Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Cutting Through the Corporate Mindfulness Hype, Part 2: Mindfulness and Self-Care: Why Should I Care?

Photo credit: Alison Bennett
by Edwin Ng, Author and cultural critic of contemporary Buddhism and the mindfulness trend and Ron Purser, Professor of Management, San Francisco State University, Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edwin-ng/mindfulness-and-self-care-why-should-i-care_b_9613036.html

Part One considered the current hype surrounding workplace mindfulness against the dubious history of management science. Part Two here considers the use of critical mindfulness in experiments with ethical self-care.

Though we are skeptical about celebratory claims, we actually do hope that mindfulness might become a disruptive technology to transform prevailing systems. However, we insist on the importance of collective attentiveness towards the workings of power, which have shaped the dominant individualistic-therapeutic approach to mindfulness and the stresses we face in our private and public lives.

I’d like to clarify the notion of governmentality that guides our work. The blended concept of govern-mentality derives from the work of Michel Foucault. Governmentality does not refer only to the processes of the state. Rather, to think about governmentality is to explore how diverse types of knowledge, expertise, and practices are developed to guide people’s voluntary conduct.

Consider, for instance, the contemporary interest in "wellness". We learn about the research conducted by medical institutions on exercising or meditation. This knowledge filters through the advice we find in the media. With the help of a trained expert or through our independent efforts, we might cultivate a daily practice of jogging or yoga or mindfulness. Companies and institutions might incorporate a wellness program into their operations.

To put it another way, governmentality plays out formally and informally as the everyday “rules of the game” for responsible conduct. Under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism, the logics of governmentality are imbued with the moral rhetoric of “free choice” and are geared towards self-optimizing, consumerist and entrepreneurial ends.

When we say we are concerned about the workings of power, we are not imagining some conspiracy of coercion, “brainwashing,” or “mind control.” We are mindful that the exercise of power over people cannot do without people’s power to act.

Foucault’s curiosity about the ethos of the care of self guiding Ancient Greek practices of spiritual cultivation is instructive here. The care of self was a vigilant attitude that individuals adopted towards their behavior and thought. The aim was to expose and transform unacknowledged habits, and to enable fresh ways of relating to others and the world. With ethical self-care the Ancient Greeks developed mastery over their passions and fostered their responsibilities as citizens.

Foucault distinguished this relational approach to self-care from the narcissism of “the Californian cult of the self.” Ethical self-care is a mode of expérience, in the way Foucault evoked the dual meanings of this French word as “experience” and “experiment.”

An academic friend recently started a small business in handmade facial care products. Together with her like-minded friends, they have been experimenting with self-care to work through the existing “rules” policing their experience as women/people of color/minoritized individuals within an increasingly corporatized university and in broader society.

Some colleagues of mine have also started a blog featuring selfies and stories of the fashion styles of academics. The blog showcases these practices of self-care to experiment with experiences of anxiety and insecurity, and the implicit “rules” on gendered life and labor within the institutional space of academia.

In these projects of self-care the “I” is turned from a given to a question. Consumerist, entrepreneurial practices of self-care have the potential to become disruptive technologies against prevailing systems of inequality, racism, sexism, and so forth. But importantly, this potential must be nurtured with critique.

When we speak of “critical mindfulness,” we are following Foucault in performing critique not simply to decry that things are not right as they are. Rather, it is “to show that things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such.” Critical mindfulness does not pretend to offer predetermined “solutions”. It doesn’t say “This, then, is what should be done” because that’s not its task. As a questioning attitude critical mindfulness questions.

I’ve mentioned two scenarios involving academics, but the task of critique is not restricted to professional intellectuals. Let me quote Foucault on this:
I believe it is quite possible ... to do one’s job as a psychiatrist, lawyer, engineer, or technician, and, on the other hand, to carry out in that specific area work that may properly be called intellectual, an essentially critical work. When I say “critical”, I don’t mean a demolition job, one of rejection or refusal, but a work of examination that consists of suspending as far as possible the system of values to which one refers when ... assessing it. In other words: What am I doing at the moment I’m doing it?
We’ve witnessed a friend who works as a nurse use critical mindfulness for ethical self-care. His personal practice of mindfulness has helped him to manage PTSD, and to cope with the stressful and potentially violent working conditions of a psychiatric ward. The hospital’s management is advocating workplace mindfulness.

But our friend questions the management’s professed concern for staff well-being. He finds it hypocritical because the management has also been pursuing budget cuts, reducing health insurance benefits, and undermining union efforts to advocate for adequate staffing and support.

