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.

mc

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.

Eight Misconceptions about Mindfulness

There are at least eight misconceptions about mindfulness that I have read or heard about so far. They can also be seen as traps one may fall into when practicing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) without proper guidance. If you don’t practice mindfulness read the list and be aware whether or not one of the misconceptions resonates with you. Ask yourself why this is the case and what personal values inform your thoughts. If you are practicing mindfulness ask yourself kindly and honestly whether or not a particular misconception applies to you right now. Then see if you like your conclusion or not and ask why this is the case. By asking these questions you can actually strengthen and develop mindfulness of your intentions and values.

  1. Just about me? Mindfulness meditation leads to a state of isolated self-absorption that makes you withdraw from social relationships.

  2. Just stay the same? Mindfulness does not require a change of lifestyle and you can keep your practice separate from other spheres of your life.

  3. Just do whatever? Mindfulness is not based on a set of values linked to social ethics that would prevent you from using it to harm others.

  4. Just consume? Mindfulness is a commodity that can be sold and bought just like any other product or service available for modern consumers in a market economy.

  5. Just believe? Mindfulness is a religious practice and cannot be separated from Buddhist believes and rituals.

  6. Just relax? Mindfulness is a technique that makes you feel relaxed rather than leading to personal transformation that would make you become kinder with yourself and others.

  7. Just escape? Mindfulness is a way to escape from the stressors of everyday life and enables you to cope for some time without having to deal with the real problems.

  8. Just adapt? Mindfulness makes you accept everything uncritically. It is a way to adapt to untenable social relationships, oppressive cultural or religious norms.

Take some time to reflect upon the questions you posed and answered. They can help you become more aware of your values and intentions as they relate to mindfulness meditation.

misconceptions2

The eight misconceptions help me to evaluate my practice in an ongoing manner. They can serve as a wake up call. When I start to agree with any one of them at the moment, I know it’s time steer into a different direction. If you are aware of other misconceptions, critiques, or concerns about mindfulness feel free to share them.

Mindsight: How to Switch on your Seventh Sense?

Have you ever tried to figure out how your mind works? Switch on your your Seventh Sense and practice what psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls “mindsight”. There is nothing mystical about it. It can help you to become aware of the mental activity in your brain. According to Siegel, “Mindsight is the ability for the human mind to see itself. It is a powerful lense though which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, transform the brain, and enhance our relationship with others.” We can all do it and have done it sometimes perhaps without even noticing.

eye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 1: Observation

First of all, become aware of your awareness through observation. Just try out this mindsight experiment: Tell yourself right now to focus on your breath. Just watch how the air enters and leaves your body naturally. See how long your intention permits you to not have a thought. Tell yourself to focus on the breath. Nothing else. The ability to observe is important for mindsight because it enables us to perceive what is going on as we experience an event. Thoughts can be seen as nothing else than mental events. Through observation we can see their context. This is a vital skill that can only be developed by making a conscious effort.

 

Step 2: Openness

Perhaps you are successful to focus your attention on your breath for a couple of minutes or just seconds. The thoughts don’t go away just because we want them to stop, even less so if we get angry at them, or try run away from them. They are bound to come up again and again. If you are able to notice and observe internal commentary, images, and associations as they arise on their own, you are connected to your Seventh Sense. Be open to your experience as it is. Often we are our own worst critique. Openness helps us to accept what is going on in the moment without getting swept away by negative judgements about our mental activity.

Step 3: Objectivity

A lot of the time, we cannot distinguish our sense of self and identity from our mental activity that arises as a result of past experiences that have been ingrained into our brains through childhood experiences and cultural conditioning.

