Commercial mindfulness, capitalism and stress related issues
Mindfulness can be examined at two levels: the individual and the collective. The individual level is the obvious dimension of mindfulness for most of us, especially in areas such as MBCT and MBSR because it tires to answer individual needs or demands (even if we can also see them at the sociological and global levels). This individual dimension has been easily used for expanding the human activities, models and strategic objectives of organizations, corporations, powerful persons, and influential bureaucrats.
The other dimension or level of analysis -and also of reality- is collective, sociological at the level of groups, classes, and society as a whole or even the global world. This level is where we can discuss the role of mindfulness in the economy and contemporary societies.
A central contradiction in commercial mindfulness as much as all (guided) self-help business models is that it tries to solve problems or just mitigate them in great part because the economy and society have created them or contributed forcefully to in the first place.
Individuals need society, but society does not respond to all our needs and creates also new and old problems such as abuse of power, domination, stress, violence, and much more.
Take the case of oppression, with a profound and prescient analysis by Simone Weil (Oppression and Liberty – Oppression et liberté ) in the 1930s, the tough bureaucracies , obscure language and professionalization that dispossess the worker of her or his “thinking”. Humans are like cogs in a machine or wheel and human action, lacking agency, is full of repetitions, routines, and inertia!
Even if today the context and technology are different, this issue persists.
There is another issue that was hinted at in the sessions and debriefings and is central to my understanding of the role of mindfulness in society and our daily lives, and this is the transformation of deep consciousness or mindfulness into a commercial product, and so subject to manipulation and the very negation of what being mindful is all about.
This danger of commercial mindfulness is also the perversion of inquiry – at distinct levels: personal, of citizenship, of democracy and scientific. Commercial mindfulness, as we have seen in the course, is much a question of individual responsibility, and the issues of public health and other political and collective themes are relegated to a secondary plane or background that is now emerging in the present experience of the pandemic. The inquiry and its outcomes are transformed by business interests and put the responsibility on individuals, taken in isolation, while the responsibility of corporations or groups or interests are obfuscated.