We take first-person reports seriously. But we recognize that it is impossible to document the experience of everyone. There is no such thing as an objective self-reporting of subjective experience. We accept that some people may speak positively about workplace mindfulness, and that there is suggestive evidence for both the benefits and risks of individualistic-therapeutic mindfulness. But the dubious track record of management science reminds us also to be cautious about celebratory hype.

Yet, commentators have responded to such concerns by saying: “This is not what I see”. Personal incredulity is not an argument; it is gainsaying. Personal incredulity is not proof that the limitations and dangers are not there. Personal incredulity is a subjective appeal; it expresses disbelief in one claim whilst inviting trust or good faith in another. In using anecdotal reasoning as a counterclaim, they affirm rather than refute our argument - that we all share the same conundrum of faith-as-trust, an open question of "who knows?".

One possible objection is that I too have relied on anecdotal reasoning. Yes, I admit as much. Because this is not a scientific conversation about objective facts but an ethical conversation about subjective habits.

Critical mindfulness invites people to be receptive to “who knows?” by questioning for themselves the everyday “rules of the game.” To use critical mindfulness for ethical self-care is to perform an experiment. But this is not an experiment to gather evidence about subjective experience. This is an experiment to expose and transform the assumptions and conditionings shaping subjective experience.

We could perform this experiment by probing the motivations steering our preferred approach to mindfulness (or other practices of self-care) - to what end? for whom or what? in whose interest?

But perhaps before all these we must ask ourselves: why should I care?
Edwin Ng, Ph.D. is an author and cultural critic currently based in Melbourne, Australia. His writings on the cultural translation of Buddhism and mindfulness have appeared in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Religion & Ethics blog, Salon.com, and in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Turning Wheel Media

Ron Purser, Ph.D. is Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. His article, “Beyond McMindfulness,” in the Huffington Post went viral in 2013.

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Cutting Through the Corporate Mindfulness Hype, Part 1

Photo credit: Charley Quinlivan
by Ron Purser, Professor of Management, San Francisco State University, Co-authored with Edwin Ng, Lecturer, School of Communications and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-purser/cutting-through-the-corporate-mindfulness-hype_b_9512998.html 

There has been a chorus of recent articles touting the benefits of mindfulness at work. But have they really distinguished between fact and fad, science from ideology, and the risks versus the benefits with regards to mindfulness at work?

Part One addresses how the corporate mindfulness movement draws from the dubious discipline of “management science,” which historically has been a political endeavor to secure and legitimate the interests of corporations.

Part Two will clarify that we are not dismissing the potential of mindfulness as a disruptive technology against prevailing systems, and invite readers to consider how they might use mindfulness to experiment with critical self-care.

“Will mindfulness be another passing management fad? In a word, no!” write Darren Good and Christopher Lyddy with their colleagues. Their confident prediction is based on their recently published article in the Journal of Management which integrates the research evidence of some 4,000-plus scientific papers on mindfulness.

Yes, publications on mindfulness have accumulated over the last decade, but most are from outside of the area of management. To this date, there still are no reliable studies confirming that mindfulness training impacts organizational performance or organizational culture in any of the top tier management journals.

And yes, there are many empirical studies suggesting that mindfulness may lower stress or improve focus for the individual - but none so far show how mindfulness training for employees has any efficacious or verifiable impact on organizational outcomes.

The authors make strong claims about "big impacts for performance, decision-making and career longevity." The so-called evidence they cite draws from laboratory studies that employed self-report questionnaires to measure trait and dispositional mindfulness - subjects who’ve never actually received mindfulness training.

No matter, because mindfulness improves performance on graduate exam scores, it must also improve performance at work. Similarly, decision-making at work must also improve, because college sophomores who listened to a 15 minute guided mindfulness meditation recording showed better judgment on a hypothetical decision-making task. For those seeking to extend their career beyond a decent retirement age, laboratory research is showing the effects of mindfulness training on increased telomerase activity in DNA.

While the authors admit to the limitations of over-generalizing from laboratory studies, they are not shy in celebrating the efficacy of mindfulness at work. More troubling is not the methodological issues of their review, but the tone.

Despite attempts to hedge with qualifiers like “mindfulness ... appears to influence a wide variety of workplace outcomes,” “evidence suggests,” the public reporting of this and other studies in media outlets still exhibit unwarranted levels of exuberance, relying upon over-inflated claims and unsubstantiated research as selling points in the marketplace - what Jenny Eklöf refers to as the “scientization of mindfulness.”

Why such unbridled enthusiasm that conflates speculative hypotheses with the veracity of scientific findings?

