Mind & body
How being in the right mind can change the world By Martin Stepek
OVER recent years there have been suggestions by some commentators that those engaged in mindfulness are not critical of, or avoid any attempt to change the destructive aspects of the corporate world. Every single one of the people I know directly or indirectly who bring mindfulness to the big corporates do so in the hope and belief that it will help to change the culture of those organisations to be fairer, more humane and less inherently destructive. It seems to me that it is only those on the outside who assume that this is not the case.
Some will rightly argue that changing the culture of a few companies might be fine for their employees but doesn’t change the perceived cancer at the heart of the neoliberal mindset under which we all have to live.
That’s right. But to be fair and balanced we should ask ourselves, what else has changed or does change the neoliberal culture? Communism tried. Look at the results. My grandmother dead in a grave some 1800 miles away from her home as the crow flies, one of just over a hundred million citizens known to have been killed by that experiment in creating a better society. Or how about democratic socialism under Labour in Britain? Why did people not buy into it enough to re-elect them after the seismic 1945 government, or the Wilson periods in the 1960s and 1970s? Look at the most highly regarded countries in the world with regards to social security and equality, the Nordic countries. The lands of IKEA, Nokia, Lego, mass oil and gas exploitation. Have they or anyone else found the alternative? Why then do some demand that mindfulness does what no other way of doing or being or governing has managed? We are not measuring the right thing when judging mindfulness.
What can change life, cultures and countries are human minds. We have limited control over external natural factors such as weather, seasons, and natural disasters, but we do have the potential to better manage and direct our minds. The neoliberal world which we all condemn but we all literally buy into, the consumer society which we know is the cause of so much that is destructive, both globally and mentally, is something everyone I know participates in to a greater or lesser extent, and mostly to a greater extent, all the while condemning it.
If human minds got us into this mess, it can only be human minds that can get us out. Our thoughts become our words and our actions. Wrong-minded thoughts can become wrong-minded words and wrong-minded actions. Result? Suffering, inequality, greed, indifference, hatred, consumerism, climate change. Right-minded thoughts become right-minded words and rightminded actions. Result? Reduced suffering, greater equality, altruism, compassion, activism, restraint of consumption, hopefully an end to increased climate change.
Note that if there are no thoughts there are no human-created problems. All our man-made problems originate in thoughts. So it’s thoughts we have to sort. Mindfulness is a discipline that asks us to notice what’s going on, and in doing so asks us to question our mindsets and thoughts. It allows us to pause the communications and actions we do, and assess how these might affect other people, the world, including how we vote and how we accept or seek to change how life is structured right now. This is because mindfulness is not directive; it is not socialist or anarchist or libertarian or authoritarian or neoconservative or liberal.
It is observational, and from observation, especially observation of our genetic and life-experiential skews and biases, we can rethink more clearly and more objectively and more deeply how things are, how we think things might become better, and how to make the most effective steps in those directions. That doesn’t mean our conclusions are always right but it helps us move in that direction.
As for the Buddha in all this? He created mindfulness in an attempt to bring peace and control over his own thoughts. He then started to teach it to help reduce people’s suffering, so it was an altruistic and compassionate motive from the start. According to the stories he mediated between warring tribes and nations, helping to end wars. He linked two things together – how individuals could stop suffering, and how societies could become better. He taught 10 duties for rulers, even advice for employers, including giving away their wealth, not cheating or harming, giving up personal comfort, being honest and kind, living a simple, frugal life, promoting peace and non-harming. How can such a philosophy be viewed as compatible with consumerism and the neoliberal way we live?
So when people say mindfulness is a lackey of the corporate world they’re not talking about mindfulness, but something else. Call it McMindfulness or any label you want to give it but it is not mindfulness.
And when people say Buddhism is the new opium of the people or helps the corporate world we live in, they are not speaking of Buddhism as the Buddha taught it. They can call it whatever they like but it is not Buddhism. I write this as someone who is not attached to mindfulness even though I practise and teach it. I tell my classes almost every time I speak that if someone would invent a pill that allowed me to effectively manage the bewildering creations of my mind, with no side-effects, leaving me free to think clearly and compassionately, I’d take it straight away and dump all the challenging things I have to do to be as mindful as possible. And I am not Buddhist, so have no attachment to it either.
Martin Stepek is founder of TenforZen, offering guided mindfulness sessions in handy, 10 minutes a day, audio courses. Author of four books, he is frequently asked to speak on mindfulness, his remarkable family heritage, and on business. See tenforzen.co.uk and www.martinstepek.co.uk or email email@example.com