Episode 21 – Series: Is Mindfulness Bad? Part 2: Mindfulness & Capitalism.

Becoming Mindful Podcast Episode 21 - Mindfulness and Capitalism

Hello Friends,

In this episode of the Becoming Mindful Podcast, Jackie and Maria are continuing their new series answering the question: Is mindfulness bad?

In this 2nd part of the series, we discuss the intersection of mindfulness and capitalism.

After watching or listening, please let us know if this spoke to you. Let us know if and how you have encountered the commodification of mindfulness. Reach out to us with any follow-up questions this talk has brought up.

We hope you will join us again next episode. Until then,

Be well friends!

Show Notes & Links

by Ron Purser, Ph.D:

Beyond McMindfulness with Ron Purser on the Musing Mind Podcast by Oshan Jarow

Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, Jeremy Carrette and Richard King

Scherer, B., & Waistell, J. (2017). Incorporating mindfulness: questioning capitalism. Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 1-18. 

Mindful of Race; Transforming Racism From the Inside Out by Ruth King

The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee

PERSPECTIVES—Defunding Mindfulness: While We Sit on Our Cushions, Systemic Racism Runs Rampant – by Michael Yellow Bird; Maria Gehl; Holly Hatton-Bowers; Laurel M. Hicks; and Debbie Reno-Smith


E21 – Capitalism & Mindfulness – Is Mindfulness Bad Pt2

Maria G: Welcome to the Becoming Mindful podcast. Today we want to do another part of Is Mindfulness Bad? And we want to talk specifically about capitalism and productivity in relation to mindfulness. I am Maria.

Jackie: And I am Jackie, and we are becoming mindful.

Maria G: All right. Welcome. Welcome.

Jackie: Kind of a big topic today.

Maria G: Yes, very big. let’s start with mindfulness can be argued to be bad. what’s the case against mindfulness in relation to capitalism and productivity?

Jackie: I wonder, as I started thinking about this if they even can coexist because my initial reaction to intersection is that They can’t. Capitalism is almost antithetical to what mindfulness is. I guess we can argue if what we have is mindfulness, can it maintain its integrity

Jackie: I guess.

Maria G: Yeah, I think that’s the big part. Because really, if we look at mindfulness in the current Western society, the term mindfulness and how it is practiced and, taught, almost plays hand in hand with capitalism. It’s become mainstream, right? It’s been endorsed by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Goldie Hawn, and Ruby Wax.

Especially Oprah Winfrey being a billionaire and having the recent scandal about the Maui wildfire fund and scamming people there and so many things. so really in Western society, what we call mindfulness is almost you can argue a capitalist grift.

Right. It’s an almost 4 billion dollar industry now, what we call mindfulness. I know it’s ridiculous. and at this current stage, it’s more of a tool for self-discipline and like a self-help thing. Right? we have all these mindfulness programs somewhat as a method of performance enhancement.

Jackie: Yeah.

Maria G: And, in that case, could you argue that mindfulness is almost a tool to adjust to the very conditions that cause the problems, right? supporting the status quo.

Jackie: Yeah. It’s almost like spiritual bypassing, utilizing it to take advantage of what it can be. Like I see those examples of offices using or implementing, um, mindfulness services and things in the hopes that it will increase productivity. you can use it to, focus better and be more productive, like they’re saying. But also, you can, if you’re really allowing yourself to open to the practices, I think you’re going to start to value, your like self-care and, start to maybe prioritize things like work-life balance and things like that. And maybe, businesses are becoming better at, actually catering to those kinds of things. maybe it’s not all just a marketing ploy. Maybe they are getting a little more woke. I don’t know.

But it’s such a weird intersection. There are so many overlaps.

Maria G: Right. Yeah. And it’s, interesting because in a capitalist system, you always have this drive to, in some way, shape or form commoditize things and utilize them to make money, right. to make profits and, Which goes really against what I would consider mindfulness. But mindfulness in a vacuum, the way it, comes now, where we have these mindfulness programs from all these companies and all these hundreds and thousands of books about mindfulness. it’s really something, companies use to increase productivity and reduce the stress of their workers to the extent that it’s beneficial for them for profit margin, right? we have it driving this whole, making us become this content, mindful capitalist.