As I pointed out in my recent article in Tricycle, management science has a long and dubious history of exploiting claims of scientific objectivity to secure organizational imperatives. It’s surprising that Good and Lyddy, both of whom recently graduated from Case Western Reserve University (my alma mater), have apparently glossed over the history of management theory and practice. As the prominent sociologist C. Wright Mills noted, management science readily accommodated to management’s need to find ways of securing the cooperation of employees.

Whether through motivation studies, counseling, personality and attitude surveys and many other schemes, social scientists became complicit in the managerial enterprise. Indeed, a lucrative “social science industry” gave rise to management consulting firms, corporate trainers, leadership coaches, and a growing market for popular business books.

Even the American Psychological Association, in 1962, provided a positive endorsement:
... while the psychologist’s most basic interest is human behavior, he can help with management’s most basic aim, increasing profitability ... Essentially what the industrial psychologist attempts to do is to help the employee come to ... a recognition of how his interests and management’s coincide ... [to] help the employee adjust to the requirements of a successful enterprise.
In fact, history shows that the so-called ‘science’ inherent in industrial psychology and management scholarship has never been neutral or objective. The nature of the management project has always been to organize human life to serve particular interests, historically, in favor of the elite.

This comes as no surprise as management science has a track record of hyping corporate programs with the veneer of science in order to gain credibility and corporate buy-in. According to Economist magazine staff writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge, “Modern management theory is no more reliable than tribal medicine. Witch doctors, after all, often got it right - by luck, by instinct, or by trial and error.” A close reading of this history would reveal that management is more a political art than rigorous science.

Michel Foucault made an astute observation: “You know the difference between a real science and a pseudoscience? A real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked.” Hopefully, management science scholar-practitioners promoting corporate mindfulness research would contemplate on this statement.

Google’s "Search Inside Yourself" flagship corporate mindfulness training program has received a great deal of media attention. Search Inside Yourself (SIY) curriculum is touted as being “scientifically grounded” on rigorous research in neuroscience. The premise is that mindfulness training increases emotional intelligence (EI).

Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, was warmly embraced as a scientifically valid method that assured career success. Empathy, self-control and agreeableness have become the new managerial ethos, not unlike the message in the immensely popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which Dale Carnegie penned in 1937.

Before the SIY program was developed, Google offered Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes for its engineers. Few enrolled as stress was regarded as a badge of honor among its youthful engineers who typically worked 60-70 hours a week. Dangling the carrot of career success would become the new hook. By linking mindfulness with emotional intelligence with greater prospects of promotions and career advancement, engineers started enrolling in SIY courses in droves.

But where is the scientific evidence for these claims? Goleman’s concept of Emotional Intelligence has been criticized by prominent psychologists as an ill conceived “far flung network of concepts” that lacks rigorous empirical support.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg, writing in the foreword to the book Emotional Intelligence: Science & Myth, summarized it best: “Goleman’s work does not represent a systematic scientific program of research ... in that there appear to be no refereed published studies where hypotheses are predictively tested against data.”

A recent pilot study of SIY graduates in three technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area found no evidence that EI was anymore efficacious than mindfulness. In fact, post-test results showed that mindfulness training was associated with increases in both work exhaustion and disengagement. One could speculate that mindfulness training increased an awareness of just how exhausted these employees really were; their response was to withdraw and disengage from work as a form of relief.

But such findings are rarely reported in existing literature, and certainly not in sales and marketing materials. Instead, corporate mindfulness researchers and consultants sound more like evangelical cheerleaders (see Wisdom 2.0), preaching the imperatives of “brain fitness,” offering sales tactics for “overcoming skeptics,” and communicating what amount to provisional findings as if they were an authoritative constellation of “facts.”

Meg Levy who directs the SIY teacher training program seems to want it both ways. She aggressively pitches SIY as a scientifically-informed curriculum. Yet, when interrogated on a recent interview regarding the paucity of scientific evidence of corporate mindfulness programs, she hedges: “I think we culturally privilege the science ... I want to make a case there is a validity to subjective experience, and everyone has their bias, and I am only talking from my experience.”

Since the science supporting corporate mindfulness is thin and virtually non-existent, advocates like Levy ask us to simply trust them, to keep the faith that in due time science will catch up with their experience on the ground. We’ve addressed this quandary of "mindfulness’ truthiness problem", and suggested that the lack of evidence for the purported good of workplace mindfulness confronts us with an open question of "who knows?"

Corporate mindfulness apologists are quick to dismiss critiques that raise legitimate concerns about the limitations and potential dangers of workplace mindfulness programs. They typically retort, “Well, that’s just not what I am seeing ...”. Levy and others resort to this anecdotal form of reasoning. “Take my word for it”. This is a personal appeal not a counter-argument.

