Updated: Mar 31, 2021
We can't even begin to talk about mindfulness without acknowledging the gravity of capitalism.
Capitalism, defined very simply, is the economic (and political) system in which trade, industry, and goods are controlled by private or corporate ownership.
What happens in your body as you read that definition? Do you have any reactions? Any images come to mind? Does anything constrict? Do you feel confused? Angry? Or do you feel nothing at all? Just notice what happens.
I chose a relatively innocuous definition because capitalism is such a force that we often don't think about how we experience it. It's the air we breathe. Unless we have become conscientized it feels normal. We don't question it.
But capitalism has a history. In the US, it's a history, and for many a present-day reality, in which white bodies perpetuated centuries-long violence against Black, Indigenous, and other bodies of color who they deemed less human and therefore either enslaved as labor or invisibilized.
So ponder for a moment how capitalism continues to shape your day-to-day experience.
Your beliefs about yourself
Your beliefs about success
Your decisions about how you should spend your time
Your perspective on how others should spend their time
Your assumptions about who tends to be successful and why
Perhaps you don't think of them as beliefs; perhaps you interpret them as facts. Interesting, huh?
Here's what comes up for me:
Our worth is determined by how much we can do
We should produce things quickly and in high quantities
We should always be reaching for more success
We are not allowed to rest
We need authority and control to have power (in order for me to have power, others must be disempowered)
Every person for themselves
And because of who both traditionally defines and satisfies the above qualities:
The most valuable person in our society is a white, wealthy, conventionally attractive, able-bodied cisgender man
Now think about what mindfulness asks you to do.
Do mindfulness and capitalism share values?
Mindfulness the product certainly promotes:
Prescriptive practices that result in magical changes, such as increased productivity
Perfection as a goal
Regulated emotions and political neutrality as the clean and pure way to engage with the world
Happiness as a marker of success
The idea that if oppressed people work harder they will reap more success
Minduflness the product necessitates that you rely on external motivations, values, and goals for your practice. It values outcome over embodiment and connection.
Mindfulness the product colludes with capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy.
At its roots, however, the essence of mindfulness invites us to slow down, draw inward, and be with. It creates space for noticing our internal experience so that we can be more clear on our needs - emotionally, physically, relationally, or otherwise. It reminds us that we are valuable and worthy simply because we are alive.
What a beautiful invitation, and what a tricky setup given our conditioning.
And that's why I say that we have to acknowledge the gravity of capitalism before we assume mindfulness is:
A magic wand
We might do better to remember that mindfulness is a powerful tool for resisting what we will likely be up against for most of our lives.
We might do better to stay open and awake to the ways capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism continue to seep into our meditation practices, yoga classes, therapy sessions, intimate relationships, and spiritual spaces.
We might do better to be unconditionally compassionate with ourselves and the ways we struggle to be mindful, still, regulated, productive, and successful all at once.