The next few posts will be looking at mindfulness as an ideology. According to Teun A. Van Dijk in Politics, Ideology and Discourse - an entry in the Elsevier Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2005) - the following “ideological square” has been found to be pervasive in ideological discourse: . Emphasize Our good things
- Emphasize Their bad things
- De-emphasize Our bad things
- De-emphasize Their good things
- Let’s focus on the “bad things” in the square, starting with “emphasize their bad things”.
First a brief word count from Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living (FCL) to set the tone: suffering: 112; pain: 555; stress: 588; death: 63; premature death: 6; cancer: 109; danger: 9; dangerous: 14; risk : 45 ; threat: 39; threaten: 11; toxic: 22.
Just as everyday awareness pales in comparison to mindful awareness, so everyday life pales in comparison to the mindful life. According to Kabat-Zinn, not living mindfully is to be in a world of “loss and grief and suffering” (FCL, Kindle p. 440). Mindfulness makes it possible for us to be “fully awake, not lost in waking sleep or enshrouded in the veils of [our] thinking mind” (ibid, p.2346) Living unmindfully, we are “half unconscious…reacting automatically, mindlessly” (ibid, p 9894).
In mindfulness discourse, contemporary life is not only spiritually impoverished, it is downright dangerous. Toxins are pervasive, threatening the delicate homeostatic balance of the interconnected world. Dangerous chemicals, including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, additives, preservatives, fertilizers and pesticides, are “placing our exquisitely evolved homeostatic biochemical networks at some unknown degree of risk for cellular and tissue disruption and damage” (ibid, p.8759). It’s not just chemicals that are toxic. Thoughts, lifestyles and people can be toxic too.
The use of “toxic” is prevalent in the mindfulness cybercommunity. Here are a few examples I found in a quick Google search (6/6/14 – 2pm):
It’s ironic that an ideology associated with a certain serenity of spirit is so alert to danger and threat. The list of psychological, physical, and societal ills associated with unmindful living seems endless. To Kabat-Zinn, television is especially pernicious, “much of it frenetic, violent, cruel, and anxiety-producing, and all of it artificial and two-dimensional” (FCL, Kindle p.9204). Add to the toxic mix all the “food stress, work stress and role stress, people stress, sleep stress, time stress, and our own fears and pain” (ibid, p.9405), the inevitable “reactivity” to such stress and it’s no wonder our very survival as individuals is in peril:
“A lifetime of unconscious and unexamined habitual reactivity to challenges and perceived threats is likely to increase our risk of eventual breakdown and illness significantly.” (FCL, Kindle p. 5436)
Without the self-knowledge and wisdom that comes with mindful living, the human race may actually be doomed. As Kabat-Zinn puts it:
“And when the human mind does not know itself, we get ignorance, cruelty, oppression, violence, genocide, holocausts, death, and destruction on a colossal scale. For this reason, mindfulness writ both large and small is not a luxury. Writ small, it is a liberative strategy for being healthier and happier as an individual. Writ large, it is a vital necessity if we are to survive and thrive as a species.” (ibid p.9078-9084
The mindfulness community’s emphasis on how bad life is without mindfulness stems in part from the Buddhist tradition, namely the Four Noble Truths, of which the first is the Truth of Suffering (e.g., anxiety and trying to hold on to what is forever changing). In line with Geertz’s conception of religion, Buddhism is about dealing with the problem of suffering.
But religions are not equally ideological. Strongly ideological religions elaborate on the problem of suffering, highlight and extend the realm of suffering, widening the chasm between the world of the blighted and the world of the blessed (in this world and beyond).
Reference: Jon Kabat-Zinn Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Kindle Version, Revised Edition 2013; Bantam Books, New York).