David Brendel’s recent article "Mindfulness in the Workplace: Benefits, Risks and Complexities" believes that a more nuanced understanding of this movement in emerging. But he trots out the same old tropes like “The neuroscience of mindfulness is more convincing than ever,” or it’s an “impressive movement”, or that conversation is deepening because luminaries like Dan Harris and Congressman Tim Ryan are keynotes at an exclusive mindfulness conference ($1695 for two days). Celebratory hype is not evidence.

Brendel does offer an important cautionary note: employees should not be pressured or coerced into taking a mindfulness program. Unfortunately, there is little consensus among corporate mindfulness teachers as to the standard of practice.

Michael Chasklason, a leading corporate mindfulness consultant in the United Kingdom, presented a case study of a corporate mindfulness program at a large European energy company, where the chief executive made participation for 360 of his senior managers compulsory. Shortly after the program many of these managers were terminated due to massive downsizing and restructuring. Chasklason considered that, since they had the benefit of taking his mindfulness program, it could be considered a “parting gift.”

We clarify yet again our concerns. In a recent article, Jeremy Adam Smith, editor of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center newsletter, claims that we are dismissing the potential therapeutic benefits of workplace mindfulness for individuals.

Proponents of workplace mindfulness responding to our critique could perhaps apply their mindfulness to attentive reading, since we have explicitly stated that we are not dismissing the potential benefits to individuals. Or they could take an undergraduate course in logical reasoning, since it does not necessarily follow that to critique corporations’ structural and systemic habits is to dismiss the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness. Therapeutic benefits is one thing, callous institutional imperatives are another matter.

As much as corporate mindfulness apologists would like to pretend that workplace mindfulness is “evidence-based” and politically neutral, this is simply not the case. To be sure, it is important to facilitate the well-being of employees. But the drive to celebrate the links between mindfulness and wellness and organizational good is not free from the workings of power.

Cederstrom and Spicer have interrogated this with the idea of “biomorality.” The guiding framework that connects our concerns with theirs is Michel Foucault’s notion of “governmentality”. In Part Two, Edwin Ng will examine this notion of governmentality and consider how we might use mindfulness to experiment with critical self-care. 

Ron Purser, Ph.D.. is Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. His article, "Beyond McMindfulness," in the Huffington Post went viral in 2013.

Edwin Ng, Ph.D., is an author and cultural theorist currently based in Australia. He has written commentaries on the cultural translation of Buddhism and mindfulness for Salon.com and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

What is Resilience?

by the Resilience Research Centre: http://resilienceresearch.org/about-the-rrc/resilience/14-what-is-resilience

Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual's ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development.

However, the RRC uses a more ecological and culturally sensitive definition. Dr. Michael Ungar, Co-Director of the RRC, has suggested that resilience is better understood as follows: 

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways” (see also Ungar, 2008 and Ungar, 2011).

This definition shifts our understanding of resilience from an individual concept, popular with western-trained researchers and human services providers, to a more relational understanding of well-being embedded in a social-ecological framework.

Understood this way, resilience requires individuals have the capacity to find resources that bolster well-being, while also emphasizing that it’s up to families, communities and governments to provide these resources in ways individuals value. In this sense, resilience is the result of both successful navigation to resources and negotiation for resources to be provided in meaningful ways. You can read more about resilience from this perspective in publications by the Centre’s members.

To explore resilience as both a process and outcome across many different cultures and contexts, the Resilience Research Centre coordinates a number of different research projects. Click here for a list of the projects currently underway.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Work That Kills Us: What Being in the Black Lives Matter Movement Does to Activists’ Mental Health

(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
For many activists, being a part of Black Lives Matter is essential to securing the rights - and lives - of black citizens. But what do you do when the work you’re doing to save lives starts to claim yours? 

To be an activist or organizer of any type is tiresome work. But in the movement for black lives in the context of the hyper-militarized police and ongoing consumption of black death, black liberation organizers are struggling, among other things, with maintaining the will to fight.

Often overlooked in conversations around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and the faces behind it, is what happens when the protest is over. Though we love to highlight organizers in their most visible and most militant moments, rarely do we examine how these organizers manage to survive in a world where they are constantly at war and often under surveillance. As conversation around the sustainability of a movement born in large part out of black uprisings continues, we must take seriously the issues of trauma for black organizers and the barriers to accessing mental-health services for people throughout the black community.

Undoubtedly, the movement for black lives has changed the lives of many. But, for activists, while there is something intrinsically fulfilling about fighting for a better world, issues of increased post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and trauma have come with the work.

