Take a deep breath as Giles Coren gives the cult of ‘mindfulness’ a piece of his mind.
We have heard an awful lot about mindfulness lately. It’s the Buddhism-lite craze from the States which promotes brief, non-religious meditation as a way of coping with stress, depression and the general shitness of life. Born out of the 1960s countercultural obsession with all things yogic, it is now touted as the panacea for spiritually diseased corporate America, with the world’s biggest companies – most famously Google, Facebook and Apple – all keen to get their workers on board.
Over here it is catching on with celebrities. Mainly ones who aren’t getting the work any more and need explanations for why their career has gone to crap, beyond the fact that they were never any good in the first place. They’re all latching on to and promoting this method of ‘living in the moment’, of learning to forget ‘doing’ for just a second in this crazy world and to embrace simply ‘being’.
Lately I have been taking a real interest in it myself – reading the books, downloading the apps – and so I want you now to take a few minutes out from your own busy schedule, find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and get comfortable. Now breathe slowly, in, out, experiencing those breaths, gradually clearing your mind and beginning to see, truly, what a massive. Pile. Of. Bollocks. It. All. Is.
I mean, will you just look at the claims they make: ‘Studies have shown it bolsters the immune system and helps to fight off colds, flu and other diseases,’ says the multimillion-selling bible of these lunatic whack-jobs, ‘Mindfulness – Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, before going on to say that it can actually make you live longer.
And just as you’re thinking: Oh good, I’ll simply think my illnesses away and live for ever, it clarifies: ‘If you could double the number of hours that you were truly alive each day, then, in effect, you would be doubling your life expectancy.’
Er, no you wouldn’t.
Like so many fashionable executive lifestyles, mindfulness asserts that both ancient example and modern medical science have ‘proven’ its claims. But then so do proselytes for paleo, fruitarianism, calorie restriction and the 5:2 diet – all the vacuous modern wellness cults.
I can accept the spiritual pre-eminence of skinny Eastern sages who forego all human pleasures to live on a mountain and think about oneness. But not frazzled businessmen who buy a £3 app and give four minutes a day to it. I bought the app. It’s a bloody stopwatch. It gives you a computer-generated dot and bleeps when you’ve been gawping at it for 240 seconds then lets you go back to your meeting (all the books are aimed at corporate wonks and focus on dealing with ‘meetings’ and ‘reports’). And that, my friend, is not the path to enlightenment. That is cynical twenty-first-century capitalist techno smegma.
Big companies believe mindfulness relaxes their staff and will make them more profitable. They want their drones pacified, and they’re using meditation because they are not allowed to use drugs.
Proponents say mindfulness helps depression and that depression is on the increase. ‘In a few decades,’ says the book, ‘unhappiness, depression and anxiety will have become the normal human condition.’
Well, a) they always were, pal – or perhaps the phrase ‘nasty, brutish and short’ means nothing to you; b) in ‘a few decades’ there will be 10 billion people crammed on this tiny planet but no rhinos, polar bears or bees, which is fucking depressing, and sitting about contemplating the miracle of your own diaphragm is not going to do any good at all; and c) actually, this big statistic that one in ten people suffers from depression also means that 90 percent of people don’t.
Almost everyone is totally okay. So why with the stupid phone yoga? You wouldn’t start a course of chemotherapy if you didn’t have cancer, would you? It’s ridiculous. And anyway if your job is so soul-shrivellingly evil that you have to take time out each day to reflect upon and accept the venality of it before just going back and doing it some more, then you’re beyond help already.
Feeling better now? No? Tweet him @gilescoren.