The Mindless Pursuit of Mindfulness, or: Why it’s Better to Mindfully Pursue Mindlessness

Goat

“When we let things convey unto us, that is true artistic expression. But when we try to convey ourselves onto things, that is delusion.” — Dogen Zenji

When I was at the beginning of my philosophical journey I went up to my teacher, and asked her the obnoxiously silly question, “What is your spirit animal?” She replied, “The chupacabra.” It was the world’s most perfect answer. In my own mind I began to refer to her as “El Chupacabra the Apathetic” although she would’ve found the whole thing trivial and obscenely psychically wasteful. But I had fun with it.

Soon after, I asked an even more obnoxious question. I asked El Chupacabra the Apathetic, “What is this mindfulness thing all about?” She stared at me dumbly for several too long seconds, a heavy red cloud of perturbation slowly obscuring her face. Finally, she got up, grabbed a thick coffee mug that was sitting on the table in front us and hit me 4 quick times in my left shin with it. Each time the mug landed on the bone it made a sound like a ringing church bell.

The pain was extraordinary, especially for a 12 year old. I howled like a spoiled guard dog at a Ted Cruz rally.

SEEMS LIKE YOU HAVE A PRETTY GOOD GRASP OVER THIS MINDFULNESS THING!” she hollered over my cries. The old hag.

I am not a smart person. At least not in any meaningful and useful way. Even less so when I was a pre-adolescent. But I caught the gib of her thrust that day, and I felt my third eye tingle, I tell you.

So with such experiences contributing to your understanding of my background, hopefully you’ll understand my vague, somewhat detached bemusement with the mindfulness movement. I mean, they’re even implementing such practices to help MBA geeks and their minions make their Excel spreadsheet bottom-line overlords happy.

Here’s a hint: if a spiritual practice can be used to make more money (and make no mistake, even stripped of its Buddhist/Daoist/Hindu roots, “mindfulness” is a spiritual practice) then it’s not the “real thing.” True philosophy/spirituality is worthless. That’s what makes it so worthful. It’s useless. Which is what makes it so useful. It’s like writing haiku. You’ll never make a living writing haiku, because even shitty haiku strikes to the core of Who We Are. And white collar doofuses will never try to get their minions to write haiku because eventually some of those people writing haiku will come to realize the leaking cesspool that has become of their lives—which only hurts the Excel Bottom-line. You can’t write haiku — good, bad, or otherwise — about quarterly reports and powerpoint presentations.

CEO won’t stop
Masturbating on keyboard
—Microsoft Office

See? Look at that thing. It’s like anti-enlightenment.  

The point here is that mindfulness practices can be helpful tools, but the American public (the human race?) isn’t interested in tools. Tools imply work and effort, and even though work and effort are my avowed enemies, I at least recognize that there’s really no alternative. And I don’t believe in magic, but Americans  will never stop searching for it. More specifically, they want spiritual and material riches and even better if one leads to the other.

Say what you will about Americans, but when it comes to magic, we never lack true faith. We’re true believers, boy. And you never test a true believer. Something keeps the snake-oil economy churning, and it’s not skepticism nor intelligent, detached consideration.

I suppose this is my general problem with capitalism. It takes something sort of worthwhile and it figures out a way to caricaturize it, strip it of its essence and of what made it worthwhile, market a simulacrum and watch the apes go apeshit. It’s been doing this with black music for a hundred years at least. It’s done it with athletics—the crux of which is normal people doing extraordinary things, but none of our professional athletes are normal, now, aren’t they? It’s done it with food—what are McDonald’s and Chili’s and Stouffer’s if not terrible mimics of real food? And it does it with spirituality. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, Oprah. The list perpetuates. In three years it will be Qigong or Russian isometrics or… some mutant form of Koan practice pillaged of its Zen marrow. Because all threads in the web of snake oil spirituality eventually lead back to “Zen.”

If a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet creates a formula and no MBA is around to interpret it, does it still make money?

The truth about mindfulness practices is that they don’t actually make you a better person. In any way. They don’t help you make money. They don’t make you more successful. They don’t make you more beautiful. You don’t suddenly develop into a worthwhile leader if you practice them. They don’t make you less scared or more confident. They don’t make you more likable. They sure as hell don’t make you smarter.