“On one end, my involvement with this movement has saved my life. Prior to this movement, I was suffering from severe depression mostly due to suffering from poverty. After my involvement, I found myself suddenly motivated to live,” says St. Louis-based organizer Angel Carter. “However, [on] the other end of the spectrum … I constantly re-live the violence I endured at the hands of police [during Ferguson]. I consistently re-live those nights of never knowing if I would survive.”

Ongoing police brutality, increased violence in direct actions, and the wide-availability of videos of black killings are major factors affecting the mental health of black activists, but they aren’t the only reason for the crisis of mental health among organizers. Several organizers spoke about the problem of martyrdom in BLM spaces and the inability to maintain good habits of self-care under such overwhelming circumstances. 

“The fact of the matter is that we’re being asked to stare death and harm in the face every day, to immerse ourselves in it,” says graduate student and black organizer William Richardson. “That takes a toll on folks beyond any direct abuse that may happen while working in activist spaces. Most activists neglect their mental health because they take on the idea that they need to be a martyr for the struggle and any cost is worth it, including themselves.” 

“I see a lot of my friends and family in this movement running themselves to the ground in the name of liberation, particularly black femmes, queer, and trans folks,” says Adja Gildersleve, one of the founders of the Minneapolis BLM chapter. “We literally slave to kill white supremacy, then we look at each other with resentment when we think the work isn’t happening because too many people are stepping back. We are tired. We are depressed. We are wounded. And the very consciousness that empowered us - consumes us even faster than we can heal.”

This trauma doesn’t just lead to depression; it can have lethal effects on young organizers. Carter spoke of suicide within the movement as being grounded in the tradition of impossible choices for black people historically. “White supremacy often feels vast and hopeless. I believe suicide is what happens to some of us when our minds are in a place of, ‘We need freedom, but we can never be free here.”

Carter also spoke about MarShawn McCarrel, an Ohio-based activist who died by suicide on the steps of the State House last February. “Before doing so, he pissed on the statehouse steps, which to me sent a strong message about his reasoning. I’m reminded of the ancestors before us that saw this as a solution; jumping ships, intentionally starving themselves, and sometimes even murdering their own children because they would be ‘better off than to live in this system’. I’m not shaming this method of liberation, however, I think it speaks volumes that the black experience has been such a burden that dying is seen as a escape from racism.”

For Gildersleve, the uptick in suicides and failing mental health among her peers has been deeply personal. “I’ve lost three friends in the movement to suicide within a year; that was my wake up call. I want more of us to operate less like martyrs and more like elders-to-be,” she says. “After what this country has done to us and at the rate they are killing us, becoming a black elder is revolutionary. Self-care is revolutionary.”

And indeed no meaningful revolution can happen without first addressing the crisis of mental health and healing among black people and black liberation fighters.

“I have not seen many activists plan ahead in anticipation of mental-health struggles, but I have certainly seen depression manifest itself in tangible ways,” says Kevin Winstead, an American Studies Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland. “The mood and tone of some activists is becoming a little more pessimistic, there is potential for higher turnover in membership as people make choices to protect their sanity, and there is potential for isolation to occur between movement organizers and the communities they serve. I believe mental health has become the single greatest threat to black liberation movements.”

And though these issues affect activists in unique ways, the organizers I spoke with were quick to specify that the traumas that accompany experiencing and fighting against white supremacy don’t just affect activists, but affect the entirety of the black community.

“This is not just a problem among black people working toward liberation; this is a problem among all black people trying to survive in an era of black death,” says prison divestment organizer Anthony Williams.

But there are many barriers to accessing important mental-health services for black people at all levels of the movement. While conversations around mental health have become less taboo in black organizing spaces and in the black community as a whole, access to culturally qualified providers and financial constraints are primary concerns.

Christine Andrada, a community member and organizer in Oregon, said that the lack of black therapists affects activists’ access to mental-health resources. “Many of us felt distrustful of the mental-health resources available because every therapist/counselor is white, and probably don’t fully understand black mental health stigmas or how deeply the trauma and violence we are inundated with daily affects souls of black people,” she says.

Money is also a significant barrier. Many activists can barely afford to cover their basic needs while dedicating so much time to social justice work, much less be able to pay for the therapy and counseling they desperately need.

“My dad was an old school Nation of Islam dude,” says J Mase III, a black trans man who considers himself a supporter of the movement. “When I think about the types of training they did with their bodies, what they ate … they were always prepping for a larger movement.” But even this is challenging, Winstead says: “Los Angeles and Chicago Black Panthers both had severe mental-health challenges that went overlooked by scholars. Particularly in the form of PTSD for those who have been arrested.”

We may not get more critical study done around mental health and black social movements for some time. But, in the meantime, black communities are finding other sources of survival and restoration. Many activist spaces and black neighborhoods rely on the care of various healers, and, for many, the church has been an important place of refuge.

