Welcome to McMindfulness: A Critique

In recent years, the ancient Buddhist practice of “sati”has been translated into U.S. American mainstream and pop culture. It is now commonly known as mindfulness in English and has thoroughly changed.

In a Huffington Post article titled “Beyond McMindfulness”, some critiques argue that as a secularized technique mindfulness is decontextualized from its original transformative purpose and its social ethics. It is made to fit the corporate world, the military, and other institutions that are unlikely to change as a result of mindfulness seen as a banal self-help technique. In this sense, mindfulness becomes part of the mental defilements it originally was supposed to counter.

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Today, there is a tendency to see mindfulness as an individual, private, and internal affair. As Zen teacher Ted Segal illustrates in his blog post “mindfulness or heartfulness”, people may seek for a technique that is in line with what is represented in popular media. He gives the example of a visitor whose primary motivation was to “get to know himself better” and makes clear that mindfulness is not about self-absorption or developing insight into the self and should rather be called “heartfulness” to avoid confusion. He points out, “using one’s unique gifts to benefit others is what brings happiness”. The Zen teacher admits that ten years ago he would not have disagreed that the practice is about introspection but changed his view with increasing insight.

It is not surprising that in a society in which individualism is an ideal and ever higher expectations of productivity are considered normal, meditation is seen as a technique to know more about oneself and ones strengths. In my opinion there is nothing wrong about introspection as long as it is for the sake of developing more fulfilling and loving relationships. The danger lies in an uncritical adoption of mindfulness that shifts the burden of injustices and domination onto the individual. The practice of mindfulness is abused when employees, students, or soldiers are held responsible for stress generated by organizations that create environments that are not conducive to mental and behavioral health.

Based on popular depictions of mindfulness you may think that it is another way to calm down hyperactive kids, become more productive at the workplace, or cope with the high exigencies of everyday life in a post-industrial information age. While this may be true on a superficial level, it is about much more. A McMindfulness perspective reduces mindfulness to a mere coping technique removed from its original embededness in ethics and the transformation of relationships. Mindfulness can not be measured by money and status but only by the quality of our relationships with other people and the enviornment we live in.