Friday, February 21, 2014

The Mindfulness Wars

Over at American Buddhist Perspective, Justin offers a goodbreakdown of recent articles in response to the brief protest that occurred at the recent Wisdom 2.0 conference. Odds are the "mindfulness wars" are only beginning to heat up, as more and more areas of the military industrial complex adopt mindfulness programs. While Justin's post offers excellent insight into some of the highly thorny issues coming up when mindfulness enters the world of big business, the ending offers at least a mildly optimistic tone, citing research suggesting mindfulness alone can increase ethical behavior.

First off, let's consider the source of two of the three studies: the University of Chicago and the Wharton School of UPenn. The former is home to the Milton Friedman Institute, while the latter is one of the highest ranked business schools in the world, with numerous alumni leading Fortune 1000 corporations around the globe. On the one hand, it makes sense that they would be doing research on mindfulness in the workplace. On the other hand, these are places with a vested interest in maintaining our current economic system, including many of it's numerous abuses.

I would really like to see some significant research from universities and other organizations that aren't driven by highly pro-capitalist models. In addition, what I find problematic about much of the research on mindfulness that I ave seen is that it tends to focus on individual benefits and changes in intrapersonal and/or interpersonal dynamics. It's fairly easy to find articles on psychological and therapeutic benefits, and I'm guessing that folks who get upset with the wholesale rejection of secular mindfulness by some Buddhists (and others) are thinking in part from this place. And the fact that mindfulness programs clearly do seem to offer folks stress relief, healing or significant improvement of depression, anxiety, and similar conditions. In addition, there seems to more and more articles and perhaps research on the improvement of intrapersonal and/or interpersonal dynamics in groups such as large workplaces. I frequently see appeals from secular mindfulness proponents that point to better boss/employee relationships, as well as less hostile work environments in general. Which, if it's true that mindfulness programs are doing this, is certainly a positive in my book.

However, none of this readily translates into systemic social change. Just because the corporate workplace is filled with more caring and less stressed people doesn't mean they'll be more likely (in my view) to act (individually or collectively) in ways that significantly reduce manufactured economic inequality, environmental destruction, and numerous other issues. Not when the main, even sole purpose of corporations is to make profits for the elite.

What incentive does a corporation like Google have to actively address (from their own sense of conscience) something like gentrification? Why would they bother to do anything unless public pressure threatened to cave their financial bottom line?

Google has been at the forefront of corporate mindfulness programming for a good decade now, not only influencing programming incorporate Silicon Valley, but numerous other places. And yet, Google's ethical track record is fairly lousy. From avoiding taxes to exploiting the digital commons in Africa, Google isn't exactly demonstrating the supposed social ethics of a mindfulness-based business.

Overall, I think this discussion needs to move beyond the mindfulness produced "zombies" and "mindful sniper" examples that keep being brought up by folks on both sides of the table. These extreme, individualistic memes are highly charged distractions that keep us from taking a deeper look at the interdependent systems that mindfulness programs are plugging into, and how the oppressive forces within those systems impact whatever programs are being offered, regardless of how good the intentions are.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Will Humans Disappear in 100 Years?

A few years ago, there was a provocative interview with Thich Nhat Hanh in the environmentalist magazine The Ecologist. He raised a lot of issues related to the state of the planet, from the importance of intentional communities to the potential value of having a vegetarian diet.

Today, though, I would like to consider the following:

According to the Buddhist tradition there is no birth and no death. After extinction things will appear in other forms, so you have to breathe very deeply in order to acknowledge the fact that we humans may disappear in just 100 years on earth. You have to learn how to accept that hard fact. You should not be overwhelmed by despair. The solution is to learn how to touch eternity in the present moment. We have been talking about the environment as if it is something different from us, but we are the environment. The non-human elements are our environment, but we are the environment of non-human elements, so we are one with the environment. We are the environment. We are the earth and the earth has the capacity to restore balance and sometimes many species have to disappear for the balance restored.

When I consider the state of things these days, I watch my mind swing back and forth between optimism and pessimism. That's what human minds tend to do, so it's no surprise.

I have dedicated myself to doing what I can to serve the planet. To be part of the life giving, life supporting, life defending element here. Not just human life, but all of it. The whole works. Sometimes, there is direct activism, sometimes I live in contemplation and meditation.

The weaving together of all this in a body/mind. That's what's going on.

At the same time, maybe we as a species won't make it. Maybe we aren't meant to make it. Species have come and gone on this rock for millions of years, so really, we aren't that special.

This little, blue rock is one of millions and millions of rocks, stars, specks of dust.

We haven't a bloody clue how big it all is, nor how tiny we really are.

A major evolution in collective consciousness is needed for survival. That's about all I know these days. Some predict it's on the way or already happening, while others think we're stuck, doomed creatures.

I don't know. I try to love and breathe it all in and let it all flow out as best as I can.

Our little, human battles sometimes need caring for, but in 100 years, how many of them will matter at all? How much of any of it will be remembered? Or remembered in an even remotely accurate way?

What seems to last are currents of energy in certain directions. Some contracting and destructive. Some life building and expansive.

I think our job is to care for each other, and not get stuck.

More of that, whether we make it as a species or not.

Bows to you all.