For Danielle Eubanks-Brady, a clinical social work student and former student organizer based in Indianapolis, the ministry center on her college campus became a place of support amid the depression that came along with organizing shortly after the death of Michael Brown.

“I’m not a religious person at all,” Eubanks-Brady says, “but the ministry center was my safe haven and I felt like somebody was listening to me. If I didn’t have those people in the ministry center, I don’t know where I would have been.” But even with this support Eubanks-Brady made it clear that the type of mental-health services many need is more than what ministry leaders are prepared for.

While mental-health care for black activists and the black community still has a ways to go, every person interviewed for this piece has said that large contributions could be made in this area by ordinary people doing very attainable things. Giving meals to people, being sure to pay for activists’ labor, donating toward organizers’ therapy bills, and even just creating spaces for organizers to be safe and be cared for all go a long way.

It is clear that the pain being inflicted on black people is more than just physical. Withstanding white supremacy is damaging mentally, and, for those on the front lines bearing witness to these horrors, it can have lethal consequences. 

 There are no overnight solutions to this unseen and often unspoken violence, but supporting activists’ basic physical, mental, and emotional needs might be one of the most tangible ways ordinary people can support the movement. There is no substitution for the professional care that black organizers need, but a meal, a hug, or a safe place might just be essential to the success of the movement for black lives.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Myth of Mindfulness: Spiritual Heroin for Implosive Capitalism

by umair haque, coach, lover, vampire: https://umairhaque.com/the-myth-of-mindfulness-9d06c9e0a0bc#.lzjo818he

There’s a craze sweeping the globe. As old as time. You can’t go a moment without hearing the glorious benefits of mindfulness and meditation being proclaimed. And yet.

Here we are, in the ruins of modernity. Fascism’s rising while the global economy’s stagnating. That means very real pain for millions, billions, of real humans. And we’re … meditating? 

If the Buddha were alive today, he probably wouldn’t say: go meditate. He’d say: go fix your societies so there’s less suffering in them.

Meditation Isn’t a Substitute for a Working Society

Meditation isn’t a substitute for a working society. It’s point is not to let us turn our backs on our neighbors and peers. If that is all it is, then it is better not to do it at all. Because we aren’t really meditating. All the great spiritual masters say: everything is meditation. Watching a sunset, doing work with care, being gentle with people. All this is meditation. When we separate it as an activity we perform now and then, we’re not really meditating at all. So what are we doing?

You Don’t Need Spiritual Heroin if You’re Not Broken

We are using the techniques of meditation for the wrong ends. To escape, run away, dull the pain. Like taking spiritual heroin. But you don’t need spiritual heroin if you’re not broken. So what’s breaking us? Is the rise of mindfulness at the precise moment capitalism’s melting down a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Passive meditation and aggressive, savage capitalism are perfect bedfellows. The passivity of meditation is the perfect antidote, the ultimate American response to aggressively cruel capitalism.

Why? It’s personal responsibility taken to an extreme, isn’t it? You are hurt profoundly by broken institutions and failed leaders. What should you do? Challenge them? Rebel? No, go meditate. It’s your responsibility to not feel any pain. To numb it, escape it, bury it.

In all the senses above, mindfulness is capitalism’s latest greatest product. It needs a drug to pacify the broken soldiers on its front lines - and the collateral human damage - when the savagery of battle is over. We can meditate ourselves into oblivion right back to the Stone Age. But no spiritual master worth their insight would say that is worthwhile.

What’s the cheapest and most effective drug there is? Real therapy costs money. Real drugs have side-effects. Capital wants pure efficiency. No cost, maximum benefit. Meditation is the perfect drug for capitalism to finish the vicious job of eating itself. Someone’s got to do it, after all. Even though it will break their soul. What do you do with a broken soul? Find the cheapest drug you can.

The Purpose of True Meditation is Preventing Human Suffering, Not Absolving It

But that contradicts the very purpose of true meditation. Not to bury the pain, the injustice, the cruelty. But to prevent it. Mindfulness the way it’s being practiced right now doesn’t prevent cruelty. It excuses it, justifies it, sanctions it. Spiritual heroin is only really needed for fighting a war so savage the everyday horror must be numbed.

You’re a VP at Cruelty, Inc. Every day, you’re asked to do things that are morally repellent, abhorrent, deeply damaging to the very society you live in. Prey on the elderly, exploit the young, jettison the frail. It hurts. How do you deal with the pain?