And I think part of it is because of the roots of mindfulness and we’ve talked about this before, what’s the history and where does it come from? A lot of it comes from Buddhism, right? And what we see in the Western world as mindfulness is pretty much something that is stripped of a lot of the important elements in those Buddhist teachings, which, include things like ethics, letting go of the attachment to a false sense of self, and compassion for all beings and things, and, So it’s kind of this small sliver that it’s been reduced from, making it more scientific and more secular, which, we’ve talked about this too, taking the spiritual element out of it. I think a big one is also focusing on the self like mindfulness is something that happens within yourself. it’s becoming individualistic, which is not what it originally was.

I have an interesting quote from, this guy who wrote a book that is called Mc Mindfulness.

So it’s like a play on McDonald’s and mindfulness and the commodification of mindfulness. And he also talks a big time about how it’s become focusing on the individual versus the system of, the problems of how you deal with stress and things like that versus looking at the systems that actually cause stress.

So he’s saying: “if you are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debts through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful. John Kabat Zinn assures us that happiness is an inside job. That simply requires us to attend to the present moment mindfully and purposefully without judgment.”

Really that it’s your responsibility as an individual. And it’s reminiscent of the whole discussion around recycling, right? who’s really the cause of this? And what should be addressed versus what we’re focusing on.

Jackie: I think it’s kind of a double-edged sword when it comes to the commoditization of mindfulness because I agree a hundred percent with everything that you pointed out about it. But it’s an accessible way to get the information to people. And like you said, I think, when you commoditize it, you have to package it up and, it starts to dilute it like you said, and it becomes this standalone, you know, thing instead of this lifelong practice and, we just don’t, I don’t feel like we have a really good way in our culture to share that kind of information. And like, do you become more mindful without seeking out, Books on it or teachers or programs? I think it’s probably a subjective gray line where it can become problematic

You know, when we talk about the roots of mindfulness being in Buddhism and how it was taught, you know, By practitioners, you know, who lived it every single day. And to learn it, you went and absorbed it really. Right. And I don’t know how accessible that is to anyone in our culture now. So I guess I, I want to be okay with some commoditization, even though it feels icky because. That’s not really the spirit of where you end up when you start to live more mindfully and less about all consumption.

Maria G: Yeah. And I think one doesn’t necessarily have to, lead to the other to make something more accessible. It is not required to commodify it. Right.

Jackie: No.

But how would you disseminate it without commoditizing it? How would what is the most effective way of helping people become more mindful if not commoditizing it? we technically are right now with our podcast,

Maria G: Right.

Jackie: you know, packaging it up for people to consume.

Maria G: That’s right. That is exactly right. I think we just have to remember that mindfulness is not just this little piece of everything. and do not fall into the trap of having it just be a marketing strategy to uphold the status quo of capitalism. I think there’s an of, there’s a lot of, work involved, because I, and I know we’ve been guilty of this too, where things like talking about how mindfulness and meditation like a link to neuroscience and making it more secular and, Breaking it away from the Buddhist teachings, and stripping away the other pieces that are very much, activist or radical in nature, right? and especially the, looking more from a collective side of everything, how We interpret or live the teachings of mindfulness, because if mindfulness is sole a self-improvement or self-actualization tool, then there’s something missing, right?

Because then can use that to help the means of capitalism instead of breaking it apart, or digging deeper under it. Now I would also say, you’re right, mindfulness is also just a tool, like any tool, the tool itself is not really responsible for changing the world or making sure it’s used for good. I think there is, something that it needs to be put in the context of these systems that, uphold the nature that, or the ethical part of it is anti-capitalist and anti, exploitation and more of a communal mindset.

Jackie: It’s, it’s the I see the suffering and I’m meditating on it versus the I actively try and reduce suffering and I, for everyone. regardless of who they are.

Yeah. I think in that way that. I see the suffering and you’re actually doing something about it. I think mindfulness is, can be a really good, like check on capitalism, because left unchecked capitalism could, it can ruin people’s lives and destroy the planet. Honestly, if it’s just left. to go, to its extreme.

