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 Beyond McMindfulness - Blog by Ron Purser and David Loy

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Beyond McMindfulness - Blog by Ron Purser and David Loy   Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:41 pm

Ron Purser and David Loy
Beyond McMindfulness
Posted: 07/01/2013 10:31 am


Suddenly mindfulness meditation has become mainstream, making its way into schools, corporations, prisons, and government agencies including the U.S. military. Millions of people are receiving tangible benefits from their mindfulness practice: less stress, better concentration, perhaps a little more empathy. Needless to say, this is an important development to be welcomed -- but it has a shadow.

The mindfulness revolution appears to offer a universal panacea for resolving almost every area of daily concern. Recent books on the topic include: Mindful Parenting, Mindful Eating, Mindful Teaching, Mindful Politics, Mindful Therapy, Mindful Leadership, A Mindful Nation, Mindful Recovery, The Power of Mindful Learning, The Mindful Brain, The Mindful Way through Depression, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. Almost daily, the media cite scientific studies that report the numerous health benefits of mindfulness meditation and how such a simple practice can effect neurological changes in the brain.

The booming popularity of the mindfulness movement has also turned it into a lucrative cottage industry. Business savvy consultants pushing mindfulness training promise that it will improve work efficiency, reduce absenteeism, and enhance the "soft skills" that are crucial to career success. Some even assert that mindfulness training can act as a "disruptive technology," reforming even the most dysfunctional companies into kinder, more compassionate and sustainable organizations. So far, however, no empirical studies have been published that support these claims.

In their branding efforts, proponents of mindfulness training usually preface their programs as being "Buddhist-inspired." There is a certain cachet and hipness in telling neophytes that mindfulness is a legacy of Buddhism -- a tradition famous for its ancient and time-tested meditation methods. But, sometimes in the same breath, consultants often assure their corporate sponsors that their particular brand of mindfulness has relinquished all ties and affiliations to its Buddhist origins.

Uncoupling mindfulness from its ethical and religious Buddhist context is understandable as an expedient move to make such training a viable product on the open market. But the rush to secularize and commodify mindfulness into a marketable technique may be leading to an unfortunate denaturing of this ancient practice, which was intended for far more than relieving a headache, reducing blood pressure, or helping executives become better focused and more productive.

While a stripped-down, secularized technique -- what some critics are now calling "McMindfulness" -- may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

Most scientific and popular accounts circulating in the media have portrayed mindfulness in terms of stress reduction and attention-enhancement. These human performance benefits are heralded as the sine qua non of mindfulness and its major attraction for modern corporations. But mindfulness, as understood and practiced within the Buddhist tradition, is not merely an ethically-neutral technique for reducing stress and improving concentration. Rather, mindfulness is a distinct quality of attention that is dependent upon and influenced by many other factors: the nature of our thoughts, speech and actions; our way of making a living; and our efforts to avoid unwholesome and unskillful behaviors, while developing those that are conducive to wise action, social harmony, and compassion.

This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati). The distinction is not moralistic: the issue is whether the quality of awareness is characterized by wholesome intentions and positive mental qualities that lead to human flourishing and optimal well-being for others as well as oneself.

According to the Pali Canon (the earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha), even a person committing a premeditated and heinous crime can be exercising mindfulness, albeit wrong mindfulness. Clearly, the mindful attention and single-minded concentration of a terrorist, sniper assassin, or white-collar criminal is not the same quality of mindfulness that the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist adepts have developed. Right Mindfulness is guided by intentions and motivations based on self-restraint, wholesome mental states, and ethical behaviors -- goals that include but supersede stress reduction and improvements in concentration.

Another common misconception is that mindfulness meditation is a private, internal affair. Mindfulness is often marketed as a method for personal self-fulfillment, a reprieve from the trials and tribulations of cutthroat corporate life. Such an individualistic and consumer orientation to the practice of mindfulness may be effective for self-preservation and self-advancement, but is essentially impotent for mitigating the causes of collective and organizational distress.