Lucky for you, your HR department's running daily mandatory meditations. So you go. And you learn how to numb the pain a little. To detach. Float away. Hey, if there’s no self, you can’t be held accountable for your moral failings, right? So in learning to detach from your moral failings you numb the pain. All that’s really happening is your production of human cruelty is being excused, justified, encouraged, maximised. 

This isn’t real meditation. It is like using a cross to beat a child. It is a great violence against true meditation. Real meditation isn’t detaching yourself after cruelty, but learning to do no harm in the first place. That is why meditation is a humble, constant way - not a disjointed “activity”.

True Meditation Is This-ness

If you want to really meditate, to be truly mindful, what should you do?

The goal of true meditation is to make contact with the true self. The me in you and the you in me. Pure being. The raw stuff of existence. To get there, you must develop an awareness of awareness. See yourself seeing. Then the inner eye turn inwards, and sees the universe reflected in your soul.

Once you have a glimpse of this turning, then you suddenly know that all the cruelty and violence you have ever done has only been visited upon yourself. Karma. And so you know why happiness arises from finding one’s self in others, and others in one. That is reality, and happiness is just living it for a moment.

Now you understand what truly is, the greatest of all the universal laws of being. I am in you. You are in me. I must never harm you. But only act to lift you into the light. Then and only then am I fulfilled, because I am in harmony with genuine existence itself.

Now there is. You are. Really here. Otherwise, I am lost in illusion, delusion, self-destruction, ignorance. Only the moment that I love is the instant I truly exist.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Great News - Pleasure is the Purpose of Life. Bad News - Moderation is the Key: Epicurean Hedonism

by Aeon: https://aeon.co/videos/great-news-pleasure-is-the-purpose-of-life-bad-news-moderation-is-key

Should you feel bad about pursuing pleasure? Many philosophers say you should at least be circumspect about it. There was one, however, who saw maximising pleasure as the goal of life: Epicurus.

Sam Dresser explains how the ancient Greek thinker can help you find the good in the pleasurable - though Epicurean hedonism is no sure way to overcome the pain of excess.

The First Silence: Listening to Listening

by umair haque, coach, lover, vampire: https://umairhaque.com/the-first-silence-486e5a2c6327#.44iat7mzo

There is silence, and there is silence. When we are looking for silence, when there is a need to really stop and be led by something, there is no need to look.

We are not talking about some kind of absence of sound when we are seeking silence. Silence doesn’t really mean: go somewhere where there is no noise, a park, a library, a temple, so you can “hear yourself think”. What silence means is: there is noise within you, and always hearing yourself think is the problem, not the solution. Then you are overthinking, and overthinking is underfeeling, underliving.

So when something in us cries out for silence, we are just seeking inner silence. But inner silence is a subtle thing. It is listening to listening. That subtlety is what makes it profound.

Listening to listening begins with a quiet mind. Not a blank mind. If I tell you: make your mind blank, then you will think of something like a great white sheet of paper. In the same way, if I tell you: silence your mind, you will try to suppress your inner voices. That is not inner silence. That’s just repression, self-rejection, if you want to use psychological terms. In the end, the inner voices just emerge noisier, angrier, shriller.

A quiet mind. The mind will go and on talking. Let it. What a quiet mind means is that the inner voice of the mind is not all that you hear. You just let mind recede, shrink, fall away. It is not that the voice is being silenced. It is just that you are expanding.

Now you are listening to yourself listening. What does that mean?

You are letting go of this way of listening to thoughts, only listening for words, that contain ideas, that come from your mind, which you react to. You are surrendering this way of listening. You hear the silence in between inner words first, the the silence in between the sentences, and then, slowly, you hear the silence surrounding, permeating, suffusing the words. Now you understand that there is more beneath, above, around, the words than there is in the words. So what can those words really say?

All that is the beginning of inner silence. The more that you expand, the less noise there is from mind. If you are not really listening, why should it keep talking? Now there is less going to waste. You are paying to attention to what is truer. Your intuition, feeling, senses. All the beauty and grace in the world. You are cultivating a truer way of hearing.

Inner silence, real silence. I’ll just call this the first silence. Because it is primal, fundamental, original. What do we hear in the first silence? You hear all that you really need to listen to. You hear your true self speaking for the first time. It doesn’t use words, like your mind. It breathes, whispers, falls, surges. It doesn’t separate and divide, like mind. It is just radiant, luminous, endless, true.

What does the ocean say to the rain? In the same way, your true self, which is the eternal in you, is not really there to talk at you, order you, command you. It is there to beckon you, guide you, nurture you, protect you, free you. To lead you back home. 

That is why without this kind of profound silence, there is always a sense of being alone, adrift, incomplete. And with it, there is the sense that you are arriving, in every moment, in the place where you have always been meant to be.