And, but my mindfulness itself, you know, we see the suffering. We see the consequences of our actions, of our purchases, of the businesses we support, and of allowing our communities and the places we work for. all of that, I think. Bubbles up in an awareness that, you know, it’s so much easier to see how those are your choices, and those choices, may or may not follow your values. As you become more mindful and live more mindfully you can make more intentional decisions as An active participant of capitalism, right? You can shop local or, you know, look for artisan products or understand where marketing is maybe telling you need something that you really don’t, and you you can kind of see, you know yourself behind that, and you don’t, you’re not carried away by, by advertisements and. Keeping up with the Joneses and all that so you can continue to participate in capitalism as a worker, as a consumer, but with awareness, and intention.

Maria G: Yeah. Yeah. And then, that can eventually also lead to breaking up these systems. I think, um, you’re right that, in a way, it’s a kind of a chicken-egg thing. yes, you can say that mindfulness Can be used to make us more compliant and more accepting of the exploitation and the toxic influences of capitalism, to the world, right?

If you’re looking at the income, the wealth disparity, and how exploitation around the world to make billionaires, right? But I think, there’s also a layer where you have to see, without mindfulness at the base layer, you’re not even gonna be aware of all of these things.

You’re not gonna be aware of this cancerous nature of capitalism that infinite growth is just all-consuming, right? And destroying us and the planet. And, it can be used to actually reveal those problematic, systems and problematic situations and the causes of our stress, right? yes, you could say, oh, I’m just, doing mindfulness to reduce stress and be a better worker, but you could also say, why is there even the stress?

Why am I even feeling the stress in my work? And what are the causes and how can we, reduce that? just also, and also giving us a base layer of, regulation and making us calmer and kinder people is like a basic requirement to even be able to tackle anything, activist or vision evolutionary, you can’t.

You can’t do that if you’re, completely entangled in your own day-to-day stresses and or trauma, we’ve talked about this too, can’t do that. You can’t do anything that helps the world if you do not have, you don’t have the space that you can, feed off, right?

And, but yeah, it, I think the component of looking at ethics of everything and using it to awaken from the individualist mindset to a more collective mindset, and looking at the greed and. all of this stuff, being aware of it is, it’s definitely something that, where mindfulness can actually help.

And that’s an important component, because if that’s missing, like it is in a lot of the, if you look at a lot of the mindfulness community and courses and, yeah, then you don’t, You’re just reinforcing it. I have another quote from a Buddhist monk from America. His name, I don’t know if I’m saying his name right, but I think it’s Bhikku Bodhi.

And he said that “absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism.” So really, this is not even just mindfulness itself, but even Buddhist practices in general. so yes, there’s definitely a component there, but I think when you have all of those components together if you shift your focus from a me to a we perspective and maybe incorporate things like the concepts of the nonself or the nonduality: and being socially engaged, I think that in that mindfulness becomes something that is anti-capitalist, right? That cannot be in the same structure anymore.

Jackie: it’s interesting. I see a lot of that in the yoga community where I think you have both extremes. Where it’s been, it’s a. Eastern mindfulness practice has gone, you know, really far off the capitalism, deep end on one end, and then you’ve still got some very traditional practitioners on the other end, and everything in between. but that it, that got me thinking though, that, you were talking about, being more mindful of what makes a billionaire and What does, what about mindfulness? Like from the other side? From is it okay to, you know, in the yoga community, sometimes teachers are criticized for charging for their classes. so things like that, like, can you, can you commoditize that and is it okay to people to teach them or guide them through these practices? And then as that protection practitioner, And you become more mindful, what does that do to you?

Do you think if the billionaires were mindful they would be billionaires, do you think that would stop them or change, make them change their route or something? I don’t know, but

Just like from the business owner or the capitalist side, like the person who’s creating it, you know, where’s that line?

Maria G: yeah, I think there is a fine line between obviously you have to somewhat participate in the existing capitalist systems because you have to survive and you have to live and you don’t want to have to turn every penny either you have to fill your basic needs and Potentially more than that, so you can actually help your community and also help people that are not, that doesn’t have the capacity to work, for example, if you’re a child or a disabled or something like that, right?

You need, these people need to be they’re part of the community too and they have a right to that as well. But if you look at it from that perspective, I don’t, And I think it is important to be mindful that there is some commodification going on and why are you charging for these things?

Like what is the, and if you look at it from a capitalist versus, a non-capitalist system, you are still compensated for your labor, right? Even if you’re not in a capitalist system. So we can’t just say, oh, he’s charging for, the mindfulness lecture, or his work as a teacher and is, therefore, helping the status quo of capitalism.

