‘Mindfulness’ Everywhere — Enough!

It's best to say 'never mind' to timeworn notion of 'be here now'

Practicing “mindfulness” is currently all the rage in the U.S. Busy and often-frazzled Americans are told that in addition to everything else, they need to experience life by being “truly present.” This buzz phrase — really more of a mental fad — is as confusing as it is impractical when applied to many situations.

Who wants to practice “mindfulness” in the dentist’s chair, for example?

Schools and workplaces that practice “mindfulness” are skimming the surface of ancient practice that true adherents dismissively call “McMeditation.”

Dreaming about being under a beach umbrella sounds much more relaxing — and mentally healthy. The opposite of being “truly present” is daydreaming — which is a natural human activity that serves some very important functions. It should not be so easily dismissed by New Age thought activists.

Dr. Muireann Irish, a senior neuroscientist for Research Australia, said daydreaming is hard work and serves some very important functions. “We are actually having this evolutionary adaptive value to being able to just take ourselves out of the present moment, think about the past, imagine the future, and even speculate as to what other people are thinking about — so this really type of sophisticated thinking seems to elevate us beyond the other species and other primates,” she told 774 ABC in Melbourne, Australia.

In U.S. schools, however, educators are eagerly embracing mindfulness, though it’s a concept not easily understood by children (or many adults, for that matter). Several years ago, The Atlantic followed one New York City high school teacher through a typical mindfulness exercise. He held a Tibetan meditation ball in front of the class as he told students, “I’m going to say a couple of words to you. You’re not literally going to feel that emotion, but the word is going to trigger something. It’s going to make you think of something or feel something. Try to explore it.”

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Sounds … confusing. And a waste of time.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biologist who first coined the term “mindfulness” in the 1970s, said it was “paying attention on purpose” to the present moment, with a “non-judgmental” attitude. Mindfulness actually borrows from techniques adapted from Buddhist meditation traditions — and, like the practice of yoga, originated in ancient India. Yoga is actually, in its original intended form, the worship of Hindu gods.

So, while school prayer is out in this country — Hindu yoga and Buddhist mindfulness are in. Boiled down in many cases to deep breathing and a vague celebration of the present, “mindfulness” as practiced by schools and workplaces is skimming the surface of ancient practice that true adherents dismissively call “McMeditation.”

So, while school prayer is out — Hindu yoga and Buddhist mindfulness are in.

“Mindfulness” is now everywhere — the classroom, the boardroom, and the locker room.

“Perhaps the single philosophical consensus of our time is that the key to contentment lies in living fully mentally in the present,” Ruth Whippman, author of “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks,” wrote in The New York Times. “The idea that we should be constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract and back to whatever is happening right now has gained traction with spiritual leaders and investment bankers, armchair philosophers and government bureaucrats and human resources departments.”

Americans now spend an estimated $4 billion each year on “mindfulness products,” noted Whippman. But is mindfulness a way of allowing ourselves to ignore or discount that which should not be endured, but instead changed?

“It is, of course, easier and cheaper to blame the individual for thinking the wrong thoughts than it is to tackle the thorny causes of his unhappiness,” Whippman posited. “So we give inner-city schoolchildren mindfulness classes rather than engage with education inequality, and instruct exhausted office workers in mindful breathing rather than giving them paid vacation or better health care benefits.”

The lessening of the value of prayer in our society and the emergence of “positive” or “mindful thinking” is a concerted effort to believe in ourselves rather than a deity.

Related: Joy Through Prayer Is God’s Will

“Prayer effectively deals with sympathetic magic — the notion that your thoughts can alter reality from a distance, or influence outcomes in your life which you have no conscious control over,” claims website in a piece on prayer vs. meditation. This dismissive attitude toward prayer is infiltrating our schools, as administrators rush toward creating a person-centered, rights-based environment that affects all children.

Instead, encourage children to dream, to have the ability to practice a little escapism when it’s needed.

In years past, children would stare out the window on a family road trip, staring at the towns that rolled by, imagining the lives of the people who lived there. Today, children stare at small screens embedded into the seat in front of them, “mindfully present” to the latest Pixar release. What is lost is both intangible and irreplaceable.

“What differentiates humans from animals is exactly this ability to step mentally outside of whatever is happening to us right now, and to assign it context and significance,” said Whippman in The Times. “Our happiness does not come so much from our experiences themselves, but from the stories we tell ourselves that make them matter.”

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