Our time and attention is being capitalised.
There are more than 1000 peer-reviewed scientific studies on meditation published every year. Meditation has shown its incredible ability to help us regulate our emotions in a much healthier way. Studies have shown daily practice helps people feel happier and less stressed.
With these simple yet powerful benefits, workplaces and institutions have tried to rapidly find the most efficient way of incorporating meditation into their infrastructures. Looking closer at their motives, they want to improve productivity in the workplace to generate greater profits. Mindfulness meditation has become one of their most powerful tools.
Mindfulness And The Workplace
In its workplace context, mindfulness is neither religious nor spiritual and is accessible for everyone. This has caused rapid widespread adoption across the western world. Offices are using it to help stressed-out workers. Schools are using it to help children focus. Prisons are using it to help prisoners regulate their emotions.
Self-care and taking care of your mind in an age where anxiety and depression are higher than ever should be strongly encouraged. Individuals all over the world feeling like they have the mental tools to handle difficult emotions is a step in the right direction.
This all sounds tremendously positive, but there is a catch. The workplace mindfulness package has been completely reframed from its original intentions. It has been moulded into something that fits into our society and doesn’t damage the status quo — how to make as much money as possible.
The Ultimate Resource
Corporations and powerful institutions thrive by capturing and directing our time and attention. In the digital age of distraction that surrounds us, both our time and attention are in shorter supply than ever.
The language that surrounds mindfulness is now quite different to its original intentions. It is not a tool for liberation or increasing compassion and other highly positive traits within your own mind. It is being used as a tool for increasing productivity to earn more and more money.
Companies are quick to show their findings on reduced health care costs, greater productivity and fewer days off sick due to the stress relieving effects of their mindfulness programmes. Having healthier workers is a fantastic achievement but it raises questions. Why were they so stressed out in the first place? Has mindfulness really solved this problem?
By reframing these powerful tools, the corporate mindset is making their intentions clear. In their eyes, meditation can be used to squeeze even more work out of an already overworked workforce. Businesses and institutions encourage self-care but ignore the many reasons for needing it in the first place: long hours, a competitive rat-race culture and high-pressure environments to name just a few.
This shifts the blame to the individual and away from the system. The problem is the way your mind deals with stress, not the fact that we have created a system that overworks and undervalues you. Their solution is corporate mindfulness, not tackling the root cause of stress and burnout.
Framing meditation this way is encouraging the very behaviours and attitudes that caused so much stress in the first place. Corporate mindfulness completely misses the compassion and connection side of meditation. Instead, people are using it to get ahead in life.
It is used as a tool for us to compete against each other. It is used so that we can relentlessly see who can work the hardest, be the most productive and be the most successful, without having a mental breakdown.
It uses mindfulness as a tool to feed the idea that to be truly happy, we must work harder to be successful, earn more money and consume even more extravagantly. Fear of inadequacy is driving our meditation practice. With this motivation, the original intention of meditation is completely lost.
The Bigger Picture: Capitalist Spirituality
This competitive framing of meditation that businesses and corporations have created inevitably spills out into society at large. It has created a meditation movement that is stripped of its ethical values.
Compared to its ancient origins, this new movement differs greatly in its intentions. Capitalist spirituality uses mindfulness to completely ignore political, social and economic problems. With an absence of sharp, social critique, the ancient practice of meditation has been warped to justify and stabilise the status quo. Under its current framework in the workplace and even schools, it reinforces consumer capitalism, rather than demanding something fairer.
It sends a clear message that yet again, our current system has failed to take a long hard look in the mirror. An economy that strives for unlimited growth fails to take into account the true environmental and social costs of aggressively consuming our planets finite resources.
But we have another option. To use these tools to mindfully create a better society that values happiness, compassion and our environment over corporate profits.
Where do we go from here?
Before we can use meditation as tools to build a better society, it’s vital that we are aware of the corporate package of mindfulness and its intentions. We need to know the challenges in front of us. Power and money will always try to reframe meditation towards generating more power and money.
It is up to us to reframe these tools back to their original nurturing and liberating intentions, not the money, power and ignorance package that capitalist spirituality offers us. Aware of this, we can then start to use these tools to create the awareness and compassion needed to tackle the root causes of society’s greatest problems — inequality and a lack of sustainability.
We have to add compassion back into the picture. Brain scans of long term meditators (5000+ hours) have shown transformations in the neural pathway responsible for compassion. The more you meditate to cultivate compassion, the greater your ability to understand other people and connect with them on a deeper level.
Compassion and co-operation is missing in capitalist spirituality. Wellbeing programmes that include mindfulness was the first step. Now these programmes must be reframed towards altruism. The intentions of these programmes shouldn’t be to for achieving record profits and ticking boxes that say we look after our staff. They should make people feel secure, genuinely cared for and offer us tools to help connect with each other on a deeper level.
Time to start a conversation
I want to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you think about the direction of meditation in society.
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