That, that’s not, you can’t equate it like that because that’s not what capitalism is, right? That’s not this distinction. Even in a non-capitalist society, people get compensated for their work in one shape way, or form because they have to live, right? I think it, it becomes, it becomes concerning.

If it is, as we said, used more from a perspective of, a capitalist perspective of getting more profits, more capital, more, yeah, above what, above just getting compensation for your work, right?

And then you can also look at it. other ways to help that scenario, what if we, if we could build a community where, you know, teachers, mindfulness teachers or whatever are supported by the community, right?

And then they’re still going to have the function of a teacher.

Jackie: I think that’s probably where, you can’t just straight out say, Oh, he’s charging for it. So obviously that’s wrong. makes sense either.

Maria G: but yeah, I think, because it’s still really important work and without getting the money to buy yourself food. unless everyone gives you the food and the housing and everything you need for free, that’s another option, of course. But, you need to be somewhat compensated.

And, and it’s still really important work. I think mindfulness, can be used. really as a tool to break these things open. looking at, for example, even decolonizing or anti-racist work, if you are doing mindfulness practices, you can then sit with these emotions, especially as a white person to you when you do anti-racist work, for example, or decolonizing work, you will inevitably come to these, feelings of guilt and shame and sadness and anger, right?

They will just arise because that is inherent in the work. Mindfulness will help you to Sit with these emotions and be able to feel them, and be okay with it, and move then to the compassion and the drive to be able to do this work. Go on, alright, and decolonize your mind and yourself and your life.

But, that means, again, mindfulness is a tool that supplements these, this work.

Going back to your question of if a billionaire is mindful, will he stop becoming a being a billionaire or will he, or she, be a better person? I think it really depends how this tool is used.

Is it used for themselves, for their own stress reduction and, feeling more content and, and so on and focusing more on themselves and not necessarily on important work that reveals and breaks open these systems, then no, then mindfulness will not make them a better person make them make themselves make their life easier.

Jackie: Yes. But it’s not going to make them a better person per se. Right. Yeah. And I think that’s, you know, come in full circle that, when you commoditize like mindfulness and practices, make sure that you’re not stripping away those parts that. Give someone, you know, that collective thinking, like you said, like where you’re thinking of the masses, where you’re not just utilizing the practices for yourself, but that have stress on, on the idea that it’s more than that it’s outward and it’s, you are connected to everything, that exists. You, you are. you have a relationship to it all and a responsibility to it all as a participant in this, on this planet. And so I think when we’re talking about capitalism and productizing these kinds of things, that’s what we need to make sure we’re not stripping out that. I think this is how mindfulness is gonna help you is a great way to sell mindfulness and to get people to try it, but the part that you’re stripping away is that really important part that, I don’t know, makes the world better.

Maria G: right. So yeah, I think on one hand you can say, because mindfulness is a tool. coming back to the question is mindfulness bad in relation to capitalism, I think it can be, a tool to help uphold the status quo of capitalism and make people participate more in capitalism. but it can also be the opposite,

Jackie: It is something that I think it’s very important, to be prepared to do the important work against capitalism and to be able to, break these things open.

Yeah. And I think some of those parts are, doing that hard work that you’re talking about, I think it takes a lot of. Surrender and vulnerability and being open to the practices. You know, , whatever, you know, classes you’re consuming or however you’re learning about mindfulness, taking it that step further, listening to what practitioners have to say, but then, looking inside and actually doing work on your own personal self, and how you, Relate to the world and relate to other people, doing the anti-racism work, doing healing of yourself and really under, letting the practices teach you about yourself so that you can then, present and offer the best version of yourself to your community, to your family, to, whoever you can be of service to. but. I think it’s when you have to take those teachings and everything that step further and, take responsibility for them and embody them. That’s a lot of hard work. But, I think that’s the part, you know, that gets stripped away a lot and then bringing it out into your community, being of service.

Maria G: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so that’s why, we have the Western mindfulness, let’s call it this way, really has these parts stripped away and we need to be very cognizant of that.

Going back to the beginnings of our podcast and like why we’re doing the podcast and how we’ve come over the almost two years now, I think, our goal was.