When mindfulness practice is compartmentalized in this way, the interconnectedness of personal motives is lost. There is a dissociation between one's own personal transformation and the kind of social and organizational transformation that takes into account the causes and conditions of suffering in the broader environment. Such a colonization of mindfulness also has an instrumentalizing effect, reorienting the practice to the needs of the market, rather than to a critical reflection on the causes of our collective suffering, or social dukkha.

The Buddha emphasized that his teaching was about understanding and ending dukkha ("suffering" in the broadest sense). So what about the dukkha caused by the ways institutions operate?

Many corporate advocates argue that transformational change starts with oneself: if one's mind can become more focused and peaceful, then social and organizational transformation will naturally follow. The problem with this formulation is that today the three unwholesome motivations that Buddhism highlights -- greed, ill will, and delusion -- are no longer confined to individual minds, but have become institutionalized into forces beyond personal control.

Up to now, the mindfulness movement has avoided any serious consideration of why stress is so pervasive in modern business institutions. Instead, corporations have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon because it conveniently shifts the burden onto the individual employee: stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments. Cloaked in an aura of care and humanity, mindfulness is refashioned into a safety valve, as a way to let off steam -- a technique for coping with and adapting to the stresses and strains of corporate life.

The result is an atomized and highly privatized version of mindfulness practice, which is easily coopted and confined to what Jeremy Carrette and Richard King, in their book Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, describe as an "accommodationist" orientation. Mindfulness training has wide appeal because it has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo, and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals.

In many respects, corporate mindfulness training -- with its promise that calmer, less stressed employees will be more productive -- has a close family resemblance to now-discredited "human relations" and sensitivity-training movements that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. These training programs were criticized for their manipulative use of counseling techniques, such as "active listening," deployed as a means for pacifying employees by making them feel that their concerns were heard while existing conditions in the workplace remained unchanged. These methods came to be referred to as "cow psychology," because contented and docile cows give more milk.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, an outspoken western Buddhist monk, has warned: "absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism." Unfortunately, a more ethical and socially responsible view of mindfulness is now seen by many practitioners as a tangential concern, or as an unnecessary politicizing of one's personal journey of self-transformation.

One hopes that the mindfulness movement will not follow the usual trajectory of most corporate fads -- unbridled enthusiasm, uncritical acceptance of the status quo, and eventual disillusionment. To become a genuine force for positive personal and social transformation, it must reclaim an ethical framework and aspire to more lofty purposes that take into account the well-being of all living beings.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Beyond McMindfulness - Blog by Ron Purser and David Loy   Wed Mar 05, 2014 7:43 pm


Ron Purser - Professor of Management, San Francisco State University

David Forbes - Associate Professor of School Counseling, Brooklyn College

Search Outside Yourself: Google Misses a Lesson in Wisdom 101
Posted: 03/05/2014 5:11

The Wisdom 2.0 conference, held earlier in February in San Francisco, claims to bring "wisdom, purpose and meaning" to social media and technology corporations and startups. Integrating wisdom is "not a nice extra," say the conference's organizers, "but an absolute necessity to a vibrant and sustainable society." They define wisdom as "learning to focus, to truly connect, to empathize." It's a definition of wisdom that anyone can, quite literally, buy into.

On Saturday morning, at the start of a panel on Google's corporate mindfulness program, a local group called Heart of the City took the stage with a megaphone and a banner that read "Eviction Free San Francisco." The protesters' message? A lesson in "Wisdom 101" for Google: Pay for your impact on housing and public infrastructure, fund affordable housing, public transit and eviction defense and stop your for-profit surveillance, among other demands. Heart of the City and residents of San Francisco neighborhoods who have seen soaring rents and mass evictions with the influx of Silicon Valley high-earners are continually aggrieved by the company, whose corporate chartered buses have made rents along its routs skyrocket.

