Chapter 26 The mindfulness craze hits largecorp. What exactly is it?
As long-term disability claims mount at largecorp well then word is out in the street just how stressful the largecorp is, employee satisfaction shrinks and stress levels skyrocket illustrating the dismal failure of managing by the Senior Management Team. So largecorp has latched on to the mindfulness craze that is sweeping the industrialized world as an attempt to mitigate employee stress hence ultimately to increase its productivity. The only compassion the SMT has is for profits not for humans.
When taught properly mindfulness is self liberating as it can free you from your mind’s unhelpful workings.
The more you delve into a subject, as is often the case, the less you really know about it. It has got to the point that all levels of educational institutions have latched on to mindfulness and are teaching their students how to think and act mindfully. The University of Toronto and the University of Leiden (amongst a whole host of organizations) offer mindfulness certification courses! Psychologists and psychiatrists are recommending it as therapy and in some cases as an alternative to anti-depressants. The qualifications of those running mindfulness sessions is totally unregulated. Debate and discussion rages over the meaning of mindfulness.
The best advice I can give you is do not think that things are as they appear. Between reality (if there is such a thing) and your mind there is an open space and it is in this space there is what and where I think mindfulness lies.
Perhaps one of the most powerful statements on mindfulness comes from Professor Chris Goto-Jones (Guest professor at Honours Academy at Leiden University (NL)) where he comments on Daoism and its link to modern construct mindfulness. “There is a real sense in philosophical Daoism that human civilization per se, might be the origin of all our suffering, clumsiness and immorality. Humans are maladapted to their own civilizations. Institutionalized human cleverness or civilization is precisely that layer of veneer that prevents us for directly accessing reality. It conditions us from the day we’re born to think in terms of categories, discriminations and preoccupy our attention in place of direct experiences of the world around us.”
Put another way there is an experience in the present moment which we fail to take the time to think about and in an unthinking way slot it into our ideological system. It is as if we are preconditioned to slot experiences into a comfortable cubbyhole without truly experiencing what they are and what they feel like.
So, I am sorry I can’t give you a clean and precise definition of mindfulness. But based on my experiences and studies I can make some observations.
- Mindfulness is categorized into “state mindfulness” and “trait mindfulness”. State mindfulness involves various meditative practices that train the mind to focus on the experience and to discipline the mind from unnecessary wandering that detracts from the experience and may cause suffering. This is known as being in the present moment. Trait mindfulness goes beyond meditation and asks if your character is mindful.
- What mindfulness is ultimately is for you to decide. It is the sum totality of your practice. If it works BRAVO! If it does not it is because you have not put the effort into it or have been improperly taught.
- Construct mindfulness is broken into MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy). MBSR is a method of relieving stress and anxiety for healthy individuals. MBCT is used as a therapy for mentally unhealthy individuals who, for example, may be suffering from amongst other conditions, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression.
- Mindfulness may cause psychological disturbances that may cause you harm. If you are suffering from mental illness consult your psychiatrist or psychologist before taking any mindfulness course.
- Mindfulness involves discipline. Regular meditation has been shown to modify the brain in many ways almost always beneficial. You must be committed.
- Mindfulness meditation need not be sitting in a lotus position. Any position in which you feel comfortable works. Almost all meditators engaged in serious meditation do so with closed eyes.
- Mindfulness is not some form of Orientalism although it has Daoist and Buddhist traditions.
- Be open to competing arguments as to mindfulness. Marxist ideology seems to state if you are mindful you are no threat to capitalist society as you are simply trying to adapt to an exploitative economic system. Mindfulness is the new opiate of the masses. Be aware of commercial interests that exploit the mindfulness trend. Drinking mindfulness tea or meditating on a mindful mat aren’t necessarily going to make you mindful.
- Today’s society seems tilted against failure. Mindfulness involves being kind and compassionate to yourself and third parties. I am now reading a book by Thupten Jinpa, monk and the former translator for the Dalai Lama, “A Fearless Heart” that suggests to me compassionate cultivation training is the next big thing! Thupten Jinpa writes, “Compassion for ourselves and for others-takes courage to take care of ourselves, to make decisions in our best interest and not let fear of what other people think throw us off course. It also takes courage to care what people think, to have compassion for the effects of our actions on others. Compassion requires us to pay attention and engage with other people’s troubles and suffering when it might be easier to ignore them or to otherwise make do with the status quo.”One must ask is largecorp showing any compassion for its employees or are they simply as Karl Marx would say “means of production”?
- Don’t fall for those who purport to define mindfulness is a few sentences. There are holes galore in the definitions I have seen. You have the challenging task of determining what it means for you. The starting definition of mindfulness is that of John Kabat-Zinn, “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”.
- Stay off automatic pilot which means reacting in the same way and in the same patterns without thinking. Response as opposed to reaction is always to be preferred.
- How you relate to experiences that might be unpleasant depends on how you react to them. You are shot in the ankle by an arrow by an enemy tribe. That is painful but instead of dealing with the pain you go into a series of automatic unkind and uncompassionate thoughts about why you were wearing a highly visible outfit and hanging out with a nefarious bunch of thugs. Your reaction in effect has unleashed a whole hail of additional arrows. You must try and respond the present moment of being wounded rather than heaping on additional self-criticism.
- In mindfulness, you learn to cultivate an increasing awareness of your experiences in a moment-by-moment way. The more aware you are of what is unfolding for you the less you are controlled by your experiences and the more choices you can make.
- In mindfulness, hopefully you will learn that thoughts are not facts. Some thoughts are totally untrue, some partially true and some are true. Even if it is true and a negative one for you there is no need to get totally caught up in it so that it becomes destructive. You are only human.
- You’ll be aware that there is a voice in your head that never shuts up unless you try to control it. That voice is planning, criticizing, warning, advising etc. Hopefully, you gain the ability to recognize these voices and then respond by choosing to ignore, agree or disagree with them.
- Mindfulness should teach you how to take care of yourself. Your mind can only take so much punishment and negativity. You must learn to replenish and reinvigorate it with things that give it pleasure. Do I really have to stay all day in the office when I can go out for a walk with the children, have a great dinner and watch a family movie? Perhaps take 20 minutes each morning to enjoy a coffee with a friend or go for an hour long walk with a friend at lunch and discuss life instead of being hunched over at your desk eating lunch. Let largecorp just drain you until you are dry? That shows you have no compassion for yourself.