However, we are not helplessly exposed to inner autopilots that steer us in accordance with habits that we may not consciously choose or like. You can take the streering wheel into your hand and turn on your Seventh Sense. When you practice mindsight you will notice that a thought is not all you are. Mindsight as a way of taking up a more objective perspective helps you to become aware of the fact that it is not “me” who is doing the chatter. At least it is not a unified “me”. Rather there are parts, programs, or mental schemata that become dominant in particular moments. If a particular part was all that there is, how could we be aware of it as something that tries to get hold of our attention?

As you will see, the distance that comes with making a distinction between awarenss and mental activity opens up new choices. If you can see and observe the whole menue and the different “foods” available in your brain you can start to choose what you want to eat. Try it out and start to watch your thoughts. Become more mindful of them and see what effect it has on how you relate to other people.

 

Three Things about Mindfulness

Three Things about Mindfulness

Sometimes, it is helpful to break down what’s mindfulness. Mindfulness is about at least three things: our intention, attention, and attitude. First, mindfulness is said to be based on intention or making a conscious choice, a decision to shape one’s experience. This includes the intention to practice, as well as the intentionality one brings to directing, sustaining or switching attention. The intention to consciously focus attention on a object such as the breath is the basis of mindfulness.

Second, focused attention itself is a defining feature of mindfulness. It includes focused, broad and sustained attention, and skills in switching attention from one stimulus to another. Attention is tied to the ability to pay close attention to details in tasks or activities and not to be overwhlemed by extraneous stimuli. Attention can be considered a form of self-regulation and can help us to deal with difficult emotions. Evidently, sensations, emotions, and thoughts can never be kept from coming up. This brings us to the next dimension.

Third, mindfulness is not merely about focusing attention but about a focus in a particular way. It is grounded in particular attitudes that allow for acceptance of whatever arises in the mind. These attittudes commonly include non-judgment, acceptance, trust, patience, non-striving, curiosity, and kindness. They are developed by intentionally sustaining attention to internal and external stimuli without immediately evaluating them as either “good” or “bad” through an awareness of their transitional and changing nature. It involves a stepping back from mostly unconscious habits that shape what we do, feel, and think in everyday life. This does not mean that we have to just accept everything that happens to us or other people. But more about that later.

Stuck in Thoughts? A Way Out

Mindfulness is more than becoming aware of things around us. It is about becoming aware of thoughts and stories that get us stuck. Rumination or automatic negative thoughts can keep us in a rut. Counter to what I expected, they are often changed most effectively through a stance of acceptance. When I am merely trying ot get rid of unpleasant things going on internally I cut myselves off from the possibility to actually change them. If I react to my own negative thoughts and feelings with aversion and annoyance then my body tenses up more. I start to become more irritable and so forth. For a long time, I treated my negative moods and feelings as enemies and as a result made them worse. Mindfulness practice helped me to stay with them until they dissapear on their own.

k2 Kopie

 

Negative feelings and thoughts are often interlinked with stories about ourselves and others that are not necessarily true. They maintain our problems rather than to solve them. Today, I’m certainly not free from them but I can say that there were times in my life when I felt like caught up in a hamster wheel. Just thinking about the future and what I still have to accopmplish without getting anywhere. Often this was also tied to what is often called the “doing mode”.

Some problems we cannot solve through analytical thinking. When I critique, judge, and compare myself with others, it usually increase my discomfort. No doubt, the “doing mode” of the mind can help to solve technical problems in everyday life and to transform external world through action. However, I become unhappy when I focus on the glass being half empty. “Oh, I haven’t changed my world yet, and I’m still sometimes struggling with my marriage. I could do so much better. What’s wrong with me?”

The focus on goals and the mismatch between who I could be and who I appear to be right now often made me miserable. One way I jump out of the stories and assumptions of who I should be is to just be aware of what is going on right now in my body. Can I feel my heartbeat? How does the sofa smell? The “being mode” gives us other way of relating to thoughts, bodies, emotions than the “doing mode”. We all have it already. I can remember, as a child and even a teenager I was more in touch with it. Now I’m working on getting back there again. Let’s get out of head and experience world directly without the running commentary.