TOTALITARIANISM OF SELF-OPTIMIZATION
The Dangerous Consequences of Mindfulness Therapy
By Max Tholl
[[This article published on 8/19/2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.tagesspiegel.de.]
Is “mindfulness” really the path to enlightenment? Mindfulness pretends to be normality where indignation would be appropriate. An essay
Give yourself a moment of time. Let this sentence move you. Take time and don’t wonder whether you have time. Simply take time.
You are valuable. How did confusion and chaos lodge in your body and how can clarity replace the confusion? How can the feeling of inner peace and quiet prevail? This feeling is your mindfulness. You are this feeling.
Maybe this experiment has long been part of you9r daily praxis. If not, you may know people who tell you mindfulness is central. Ignoring mindfulness, the cure-all against the suffering of modern life, has become damn hard.
Already in 2014, “Time Magazine” on its cover proclaimed the “Mindful Revolution” and praised mindfulness as the way out of the hamster wheel of everyday stress. This term goes back to the molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed his stress reduction through mindfulness therapy and stands at the top of the movement today.
Mindfulness should communicate a non-judgmental feeling of simple existence and produce a mental hygiene enabling resistance to the pressure of the high-performance society through focusing exercises.
Ronald Purser warns of a fast consumption of spirituality
Major companies like Google, SAP, RWE and Apple offer their employees long mindfulness seminars…The Berlin exhibition hall Collectors Room organizes attentiveness workshops where attendees should have an intense art experience.
In Germany, there are over 1000 certified mindfulness teachers who train their compatriots in resilience and concentration. Many insurance companies even assume part of the costs. This training should be encouraged since we have stress and are constantly diverted everywhere. But can mindfulness r really be the path to illumination?
For the super-guru Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is humanity’s only chance to overcome its “mental captivity,” overcome its collective mindfulness deficit and survive the next decades.
Attentiveness increases stress
Two of its sharper critics have published books explaining their doubts. Ronald Purser coined the term “McMindfulness” and now in a book with the same title warns of a fast consumption of spirituality without any gain in perception or improvement of knowledge.
“Attentiveness increases stress and suffering instead of liberating us.” According to Purser, mindfulness anchors the causes for indisposition or nausea in our heads. I am responsible for my stress, not the outward conditions.
The adjustment capacities of the individual are criticized, not the causes for the stress. Suffering is de-contextualized but recognized as a fact. This generates a blinder-mentality that disregards the real problems. The I becomes the problem and simultaneously one’s own rescuer.
Like Purser, David Forbes in his book “Mindfulness and its Discontents” concludes mindfulness in most cases legitimates the prevailing conditions instead of questioning them. Stress is characterized as a genetic residue form the Stone Age as Kabat-Zinn does that can be meditated away.
“Feel-don’t think” is the mantra of the illuminated who, as Purser explains, accept the social dislocations. This is a withdrawal to private solutions in view of mounting collective problems. One’s own well-being becomes a task or project that can only be mastered with iron discipline.
David Gelles gives tips on mindful dog-walking
Mindfulness therapy fits perfectly into the contemporary I-fixation that rules many lives… The I is a work in progress that must be tackled. Examples include self-optimization trends like the Quantified Self in which one’s body becomes a completely measurable organism or bio-hacking where life should be improved through incursions in the DNA structure.
Mindfulness pretends to regain autonomy over one’s body to strengthen awareness and make it more resistance – in every area of life.
In his weekly New York Times column “Meditations for Real Life,” the journalist David Gelles has given tips for years on coping with the daily routine in the most mindful ways, “being mindfully sick,” “walking mindfully with the dog Gassi” or “mindfully surviving seasonable allergies.” When your nose is runny or swollen, simply turn your attention to another part of your body without judging your physical state.
Gelles’ texts illustrate the totalitarianism of self-optimization with a twinkle and are symptomatic for a development that does not tolerate any inefficiency in life and makes self-help literature into a million-dollar business. How much dependence and how little self-determination arises in self-help are not striking any more. As the comedian George Carlin summarized, “if it is written in a book it is help, not self-help.”
Responsibility is shifted to individuals
Focusing on the self, Purser writes, is living out the neoliberal individualism mantra that shifts responsibility to individuals and undermines sociality. Like neoliberalism, mindfulness therapy preaches that social rethinking must first happen with the individual but robs the individual of the necessary emotions to achieve rethinking.
Annoyance and rage have no place anymore and are not part of mental hygiene. A sedentary consciousness that only circles around oneself cannot bring about any change. Rage, sadness and helplessness are costly emotions that are already nearly expelled in a pseudo-religious way.
Sicknesses like depressions or anxiety attacks are reduced to character traits that can be worked off. However, depression is a national sickness because it often has its origin in social conditions and not only because many people suffer in it.
Mindfulness is a poor coping mechanism and emphasizes a level of sensitivity where one maintains the appearance of functionality before the inner collapse. Mindfulness urges normality where outrage or indignation would be proper. It makes overtaxed employees into consciousness-entrepreneurs who want their bodies to be so resilient that the strains simply wear out – so they become better than the competition.
With the smart-phone on the way to illumination
Since the 1990s, businesses increasingly rely on meditation to help in the stress reduction of workers and stimulate their productivity. Economic calculation underlies this meditation and not only care. Mental or physic suffering is a main reason for days absent which have negative effects on financial figures.
According to a 2019 DAK health report, 5.3 million Germans suffer in depressions. This sickness is the third most-frequent cause of absenteeism. With the help of mindfulness and meditation, big businesses successfully anchored terms like “emotional intelligence” and “mental capital” as desirable attributes in the heads of employees. Adaptive ability is optimized instead of questioning the absurd demands of the labor market.
That money still flows for this form of self-exploitation – for products said to produce a mental balance and not only for advice literature and seminars – is the most absurd part. This growing industry can be described as “anxiety consumerism”: coloring books for adults, E-cigarettes with therapeutic-aromatic essences and stress belts for muscle relaxation.
The Global Wellness Institute estimates that the 2018 wellness economy had sales of more than trillion. Mediation apps like Calm and Head-space are businesses worth millions that gain their profit from the paradox that smart-phones make people sick but seemingly are the most convenient way to illumination. Five minutes daily are enough.
If mindfulness should be more than a sales pitch or temporary problem mitigation, it must become more political. As a purely intellectual supplement, it fortifies abuses instead of promoting awareness for true alternatives. Mindfulness and meditation actually help people become more resilient but the resistance seldom serves the true goal. .