Amanda Ream, who was one of the social activists involved in the protest, and is also Buddhist practitioner at the East Bay Meditation center, summed up the basic moral bankruptcy of the corporate mindfulness fad:

    Most of the workshops [at Wisdom 2.0] offer lifestyle and consumer choices that are meant to help people heal from the harm, emptiness and unsustainability associated with living under capitalism, but it does so without offering an analysis of where this disconnection comes from. The conference presents an evolution in consciousness of the wealthiest among us as the antidote to suffering rather than the redistribution of wealth and power.

What kind of response to the protesters was made by the wise, connecting, empathic, mindful conference organizers and Google sages on stage? They instructed everyone to search inside yourself (the name of Google's mindfulness program) and forced the protesters off the stage. A beefy guard engaged stage right, in an embarrassing tug-of-war with the activist banner-holder, who won the match. As "Heart of the City" said the next day, "Google and conference leaders proceeded to talk about 'wisdom and mindfulness' but failed to address the grievances of Bay Area communities or the company's own hypocrisy in purporting to be 'mindful.'"

The interruption now a mere passing thought, conference participants were then directed to perform a simple meditation "to embrace the moment, without judging it good or bad." This is how to practice mindful condescension: Rising above any conflict or discomfort in the actual, socially-constructed world that disrupts my world. Besides, the moment is already gone -- it's a new moment now, and aren't we supposed to be staying present in each of those? In the next guided moment, everyone was asked to consider his or her relationship to the conflict.

Wisdom 2.0 later congratulated Google for its "leadership" in handling the protest, allowing for others' viewpoints and being comfortable with the fact that other people see things differently -- as long as we don't have to consider that their viewpoint might impact our inner peace and that our own wise viewpoint might in fact be wrong. According to this damage control communiqué on Tumblr, the Google panel went on to demonstrate how to develop one's own practice. It shared how a Google senior executive, after a few months of doing a two-minute silent meditation before meetings, said, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm a better person for those two minutes. So I'm all for it." A "better" person in just two minutes, indeed. Think of the possibilities! Of course, Google already has. For them, "a better person" is someone who buys into the corporate culture -- and feels good about it.

Many in the mindfulness -- and Buddhist -- community have been seduced by what Google and the Wisdom 2.0 crowd is doing. After all, it's mindfulness, and maybe it will make corporations kinder, gentler capitalist entities. But mindfulness has escaped its moral moorings. Without a principled anchor, mindfulness is a renegade technology on the loose, and the conspicuous absence of an explicit ethical framework in corporate mindfulness programs reflects and mirrors the already fraught relationship these businesses have with regards to social and environmental responsibility.

In the case of the events at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference, mindfulness meditation is dispatched to efface the dissatisfied, the protesters and the content and meaning of their message. There is absolutely no recognition of the other and their world. If we just breathe and remain calm and centered in the present moment, they will go away and we can return to business as usual.

The practice of mindfulness, and certainly if it is infused with wisdom, is not merely a passive and nonjudgmental acceptance of the status quo. The Google emissaries demonstrated for us that their form of corporate mindfulness is at best a privatized spirituality, narrowly conceived as a practice for searching only inside your self, encouraging a "spiritually correct" form of passivity, quietism and dissociation from societal malaise. Bill Duane, who is the senior manager of Google's Wellbeing and Sustainable High Performance Development Programs and was the leader of the impromptu meditation following Saturday's demonstration, has bought the old '60s adage of just be here now hook, line and sinker. This old wine in new bottles, what Dharmavidya David Brazier has termed "here-and-now-ism" rhetoric, accounts for much of Wisdom 2.0's head-in-the-sand spirituality. Clearly, Wisdom 2.0 participants didn't think they'd encounter critical questions into the complex nexus of institutional realities contributing to social dukkha. It also seems that Marianne Williamson's scathing critique of the tech industry's self-congratulatory backslapping at last year's conference fell on deaf ears. She reminded the crowd of Martin Luther King's statement "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." For now, it appears that Wisdom 2.0 would rather remain silent, as they are admittedly uncomfortable in having a dialogue that challenges or calls into question how the very corporations parading mindfulness may be implicated in the causes of suffering and stress.

