MINDFULNESS AND ACTION

I once saw a blog claiming that mindfulness, which gets so much attention now, is really a tool of capitalists exploiting their workers. Quite a claim! The argument is that people encouraged to do mindfulness training will then calmly and passively accept everything and thus be totally compliant in their work and never protest anything. I would suggest that if there are such capitalists seeking to use mindfulness as a means of exploitation, they could experience unintended consequences.

There has been a lot of research on the effects of mindfulness meditation and practice (you could check it out with your search engine). Basically mindfulness comes down to having attention centered in the present moment, being very aware of the environment one is in and not being distracted by thoughts about the past or future. One does practice allowing everything to be as it is at the moment without resistance. But, guess what, this is NOT a formula for passivity.

Just consider: it’s hardly a news flash we live in hectic and stressful times. Mindfulness started out centuries ago as a Tibetan Buddhist practice. It is getting so much attention now because it is being recognized that it can ameliorate the effects of chronic stress. A person feeling stressed is undergoing all the physiological effects involved in the fight or flight response that evolved in our ancestors to deal with immediate threats to survival. These responses are fine if, say, you have to dash out of the path of a car. But the threats we mostly deal with in these times are not brief physical emergencies but a relentless complex of stressing problems and situations. But the stress response brings the primitive brain to the fore and suppresses the higher brain. It readies us for physical action where there is little time for thought and rationality.

So, if the nervous system can be settled we can look at our situations more clearly and think more clearly about how to deal with them. Getting more calmly into the present, as with mindfulness, thus actually better prepares us to take action. We can better assess a situation and then act on it. Whatever activity is used for to accomplish the calming is fine. It could be a nice walk, sitting in a park, going for a run, or, certainly, mindfulness meditation. And, of course, therapy can very much help with dealing with the effects of chronic stress.

So, in response to that blog, exploiters exploit through fear, not peacefulness. A calmed nervous system is not passive acceptance.

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