First published on Friday the 12th of April, 2019, this piece comes in at number 23 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2019.
Over the years, I’ve attended numerous classes where university lecturers have passionately promoted the supposed value of mindfulness. Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tweaking your way towards a better work-life balance and a happier you… But at the end of the day, mindfulness is also kind of a huge trap; it’s an appealing yet ultimately counterproductive concept to buy into. Here are four reasons why it might be worth rethinking mindfulness:
1. The mass adoption of popular mindfulness practices serve businesses and organisations more than they do the individuals. The modern concept of mindfulness has been widely adopted largely because it’s seen as a tool to increase worker wellbeing and consequently improve productivity. Optimising people to be able to withstand the pressures of heavy workloads and unreasonable working hours means employers can squeeze every last drop of energy from their employees. Which doesn’t equate to professionally-fulfilled employees maintaining a sustainable way of life.
2. There’s a limit to the efficacy of mindfulness. I agree that there is a lot of value in learning to be resilient, self-aware, and having mental strategies to handle difficult situations that may crop up during the day. However, mindfulness and facemasks won’t save you from a workplace where third degree burnout is a constant occupational hazard. Earlier this year, Dr. Yumiko Kadota’s harrowing story regarding her inhumane working conditions as a plastic surgery registrar in Australia went viral. Over 100 hours of overtime in a month, conditions that resulted in rapidly deteriorating physical health, and an aggressive, inflexible work environment… external environments like this are clearly so toxic and oppressive that no amount of resilience or mindfulness could every be enough. Dr. Kadota began her story by acknowledging defeat and stating her decision to walk away: “I never thought I would say this, but I broke. I give up. I am done. I surrender. I am handing back my dream of becoming a surgeon. I have nothing left to give. I don’t want it anymore. I’ve lost my ambition. I’ve lost my spark."
3. Despite the limitations to mindfulness, the industry surrounding it is lucrative and rapidly growing (and we’re the ones feeding it). I honestly tried to embrace as many of my lecturer’s suggestions as I could. I was gifted a yoga mat, sweated my way through weeks of vinyasa classes, subscribed to the meditation podcasts... Looking back one year later, my stress levels weren’t significantly reduced by these lifestyle changes. I was, however, out of pocket by a significant sum for having made them. I’m not saying that yoga or meditation or completing adult colouring books or self-care practices aren’t worthwhile endeavours. I’m simply saying it’s important to be aware that there are businesses that profit from these activities and to evaluate for yourself whether the benefits are worth the value of the services and/or equipment.
4. The valuing of mindfulness shifts the focus away from organisations and their responsibilities in maintaining safe work environments, and puts the responsibility of maintaining good mental wellbeing into your hands. This is probably the most dangerous trap of mindfulness and its rising popularity. It absolves organisations from doing better. Instead of ensuring that systemic changes are made within the organisation to prevent burnout in its workers, we fall for the belief that we just need to look inward and strengthen our resolve and everything will be okay. And as long as we continue to gaze internally for the answers, we’ll continue to ignore the fact that the problems often come from higher up and farther out.Support Villainesse