I recently read an interesting article on the Guardian’s website by Suzanne Moore on the topic of “mindfulness” and its place in contemporary, Western society. Moore argues that mindfulness in contemporary society has been simplified and commodified to the extent where many people see mindfulness as simply the practice of ‘not thinking’. Moore also believes that much of mindfulness practising today is focused upon lessening the influence of modern technology in our lives and that as such, many believe that mindfulness can be achieved by decluttering technology from their lives for temporary periods. She also feels that such practices are ineffectual, because this particular brand of mindfulness is excessively focused upon purely personal goals, believing the ultimate aim is to achieve more personal tranquillity and focus in order to approach our jobs in a less stressful way or to help us achieve that next big promotion. This is something that in Moore’s mind internalises mindfulness to too great an extent and does little to empower people to address the world’s problems and bring about positive change.
While I feel that Suzanne Moore’s article did raise several valid and interesting points, I disagree with her overall premise that mindfulness is of little utility in helping us to address issues and injustices in our communities and in the wider world. I feel that this is because her article focused too heavily on the oversimplified, neutered version of mindfulness that is prevalent in contemporary society. True mindfulness is a concept derived from Buddhist philosophy and is defined as the meditative state of being in which we consciously direct our awareness towards the present moment and focus on attaining awareness of self. This definition of mindfulness has been lost in translation to a certain extent as mindful practices have made the transition from Eastern philosophies into the Western world and has resulted in a situation in which many people wrongly associate mindfulness as any form of meditation or stress reduction practices.
The reality, however, is that authentic mindfulness poses numerous advantages that can help us to become more reflective, responsible, lessen the effects of stress related illnesses and help bring us internal peace in an otherwise chaotic world. Suzanne Moore is correct in the sense that mindfulness or meditation alone cannot help us change the world but what it can do is help to empower us to address the problems in our society and take positive action in our neighbourhoods and the wider world to make it a better place – it is the tool for social action and personal change! Unfortunately, the loudest proponents of mindfulness have stopped short of promoting this aspect of mindfulness and have only highlighted its ability to help us better ourselves.