Meditation Sweeps Corporate America, But It’s For Their Health. Not Yours

There must be money in meditation: its going corporate. Oliver Burkeman explains at the Guardian:

As a fairly regular meditator, I naturally responded with only a slight smile and a deep sense of imperturbable inner peace to the latest crop of articles asserting that mindfulness has conquered the highest levels of American corporate life.

Photo: Jemasty (CC)

This most recent coverage has been triggered by Mindful Work, a new book by the New York Times reporter David Gelles, which documents – and largely celebrates – the discovery of meditation by hedge fund managers, health insurers, Ford, Target, Goldman Sachs and the Bank of America as a way to reduce stress and boost employee productivity. Arianna Huffington is thrilled by the news; the Wall Street Journal is excited; even the Marine Corps is interested. Now, obviously, I wouldn’t want to suggest that Goldman SachsBank of America or the US military don’t always have humanity’s best interests at heart in everything they do. But we should probably pause – mindfully, of course – to ask if the corporate mindfulness revolution is something to be entirely happy about.

Not, I hasten to add, because meditation doesn’t reduce stress or boost productivity: those benefits, along with numerous others, are among those to which a growing mountain of scientific evidence does point. (It’s not noted often enough how many of these studies are explicitly preliminary, using small samples and reaching tentative results – but there are certainly a lot of them by now.) And also not because meditation, as Buddhists sometimes argue, needs to be kept pure. (It’s been used for questionable ends at least since medieval times, when Japanese samurai meditated to become more fearless killers.) Instead, the problem is one familiar from corporate attempts to impose organized fun at the office: just because some activity is good in itself, it doesn’t follow that good things will happen when it’s co-opted by the engines of commerce.

As Joe Keohane points out in this savvy New Republic essay, mindfulness classes at the office are part of a broader focus on restoring “meaning” to work – not least because, as a 2013 Gallup survey found, “companies whose employees are comparatively more engaged generate 147% higher earnings per share”. There’s something obviously a bit troubling about treating personal meaning (which is, by definition, the ultimate reason for doing anything) as just another means to an organization’s ends…

[continues at the Guardian]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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