This demonstration illustrates what Kevin Healy refers to as an "integrity bubble." It is based on an ironic paradox: Corporate mindfulness training offers employees some relief and personal benefits in the form of stress reduction and improved concentration while mindlessly ignoring the externalization of structural inequalities. The corporate mindfulness elite took advantage of a "moment for practice" in the midst of what could have been an authentic and perhaps even wise encounter with its shadow side. Google has shown the world how corporations can create glimpses of integrity -- providing a well-protected bubble of peace, calm and self-satisfaction -- while undermining the achievement of integrity, social justice and equity in society at large.

This is yet another example of the McMindfulness meme that has made its way into the belly of the corporate beast. Other critiques have surfaced, such as Richard Payne's "Corporatist Spirituality," Glenn Wallis's "Mineful Response and the Rise of Corporatist Spirituality," Sean Fiet's"Mindfulness the Google Way: Well intentioned saffron washing?" and Justin Whitaker's "Mindful of Your Immorality?."

In "This Is Water," his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace urged his listeners to become mindful of the implicit cultural context of meanings and values, the "water" in which we swim unaware for much of our life. We can then make better moral choices, Wallace said, based on universal compassion and caring relationships. Mindfulness as part of a wisdom tradition such as Buddhism can encourage a deep examination of our relationships and moral values -- the water that surrounds us. Without that we lack the necessary insight and awareness to make wise, moral choices. The Wisdom 2.0 crowd appears to show no interest in examining the water in which it swims. What they insist on calling "wisdom" does not extend beyond corporate cultural values. The admirable actions of Heart of the City members and their revealing video bear witness to the fact that for the Wisdom 2.0 crowd, mindfulness is merely an industrial tool.

Follow Ron Purser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ronpurser
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PostSubject: Re: Beyond McMindfulness - Blog by Ron Purser and David Loy   Wed Mar 05, 2014 7:43 pm

Wednesday, Mar 5, 2014 10:29 AM EST - from Salon.com
Gentrifying the dharma: How the 1% is hijacking mindfulness
As big corporations embrace meditation, some Buddhists fear their religion's being coopted by elites
Joshua Eaton

The protesters looked anxious as they rode down the escalator in San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis. A yoga bag slung over one of their shoulders hid a banner reading “Eviction Free San Francisco.” Another had a bullhorn tucked into her backpack. Two reached out to touch an inflatable, neon-blue lotus as they walked toward the conference hall.

They were there to disrupt “Three Steps to Build Corporate Mindfulness the Google Way,” a panel on Google’s corporate mindfulness program at the 2014 Wisdom 2.0 conference. As the panelists began their introduction, protesters walked on stage, unfurled their banner, and began chanting “Wisdom Means Stop Displacement; Wisdom Means Stop Surveillance; San Francisco: Not For Sale!”

The conference itself is an annual gathering of life coaches, tech elites and spiritual teachers now in its fifth year. It bills itself as a “conversation about the merging of wisdom and technology,” and topics range from mindful business and leadership to social entrepreneurship and innovation. Past speakers have included Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, Twitter founder Biz Stone and Rwandan President (and possible war criminal) Paul Kagame. It even got its own “What to Wear” column at Forbes.

Ire at Google buses, tech-driven gentrification in San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s close collaboration with the NSA has been all over the news, but the demonstration at Wisdom 2.0 was different. It wasn’t just aimed at the tech industry; it was also aimed at what some see as an elitist streak in American convert Buddhism.

