Is Modern Mindfulness A Corporate Scam?

Some critics have taken to using the term “McMindfulness” to describe the enthusiasm with which modern mindfulness has been embraced by big corporations like Google and Amazon. You can even find mindfulness tips on the NHS website. So is modern mindfulness a corporate scam or not?

While I don’t believe everything I read about the Buddha and his teachings, you could say I’m a cautious fan of satipatthana or mindfulness as described in scholarly translations of ancient Pali texts.

And yes, I do see valid criticism of modern mindfulness programmes. [1]

The difficulties of defining “meditation” and “mindfulness” along with other methodological issues [2] call into question the overwhelmingly optimistic assessments that are being reported on social media and in popular science presses.

A secular mindfulness programme usually teaches non-judgemental awareness (of body and thoughts) as a kind of stress reduction therapy, for example.

And that’s radically different from a traditional Buddhism programme founded upon a belief in “right view” (of impermanence, dissatisfaction, emptiness), ethical conduct, and communal living for the sake of enlightened non-attachment to transient phenomena! 

After more than a decade of practicing I’ve found that mindfulness can help me to recognise, release and replace dysfunctional thinking with more functional thoughts and narratives. 

But with mindfulness also comes awareness of impermanence / interdependence. And that can bring me into conflict with the consumerist / individualist values upon which our modern societies are founded. (Why bother to strive for advancement if “self” is illusory and everything changes and nothing lasts?)

It’s not uncommon for meditators to experience a “dark night of the soul”, which could be very unsettling for people with low self-esteem, depression, or other mental health issues. [3] 

Also. it seems to me that many of the purported benefits of mindfulness [4] could just as as easily be obtained from a programme of reading, relaxation, or prayer. 

And when mindfulness is taught in companies “for the wellbeing of employees”. Or, “to improve productivity”. One might reasonably suspect that the employer is trying to push the blame for poor work-life balance and feelings of being overwhelmed / overworked onto the victims of bad management practices.

I think this quote from the NHS website sums up the situation quite well –

“Mindfulness isn’t the answer to everything, and it’s important that our enthusiasm doesn’t run ahead of the evidence... There’s encouraging evidence for its use in health, education, prisons and workplaces, but it’s important to realise that research is still going on in all of these fields. Once we have the results, we’ll be able to see more clearly who mindfulness is most helpful for.” [5]

So what do you reckon?

Is mindfulness training in schools and the NHS a good use of taxpayers’ money? 

Or is modern mindfulness a corporate scam?

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[1] ‘Is Modern Mindfulness A Corporate Scam?’ By Rina Raphael

[2] ‘Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation And Prescriptive Agenda For Research On Mindfulness and Meditation’ by Nicholas T. Van Dam, Marieke K. van Vugt, et al.

[3] ‘The Dark Knight of the Soul’ by Tomas Rocha

[4] ‘12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation’ by Matthew Thorpe, MD, PhD