“McMindfulness”: Critique of Massive Trend

According to McMindfulness, there are more than 100,000 books on Amazon with “mindfulness” or something similar in the title. The movement has sprouted mindful surfing, mindful bread and mindful KFC chicken pot pies. Mindfulness apps have become big business, and Purser notes that there is a “peculiar irony in turning to an app to de-stress from problems that are often made worse by staring at phones.” Jonnie Wolf, The Guardian

Ronald Purser, author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality and Korean Zen teacher, knows that the practice of mindfulness has its benefits. On the other hand, he takes issue with its commodification—“co-opted by corporations, public schools, and the US military”—so much so that it’s “become a banal form of capitalist spirituality that mindlessly avoids social and political transformation…” (the publisher).

Also excerpted from the publisher’s blurb, it’s further noted that mindfulness can and has been overly utilized for “social control and self-pacification.”

According to reviewer Dosho Port, Patheos, Purser identifies five distinct problems related to “McMindfulness.” Port chooses several quotes from the book to support each of these. (See the Patheos link for further details.)

  1. Commodifying the calm mind
  2. Decontextualizing mindfulness from the social, economic, racial, and religious reality: “Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.”
  3. Blaming the victim: “Mindfulness programs pay little attention to the complex dynamics of interacting power relations, networks of interests, and explanatory narratives that shape capitalist culture.”
  4. Absence of ethical reflection: “Forethought and care, vigilant awareness of the consequentiality of one’s actions, and striving to eradicate unwholesome mental qualities (all basic Buddhist aims) take a back seat to just ‘being mindful, ‘being present,’ and other platitudinous edicts like ‘radical acceptance.’”
  5. The research isn’t as good as claimed: “At a practical level, the misinformation and propagation of poor research methodology can potentially lead to people being harmed, cheated disappointed, and/or disaffected.”

Part of his solution is the following, as quoted by Port:

The therapeutic functions of mindfulness-based interventions are clearly of value. We don’t need to stop using them, but we do need to do much more. Calming the mind can help us engage with social, historical and political realities. We don’t need another form of praxis defined in biomedical and universalizing terms. Mindfulness needs to be embedded in the organic histories and local knowledge of communities, empowering them to see how things are.

William Davies, author of Nervous States and The Happiness Industry: “Timely and incisive…Purser reveals how mindfulness became a vast industry, promising to cure us of a growing range of psychological ailments, and simultaneously propping up the political and economic system that generates them.”

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