Mindfulness has been a spiritual buzzword for quite some time now. It has especially gained ground in the corporate arena with the aim of creating more conscious and aware workers and workplaces. Ellen Langer, Harvard University professor and long-time researcher in the field, for instance, has conducted research to show, that more mindfulness makes for more attentive, more creative, less judgmental and even more attractive people.(1)
But is mindfulness really the panacea for dealing with stress and anxiety that modern societies are seeking? Does it promise an unbroken state of peace and happiness?
If you have no sense of abandon in your life, you will suffer life after some time. Everywhere, the world has been infected with mindfulness right now. This country [India] has always invested in how to be mindless in your activity, that your mind does not come in. If your mirror is well-polished, you become a reflection of the creator; or at least a reflection of the creation.
– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
Mindfulness is usually described as a state of being conscious and aware of one’s environment, thoughts, actions and emotions. It emphasises noticing new things which as Langer explains, is ‘energy begetting, not energy-consuming’. But as Langer rightly admits, mindfulness is often understood as a practice that implies effort.
In an attempt to refute this reputation, she writes in her article titled ‘Mindfulness Isn’t Much Harder than Mindlessness’ (1), “The problem is that many people misunderstand what mindfulness is and how to achieve it. Some confuse mindfulness with effortful thinking and stress. Thinking is only effortful when we fear we will not arrive at the right answer; stress results not from events but from the views we take of events.”
While she goes on to try and explain mindfulness in the right context, one gets the impression that just getting the right understanding of mindfulness itself is quite a mind-full task i.e. requiring a lot of mind and thus likely to defeat the purpose of this practice or state of being. Constantly having to remind oneself of mindfulness techniques during the day is quite capable of achieving exactly the opposite of the desired effects of calm and peacefulness.
I’m not arguing for a complete dismissal of mindfulness, because it does have its place, but it needs to be viewed in the right context. If temporary relief from stress is what you want, then mindfulness techniques would be helpful to you. If you struggle with anxiety, then I’m not arguing that mindfulness cannot help you. But if you’re seeking something more, namely a deeper understanding of yourself and life and ultimately liberation, then you need to become quite the opposite of what the term mindfulness indicates – you need to become mind-less. While the mind is useful for practical living, it is useless for understanding anything beyond the physical. Spiritual teachings of being in the ‘now’, being ‘present’, being the ‘witness’ (sakshi bhava) lead one into a mind-less state which doesn’t imply a restricted state of being (as the term ‘mind-less’ might imply), but on the other hand, a more open and spacious one.
So my take-away from it all would be to ditch the concepts and techniques. Don’t be mindful. Don’t be mindless. Just be.
(1) ‘Mindfulness isn’t much harder than mindlessness’, Ellen Langer, Harvard Business Review, 13 Jan 2016.
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