April 29, 2013

Mindfulness is Mainstream; Get Over It.

Image Credit: IntentionalWorkplace.com

Yoga is now a $10.7 billion dollar industry in the U.S. with about 20 million practitioners, according to this recent Forbes article (which also lists the top ten U.S. Cities for yoga).

And now Mindfulness, The Industry, is also growing fast… because mainstream mindfulness practitioners are multiplying! To me, this is a positive thing.

Image Credit: Tricycle.com

A recent Maclean’s article, “Mindfulness goes corporate—and purists aren’t pleased: How the Buddhist tradition has been marshalled to grow profits and productivity“, portrays it rather negatively, however:

“[Mindfulness] has metastasized into an omnibus panacea—to help children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate, soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder recover and, now, Fortune 500 executives compete.”

Metastasized, really?

Is that so wrong? That mindfulness can help ADHD sufferers, PTSD victims, and CFOs? It can help them and more. It can help you and me. The fact is, for better or worse, the West has spawned many branches of meditation (and more of yoga), including a version of Buddhist-based mindfulness that is secular and is helping lots and lots of people who don’t necessarily classify themselves as Buddhists.

Sure, having a Buddhist teacher nearby, or going to a 10-day silent meditation course to learn mindfulness via vipassana is ideal… for some. But, what if there is no Buddhist teacher readily available? The 10-day retreat can be difficult to plan for logistically, plus it is just too intense for some to swallow. Should they, then, not be exposed to mindfulness teachings? I bet H. H. the Dalai Lama would want them to be.

The article quotes Donald Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies at the University of Michigan:

“Buddhism has always been a religion,” he says. “To see it as a way of life is a modern conceit that disparages the lives and religious practices of Buddhists over thousands of years.”

Yikes! I hope that by my own study and practice of the Dharma in whatever “watered down” form I may be, that I am not disparaging the Buddhists, past or present. I respect religious Buddhists, and the ceremonies and temples are wonderful, if you’re into that sort of thing. But by studying and practicing their teachings yet not being a professed “Buddhist”, I am disparaging their lives? Come on, now.

The article also mentions that the U.S. Marine Corps is now utilizing mindfulness in its training of soldiers. Well, obviously killing in war would not be an example of Right Livelihood, but still… a mindful soldier is better than a mindless one.

The article also quotes Ronald Purser, a professor of management in the College of Business at San Francisco State University and a Buddhist:

“Mindfulness in Buddhist tradition is to transform one’s sense of self; it’s not about attaining personal goals attached to personal desires; the goal is to liberate oneself from greed, ill will and delusion, not to achieve stress reduction.”

I absolutely agree that mindfulness aids us to transform our sense of self, namely to realize the illusory nature of the self and the eternal nature of the Self expressed through each individual. However, I would say that achieving stress reduction is a fine goal, as goals go.

Here’s the thing: yoga and mindfulness have become very popular in the United States. They have become part of capitalism, big money industries. And sometimes what draws people to begin to practice yoga and mindfulness is physical: improved health, reduced stress, flexibility, strength, focus. And, apparently, sometimes what draws people to practice meditation is the corporate bottom-line.

Can one begin his or her spiritual practice for the physical benefits (a fit body from practicing hot yoga) or financial benefits (healthier employees for the employer) and evolve to become a true yogi, a truly mindful person? Sure. If they want to.

The idea that you must be a religious Buddhist in order to practice mindfulness is ridiculous.

Everyone can practice mindfulness; it is quite simply the act of paying attention. And the more people being mindful, which means being compassionate, which means being love embodied, the better. Corporate CEOs and soldiers included.

Mindfulness leads to awareness, which is life, which is you, as you connect with everything in the karmic web way too complex to fully comprehend.

And awareness is good.

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