Umair, Philadelphia, August 2016.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Loneliness of the Modern Nomad

by Kira M. Newman, syndicated from Greater Good, Daily Good: http://www.dailygood.org/story/1372/the-loneliness-of-the-modern-nomad-kira-m-newman/

For the past five years, I haven’t lived anywhere for more than six months. I spent 28 days in Lisbon, three months in Bali, and a random half-year in downtown Las Vegas.

With just two suitcases in tow, I was lucky enough to scuba-dive in Thailand, explore the ruins of Pompeii, and do karaoke with a Korean movie star.

According to Melody Warnick, author of the new book This Is Where You Belong, that makes me a Mover with a capital M. And I have plenty of company: These days, the average American moves nearly 12 times in their lifetime, and 12 percent of Americans move in a given year.

But moving continuously has its downsides, according to Warnick. Research shows that people who like their hometown and their neighbors are less anxious and have higher well-being. They’re less likely to experiencephysical ailments, heart attacks, or stroke; and they even live longer. And one survey found that the happier residents are with their town,the more economically prosperous it is.

Warnick was once a Mover, but eventually chose to settle down in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her book chronicles her journey toward “place attachment,” a series of research-backed experiments and practices designed to make her love where she lives.

Many of these practices - from eating local to organizing collective art projects - come down to community, belonging, and social connection. These are what truly make us love where we live, which also means that we can learn to love nearly any place (or at least like it a little more).

“More than anything else, relationships with people are what make you feel at home in your town,” Warnick writes. “So many of my Love Where You Live experiments had worked because they managed to make me like people in Blacksburg.”

For example, Warnick made a commitment to buy and eat local, and she found herself joining a community-supported agriculture group, shopping at stores she had never before set foot in, and going to the farmers market.

Compared to a grocery store, it turns out, people are three times more likely to visit farmers markets with someone else, and have ten times the conversations with sellers once they get there. Plus, local mom-and-pop shops are known for friendlier customer service, writes Warnick; she had a bit of a revelation when she bought a t-shirt at a Blacksburg skateboard shop during a “cash mob,” and the owner thanked her warmly.

“That moment was when it clicked for me that this store was owned by an actual human being,” she writes. “I understood … how what I buy affects my local community.”

Neighborliness may be on the decline - these days, 28 percent of Americans don’t know any of their neighbors by name - but that doesn’t mean it’s any less crucial to keeping us rooted. People who have the strongest social connections nearby (six extended family members within a half-hour drive) are the most satisfied and least restless group, Warnick writes.

One Danish study found that a company trying to convince a potential employee to move to a new city would have to pay them an extra $12,500 if they lived next door to their sister. Good relationships with neighbors can be the pull that makes us stay, even when our town doesn’t boast the best restaurants or the cheapest rents.

Place-attached Stayers - the opposite of Movers - are more likely to volunteer, another practice that’s inherently social. Volunteering can make residents feel part of the local “we,” Warnick explains. Joining a giving circle, where groups of people combine their funds and collectively select a charity recipient, is a fast track to community engagement for newcomers and renters.

Even creative projects, another practice Warnick recommends for boosting place attachment, can build relationships. We don’t learn to love where we live by sitting in our apartment and painting the beautiful skyline; we do it by setting up art classes for teens or (in Warnick’s case) organizing a sidewalk chalk event. A place is its people; even enjoying gourmet restaurants and sprawling parks brings us into contact with others.

<a href=“http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0525429123?ie=UTF8&tag=gregooscicen-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0525429123”>Viking, June 2016, 320 pages</a>Warnick’s book helps clarify what I’d missed by living out of a suitcase. Though I feel incredibly fortunate for having had the opportunity to travel so much, moving continuously has made it hard to find that sense of community.

When you’re living somewhere for months at a time, the effort it takes to form friendships is almost not worth it - particularly if you’re an introvert like me, who would happily skip the getting-to-know-you part of a relationship and land safely in the comfort of intimacy and deep conversation. After five years of this, I am just a bit lonely.

That’s partly why I, like Warnick, am settling down. I can still travel, and will, but I now realize how important it is to have a place and a community.

Inspired by her book, I valiantly try to chat with people in the elevator instead of standing mutely; I felt a surge of gratitude for the perfect indie coffee shop I discovered, just steps from my apartment; and I hope to convince my partner to come see a Blue Jays game - one of Toronto’s quintessential communal experiences - even though we are baseball-indifferent. I’m aware now that if I want Toronto to be my home, I have to make it so, through a spirit of exploration, appreciation, and openness.

Some might think I’m crazy to give up jet setting, but to me the choice is clear: I want to belong.