“Most of the workshops offer lifestyle and consumer choices that are meant to help people heal from the harm, emptiness, and unsustainability associated with living under capitalism, but [they do so] without offering an analysis of where this disconnection comes from,” Amanda Ream, one of the disruption’s organizers, writes in an a blog post for Tricycle Magazine explaining why she disrupted the conference. “The conference presents an evolution in consciousness of the wealthiest among us as the antidote to suffering rather than the redistribution of wealth and power.”

Buddhism first came to the U.S. with Japanese and Chinese immigrants. It enjoyed a brief period of popularity among urban elites around the turn of the century, but the current wave of convert popularity began in the 1960s. Today there are about 3 to 5 million Buddhists in the United States, about 70 percent of whom are Asian-Americans. The remaining 30 percent tend to be white, middle aged, highly educated and solidly middle to upper class.

Interaction among Buddhism, neuropsychology and the self-help movement has also launched a constellation of publications, gurus, life coaches and conferences that make up the mindfulness movement. Its proponents tout yoga, mindfulness and meditation as panaceas, good for everything from managing stress and increasing longevity to turning around poor urban schools and establishing world peace, all one breath at a time.

Corporate America has embraced mindfulness as a way to raise bottom lines without raising blood pressure – much to the chagrin of people like Ream, who feel that Buddhism’s message is much more radical.

Of course, Ream’s criticism is nothing new. Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek has long argued that “Western Buddhism,” as he calls it, is an ideal palliative for the stresses of life under late capitalism – their “perfect ideological supplement.”

“It enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game,” Žižek explains in a 2001 essay for Cabinet Magazine, “while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it; that you are well aware of how worthless this spectacle is; and that what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw.”

As if trying to prove Žižek right, the Dalai Lama – an avowed Marxist – participated in a panel titled “Moral Free Enterprise: Economic Perspectives in Business and Politics” at the American Enterprise Institute less than a week after the Wisdom 2.0 disruption. He was joined by hedge fund founder Dan Loeb, New York University business ethics professor Jonathan Haidt, Columbia Business School dean Glenn Hubbard and AEI president Arthur Brooks.

“Now, after sort of listening yesterday and also today, particularly today, I developed more respect about capitalism,” the Dalai Lama said after a question from Brooks about protecting individual property rights. “Otherwise, just my impression, capitalism only takes the money. Then, exploitation.” The other panelists were less ambivalent, regularly calling free enterprise a “blessing,” a “miracle” and a “savior” throughout the event.

In 1955, Mao Zedong reportedly told a 19-year-old Dalai Lama that “religion is poison.” Both Mao and Žižek’s criticisms of Buddhism are rooted in Marx’s well-known quip that religion is “the opium of the people,” an intoxicant that keeps workers from seeing how capitalism exploits their labor. But many Buddhists now fear their religion is turning into a designer drug for the elite.

Some are fighting back against this trend. Katie Loncke at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship wrote a passionate defense of the Wisdom 2.0 disruption. The country’s largest Buddhist publication, Tricycle, has moved toward covering more social and political issues. And many great American teachers – Bhikkhu Bodhi, Danny Fisher, Justin Whitaker, Shodo Spring and Mushim Ikeda, to name just a few – are working to articulate Buddhist challenges to injustice.

Still, they are few and far between. Most American converts still see Buddhism as a path to individual spiritual development through meditation. Few convert groups focus on building fellowship and camaraderie, engaging families or getting involved in their local community. Even fewer regularly do service work, much less activism. In that environment, groups like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Buddhist Global Relief often struggle for support.

“Just like the gentrification of a neighborhood where new, wealthy people displace people who have lived there longer,” Ream writes, “the dharma is undergoing a process of gentrification in San Francisco today.”

Powerful, well-funded institutions want to invest in Buddhism. They’ve been eyeing the neighborhood for ways to manage employee stress and put a more compassionate face on free trade. The only question is whether the current tenants will band together to disrupt them.

Joshua Eaton is an independent journalist covering religion and society, human rights and mass surveillance. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, GlobalPost, DeSmogBlog and elsewhere.
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