If you’re like me and don’t watch the news but selectively read it, as you scanned the article headlines in the last week, you might have seen the term “McMindfulness.” While not a new label, it has resurfaced recently due to the release of a new book on the subject. I have not read that book, but did read several articles on the topic and wanted to talk about it today because accusing people of practicing the fast-food version of mindfulness is a clear judgment, while mindfulness is non-judgmental. That got my head spinning. Are the mindful people judging others really mindful? I can’t say without judging!
Mindfulness meditation can be considered the awareness training we need in order to become more mindful. It’s not the only way to be mindful, but because our egos and our constant stream of thoughts are so powerful, it is, in my opinion, the most effective way to learn to settle your brain down and to connect mind and body. Mindfulness meditation’s goal isn’t even to settle down the brain, but to learn to observe our stream of thoughts without attaching to them, recognizing that we are not our thoughts. The most immediate benefits of mindfulness meditation, however, include feeling less stressed and more relaxed. And for some people, that’s as far as they want to go, which is of course their choice. But mindfulness is an ancient practice based in spiritual origins that aims to wake up our minds to the suffering we inflict on ourselves and others. Through cultivating more compassion, mindfulness can lead to improving conditions both internally and externally. It was not originally developed as a self-help tool for stress reduction. It just happens to be a good tool to do just that, which Jon Kabat-Zinn discovered decades ago and then developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which is an 8-week course that has become an evidence-based practice for improving emotional, mental and physical well-being.
Critics accusing others of practicing McMindfulness are dismayed by the commercialization of the practice in today’s world. There are over 20 mindfulness apps on the market now and more in production. Almost every large company in the country is providing mindfulness training for their employees because some studies show that mindfulness improves productivity. Mindfulness has become a fad and lots of folks are finding ways to make money from it. All I can really say in response to this is that we live in a capitalistic society so of course people are going to try to find a way to make money off of something that has become popular. We are a world of consumers and have been for some time. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. The more people who practice mindfulness in any form, the better for all of us.
In the book Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, the authors describe the two paths of meditation. One is wide and one is deep. I associate McMindfulness with the wide path of meditation, which includes many of the same meditation practices as traditional mindfulness, but removes all spiritual context and is much more user-friendly, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. It also includes watered down versions of meditation, such as phone apps, two minute meditations, etc. If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you know that it ends each week with a two to three minute meditation. My intention is not to teach McMindfulness. It’s to introduce people to the concept and experience of meditation. While I hope that some listeners practice that short meditation and then use it to grow a mindfulness practice, meditating longer and deeper, if the short version helps someone relax and get centered, what’s wrong with that? Critics claim that this is a self-absorbed practice that doesn’t reduce the suffering of others, only ourselves. But I think that if everyone were calmer and more relaxed, that still contributes to the greater good!
Andy Puddicombe was a monk for many years and when he returned to modern civilization, developed the meditation app, Headspace. I sincerely doubt that he did that just to make a buck. He wanted to spread mindfulness and in our chaotic, frantic, constantly-rushed society, recognized that it had to be in a form that was quick, painless and digital in order to attract an audience. Headspace is wildly popular and although there is a free version, there is also more content for cash. Why shouldn’t he make money for educating millions of people about mindfulness? We don’t criticize companies that make cars, furniture and widgets, nor auto mechanics, doctors and hairdressers for charging for their products and services. But we find disdain for people who are in the helping fields that charge for their products or services. This even extends out to teachers and nurses. Evidently, people who want to help other people aren’t sincere if they ask to be paid for it. Which is of course, ridiculous.
For those who practice meditation at a deep level, it can be absolutely life-altering. But I don’t recommend going deep for many of my clients in my personal practice. Deep meditation is not all happy puppies and rainbows for people who have suffered severe trauma or who have unresolved mental or emotional issues. Deep meditation can sometimes be quite disturbing. It’s important to remember that when we deeply meditate, we are tapping into something we don’t fully understand. Just this week, there was another debate bubbling in the news about whether consciousness even exists. But there’s something in there, which many of us have tapped into with mixed results. It can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be distressing.
Which leads us back around to McMindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice, not a product. I believe in starting small and slowly expanding, becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings up to the point that we feel too much discomfort. At that point, we can consider seeking out an expert teacher or we can stay at that same level until we feel ready to go further or not. But as mindfulness teaches us, there is no right or wrong. Mindfulness may aim to make the world a better place, but if a short meditation helps us feel better, we’re going to be kinder to others at least for a little while and I see nothing wrong with that. If buying and using a phone app helps us remember to be more aware, yay for apps. If wearing meditation beads or crystals remind us to be mindful, by all means, buy the beads or crystals. Mindfulness and meditation have many levels, not one-size-fits-all. And in a world full of constant suffering and distractions, anything that helps us grow our mindfulness practice, including McMindfulness, can only be helping us move in the right direction.