Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The New Gospel of Mindfulness

True enough, mindfulness has been seriously oversold. The enemies of Western civilization have glommed on to this practice—because it comes from Buddhism and Buddhism is not Western. Wouldn’t it have been better if they had embraced Tai Chi or Tae Kwon Do?

For my part I am not inclined to dismiss meditation practices out of hand. People who suffer from anxiety, for example, often gain a significant benefit from yoga... for example. And yet, as Kevin Williamson explains in an excellent column, mindfulness has become a new fad among American corporations.

It makes you more pessimistic about corporate America.

Naturally, its proponents claim that mindfulness will solve all of your problems, make you healthy, wealthy and wise. In addition, it will make you a better worker, better able to compete against our Asian competitors… with better work/life balance. What's not to like?

Our corporations have even figured out how much mindfulness adds to the bottom line. Williamson explains:

Andy Lee has an interesting job title: He is his company’s “chief mindfulness officer,” and he is not employed at some voguish Silicon Valley start-up or by a chain of organic-food co-ops — he works for Aetna, as old-fashioned a corporate giant as you could ever hope to find. In an interview with Healthy Workplace author Leigh Stringer, Aetna’s mindfulness program was described in familiar terms: “Participants are regaining 62 minutes per week of productivity,” Stringer wrote. “They are seeing an approximate dollar return, in terms of productivity alone, of more than $3,000 per person per year.”

And also:

When they aren’t pushing Häagen-Dazs out the door, General Mills employees and executives have access to a seven-week mindfulness program. After completing the program, 80 percent of executives reported that their decision-making skills had improved. 

And yet, how much should we rely on these testimonials. Williamson casts doubt on them:

Were these executives going to tell their superiors that their decision-making skills had been degraded, or that they’d wasted their time? Bear in mind that Häagen-Dazs doesn’t actually mean anything in any language — the guy who founded the company just thought it sounded cool and that people would buy it. There may be a bit of that at work here, too.

He continues, presenting the scientific evidence:

The evidence for its effectiveness is largely subjective, e.g., self-reported improvements in mood, attitude, stress, or sleep. A recent paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science — co-authored by 15 prominent psychological and cognitive-science researchers — gently derided the “pervasive mindfulness hype” associated with research on the subject and concluded that there was very little evidence for its effectiveness on any metric. There were predictable design problems with the research: inconsistent and conflicting definitions, lack of control groups to adjust for placebo effects, lack of replicable results. A review in American Psychologist found that fewer than one in ten mindfulness studies had included a control group. “A 2014 review of 47 meditation trials, collectively including over 3,500 participants, found essentially no evidence for benefits related to enhancing attention, curtailing substance abuse, aiding sleep or controlling weight,” Scientific American reports.

Mindfulness training is a $1 billion–plus business in the United States alone and growing robustly.

This doesn’t make it all bad. It does mean that mindfulness has been seriously oversold… like most forms of therapy.

Williamson argues, cogently, that corporations and even individuals embrace mindfulness because Buddhism does not bear the same stigmas as Western religions. Of course, we can ask what Buddhist civilization has contributed to the world, but that must be for another day. What with every pseudo-intellectual Westerner being a self-proclaimed atheist, our civilization is descending into moral senescence. If it has not already arrived there, that is.

Williamson sees it as a symptom:

It may in fact indicate that among reasonably enlightened, good-faith leaders in the business community, there is an understanding that something is wrong with life here in the rich, healthy, peaceful, free, capitalist world, that something is missing. But if there is a hole in the soul of the West, it probably isn’t shaped like a designer meditation cushion ($349.99 from Walmart), and it probably will not be healed by something so vague and diluted as “mindfulness.”

Or by therapy, for that matter.


Jack Fisher said...

Christians and protestants might call this "centering prayer." But in the workplace, this is Grade-A BS.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

What is laughable about “mindfulness,” and other “spiritual, but not religious” nonsense is that it makes no demands upon the believer. You are “mindful” and “practicing mindfulness” because you say you are, and that’s supposed to be enough. It is yet another example of self-congratulation, virtue-signaling and sophistication bundled into one. Kind of how blind faith in Climate Change means you love science or think the Earth is more awesomer than other people.

And if corporate types are embracing mindfulness, then we know it MUST be real, don’t we? That is cause for pessimism. But if corporations can make money off of Buddhist ideas, it’s the American way. Kind of like Americanized yoga and Americanized Chinese food. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but don’t prance around talking about the evolution of your higher consciousness or non-white worldliness (especially if you are white).

“Mindfulness” just the latest “thing” for the bohemian brights, going back to the yogis of the early-20th century, Schopenhauer’s flirtations with Vedanta late in life, and BritRock Babas.

Someone should ask Zuckerberg if he is mindful or practices mindfulness... he’s a bellwether indicator of B.S.

trigger warning said...

The moment one begins "practising mindfulness", one is no longer mindful.

James said...

Always reminds me of the atheist, who after proving the non existence of god accidentally drops his spiritual crystal.

David Foster said...

"Participants are regaining 62 minutes per week of productivity"

If Leigh Anne Stringer really believes that productivity can be measured this precisely, then either the people at Aetna are performing totally routinized and precisely-measurable tasks (in which case a better focus on productivity improvement would involve changing job definitions to make them less-rigid) or she doesn't have a very good handle on what productivity actually *is*.

Is a programmer more productive if she spends less time looking out the window and more time writing code? What about the ratio of bugs in the code, the ease-of-use of the user interface, the computer resources consumed, etc?

If a marketing manager uses his new mindfulness skills to handle his e-mail tasks more swiftly...and uses the time saved to engage in malevolent internal politics vis-a-vis the sales organization...is that really a net benefit?

Sounds to me like an unwholesome combination of faux-Eastern religion and faux-scientific Taylorism.

Shaun F said...

A couple points I've come across about mindfulness - in a middle school the principal informed me they were "Trying to teach the children to be more mindful." I looked at him and said "Do you mean pay attention?" I find the urban atheists, I know personally, who are big on biking into mindfulness. But I'm still not really sure what it's all about. The way I deal with anxiety or what I refer to as the "chaos in my mind" - I just recognize it as such, and know that order will once again be restored. Oh, and I've never met an ex-con who said "mindfulness" saved him in jail, but I am in with the out crowd.

Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: What with every pseudo-intellectual Westerner being a self-proclaimed atheist, our civilization is descending into moral senescence.

The "self-proclaimed atheists" I talked to seem to frequently have persecution complexes as bad as the most afflicted of Christians.

But Christanity can do much with mindfulness, like with C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity". Would a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Atheist or Humanist disagree with this philosophical truth and predicament that the nature of our intention is important and creates what we experience?
The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.

There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his gratitude, you will probably be disappointed.(People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for showing off, or patronage.)

But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more, or at least to dislike it less.