Mindfulness, because we saw exactly those advertised benefits for ourselves, right? And I think doing the work, if you really are wholly and deeply into, Doing mindfulness and practicing mindfulness and interested in mindfulness and really trying to go back, where does it come from, what is it and what can I do?

I think, and maybe that’s because it is us and we already had those thoughts, about, Feminism and anti-racism and decolonization and climate change and all these things. It’s just cumulated so we’re using the tool differently. But I think, it can lead you down this path. that, although mindfulness will never be the silver bullet.

The thing that makes all your problems go away and saves the world. I think it is a super important foundation because if that piece is not there, I think, all of the other pieces will not stand. It’s a leg that is very super important.

Jackie: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a necessary tool these days as well. Like it just given how we have to show up in the world and go through our daily lives and the way our society is built. I think we need that mindfulness to recenter us and make us all, Yeah. I guess better people, but just, just better citizens of the world.

Maria G: Right. Yeah.

I think, and I really like this series, I have to say because it lets me Look at mindfulness from a more critical lens

Jackie: Yeah.

Maria G: and my own practice and my own thoughts about it and some of the things we’ve said, we have looked into how it’s scientifically backed now and, how it works and versus what why are we saying these things?

And why are we doing these things? Right? So it’s very interesting. it also gives me a little bit of pause about some of the thoughts we had about the future of this podcast. I think we give us a lot of food for thought and I think it’s very important to look at it critically like that.

I feel that any topic, looking at it critically is super important, because otherwise we easily go into this realm of confirmation bias, right?

Jackie: Yeah, we just reinforce our previous beliefs.

Maria G: Right, yeah.

I want to mention some of the material of books that I, that I noted down here from the research I did for this episode.

And we’ll definitely put that in the show notes too, but I wanted to mention it. And so I mentioned before, Ron Perser, PhD. he wrote a few books, around this topic, more of a critical view on mindfulness, looking more at the mindfulness that we see in commodified mindfulness.

So one of the books is called Mc Mindfulness, How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. And it builds on this, term. Mc Mindfulness was originally coined by Miles Neal, a Buddhist teacher, and psychotherapist, comparing the mindfulness industry to, the franchise. It’s like a fast food industry like McDonald’s.

He also wrote a handbook of the ethical foundation of mindfulness.

And a handbook of mindfulness, culture, context, and social engagement.

So very interesting books, I’m very intrigued to read them.

There’s also a podcast that he joined, a podcast called Musing Mind. podcast by Oshan Yarrow. they have an interview and talk a lot about this topic as well. So I think that’s a nice further information spot as well and then talking about the commodification of the spiritual New Age Spirituality of Mindfulness,

There’s a book by Jeremy Carrette and Richard King called Selling Spirituality, The Silent Takeover of Religion.

And then I have a journal article here, Incorporating Mindfulness, Questioning Capitalism. So that goes more in the direction of how can we utilize mindfulness to Question capitalism, right? To be more anti-capitalist. And then looking at it more from a racist perspective, I have a few books here.

One is by Ruth King. it’s called Mindful of Race, Transforming Racism from the Inside Out.

And the other one is called The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda McGee. and then there is also a nice article by multiple people, that, you can see in the show notes, which is called Defunding Mindfulness, While we sit on our cushions, systemic racism runs rampant. So that talks more about the activist and radical side versus the individualist, non-acting sliver of mindfulness.

Jackie: Can link all that in the show notes.

Maria G: Yeah, absolutely. So I think from my perspective, we covered everything. I don’t know, Jackie.

Jackie: We covered a lot.

Maria G: I know.

Jackie: Yeah. I think we’re good. I guess the jury’s still out a little bit, but. Um, it’s not black and white. it’s a gray area. there’s nuance

Maria G: There’s always nuance. Absolutely.

I want to thank you, our listeners, again, for listening to or watching our podcast, and hope you’re back. And we also hope that this spoke to you and gave you some food for thought. Maybe some questions came up, maybe some comments. If you want to, give feedback, we’re super happy to get your feedback.

Please comment, write us and hope to see you again next time.

Jackie: You can find us, on socials at Becoming Mindful Podcast or becoming mindful podcast.com. so be sure to subscribe and keep following this series with us. and we’ll see you next time. Until then, be well.

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