for the bottom line. Grrr.

Mindfulness without right intention is an abomination.










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