Mindfulness practices, companies, and thought continues to grow. This may be even more true as people are looking for solutions to the uncertainty and anxiety of being in a global pandemic.
The ability of mindfulness is powerful and it's one we help people practice with Stoa. However, there are risks in how it's presented.
What is Mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as nonjudgemental awareness. It the ability to see things, as they are without additional judgment and without weaving unnecessary narratives.
This is a key skill and is complementary to the Stoic discipline of judgement or assent. A Stoic aims to believe what is true. By removing the clutter of unnecessary value judgements, mindfulness helps do this.
Nonetheless, there are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about how to integrate mindfulness into your life.
Often, mindfulness is presented as a magic bullet. Rarely explicitly, but often implicitly. It may appear as though mindfulness is sufficient for solving problems like anxiety and living well. But mindfulness is, at best, only one part of the solution. And it's often not the most important ingredient.
Often people turn mindfulness in order to solve their problems, perhaps in response to a crisis like the current one. But sitting on a cushion for 10 minutes a day does not remove the crisis. It may change our attitude towards the world. This is crucially important. As Epictetus famously said:
It is not things that upset us, but our judgements about those things.
Practices like mindfulness meditation help many people internalize this. However, there is a risk that, like many self help advice and practices, that it is a distraction. Often you'll be better off facing the crisis directly.
The key concern I have with popular mindfulness is that people do it to become happy.
They do it to feel better, that's all. Implicit in many mindfulness programs is that what is ultimately good in life is how we feel: our mental health, our subjective wellbeing. This view of life risks self-obsession and narcissism. Ironically, as sophisticated mindfulness traditions point out, when happiness becomes the goal it will be much harder to reach.
Life being good is more of a matter of who we are and what we do than how we feel.
None of this is to say that mindfulness isn't useful. It is. But it's worth pausing and asking whether you have a robust life philosophy to begin with.