The mindfulness business is a 1 billion dollar industry and continues to grow. It’s become fashionable to wear jewellery inscribed with mantras and Sanskrit, purchase new meditation cushions or download the latest app. There are even devices that will provide real-time EEG feedback on your meditation. There appears to be no end to what people create to promote mindfulness and what people are willing purchase.
But does all this stuff make us more mindful? Is it creating a more mindful culture or is it causing increased separation in our society? Is all this mindfulness gear just a cash grab that is actually taking us further away from being a mindful society? Is the commercialization of mindfulness exploiting the vulnerable and doing more harm than good?
There are arguments on both end of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
Criticism of mindfulness has been around for years. Some feel that mindfulness has been used to keep people quiet and from realizing how much better they could have it by standing up for their rights instead of accepting their current conditions. The argument is that mindfulness is being used to encourage people to accept things as they are, even when it causes suffering to themselves or others. For example, an exploited worker who speaks up in an effort to create better working conditions may run the risk of being told he’s not mindful and then sent on a mindful course. At the end of the course he may feel better but his working conditions may not have improved. Critics argue that companies may use mindfulness in an effort to increase profitability.
I would argue that the benefits of the commercialization of mindfulness far outweighs the negative effects. That without a conscious awareness of what mindfulness is and practising mindfulness, we run the risk of an unconscious, mindless society. In order to move society to a more mindful one, people have to not only read about mindfulness, but they need to actually experience it. A person can study mindfulness and buy all the gimmicks, but without experiencing it, how can one truly know mindfulness. It is kind of like trying to describe an avocado to someone who has never eaten one. Even if I give the most detailed description and show pictures of an avocado, without actually trying it, can someone really understand what an avocado is?
I believe that a more mindful society will become more efficient, productive and happier. Instead of running mindlessly from task to task, we will become more deliberate in our actions. I’ve seen this in my own practice and have found that mindfulness has helped my mind become more clear, focused and I’m able to get more done in less time. I feel more purposeful and in control of my life as opposed to living in a reactionary state. I begin to see things happening FOR me as opposed to things happening TO me. My mind spends less time anticipating the future or ruminating about the past, running in circles, chasing one thought after the next. By being more mindful it has opened space to create and become more creative.
We live in a largely materialistic society — buy more, do more, have more, be more. The quest for more and better is never ending and has been promoted as a path to happiness. Yet despite the research on happiness concluding that pursuing these things does not guarantee happiness and can leave people miserable, still many continue on this path.
Being more mindful and more aware, may not only help to shift some of these misunderstandings, but actually help us to be less commercial and less focused on material things. Once we start to become aware and conscious of who we are; compassionate, kind, connected beings, we begin cultivate empathy. We start to see that “we are they”, that in fact we are actually the same. The divide between races, religions, gender, lessen when we can see ourselves in another person.
We are social creatures and it’s in our DNA to connect. In this largely secular society I believe in some ways we have forgotten who we are and mindfulness will help us to reconnect with our true being. We are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness which is having a negative effect on society as a whole. The irony is that it’s not only an aging population that is suffering from loneliness, but youth as well. We need change. I believe the way to create change, is to create more awareness. Mindfulness can help people to become more aware and wake up.
There is often confusion and misinterpretation that mindfulness is associated with Buddhism. This association with Buddhism has caused some people to completely dismiss mindfulness. This misinterpretation may be why mindfulness is not practiced more in society — schools, community and in the workplace.
In conclusion, I believe the more mindful a society is, the more mindful its people that practice mindfulness. This will ultimately lead to a world that is more compassionate and kind, both to ourselves and others.