What such practices do is actually the opposite. If you’re doing them with the proper state of mind, you learn quite the opposite. (This is probably why the Eastern religions adopted the master/student relationships—to help ensure the student was applying the proper state of mind, and to ensure that their students were starving the ego, not gorging it.) You learn that if you have a tendency, for example, to be nervous or scared when talking to a group of people, you’re always going to be nervous and scared. The trick is not to get nervous and scared about being nervous and scared. The trick is to use mindfulness to help you be ok with all the things in the world that you desperately want to change but can’t–such as a throbbing pain in your left shin from whence some old bimbo hit you several times with a coffee mug. The trick is to use mindfulness techniques to help you realize that your desires are illusory and nothing is happening to nothing. The world is a Void. And it’s Perfect in its Emptiness. There is nothing to desire. There is nothing to change.  

See, the original goal of mindfulness practices was to experience something that has been called—at various times, by various people, enlightenment, or satori, or ego death, or mind-body drop or Kensho, or whatever the fuck. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what it’s called. There’s this experience that is so profoundly sublime that any word or phrase in any language would bypass the essence of such an experience. Even the word “experience” is misleading by an obscene margin, but I’ve got to use some kind of a word. If I were better with special symbols on a computer keyboard, I’d use, like, the symbol Prince used in the 90s to avoid dealing with his record label, since it ultimately doesn’t matter what symbol I use, but I digress….

Now, what some people have realized is that you can’t really sell enlightenment (which is what we’ll be calling the Experience, just because we have to call it something at this point). You can pretend to sell enlightenment. You may even be able to convince some people that you’ve enlightened them. But the charade has a difficult time persisting because it’s a false understanding of enlightenment that is sold. The understanding that was/is sold was/is the understanding that once I become enlightened all my problems will be solved. I’ll know all the secrets of the universe. I’ll be happy ALL THE TIME. Chicks (or dudes) will want to fuck my brains out. My student loan arbiter will forget all about those tens of thousands of dollars I owe. I will float in mid air. My farts will smell of Petunias. I will speak only in cryptic koans that will convince all the Buddhist dorks that I’m a Master. I will teleport freely between space, time and dimensions in order to save ALL LIVING BEINGS, including, for some reason, earwigs. But first, all living beings must pay $15 per month for access to my youtube channel, because, you know, enlightenment isn’t cheap, you unenlightened creeps.

You know…enlightenment

The problem with selling that sort of enlightenment is that even if you convince someone they’ve reached this stage, life still sucks. And when life continues to suck even after enlightenment has supposedly been attained, there’s going to be some weird psychological blowback. Basically: cognitive dissonance. But enlightened beings are not supposed to experience cognitive dissonance, so, “subconsciously” perhaps, the enlightened being is forced to make significant psychological efforts to repress and/or ignore the cognitive dissonance, which — as everyone knows by now — only reinforces the cognitive dissonance one is trying to get rid of.

So basically you have a bunch of psychologically fucked up people wandering around, condescending to people and being generally insufferable to be around. And, what’s worse, they’re not even happy. They’re simply trying to convince everyone else that they’re happy and that everyone else would be happy if those people simply did what the supposedly enlightened people told them to.    

And nobody wants that.

At least I don’t.

Nevertheless, you can see how the situation becomes icky. I mean, you’ll always be able to sell enlightenment to the suckers, but it’s just a little…weird? Grotesque? Creepy? All of the above?

This was the gift of the concept of the “mindfulness.” Now you didn’t have to sell enlightenment. You sold mindfulness.  

But it cost nothing to hit someone on the shinbone with an empty coffee mug.

And being hit on the shinbone with an empty coffee mug has never made me a more productive worker. In fact, its effects on me were quite the opposite—it helped me to recognize the futility of effortful actions and the secret nihilism inherently hiding in most conceptions of “success.”

Furthermore, take one more look at that quote at the top there by Dogen. What does it mean? He’s talking about the art of living. And it means that the ultimate expression of life occurs not when you attempt to impose your mind on a moment, but when you allow a moment to impose itself on your mind. It’s the exact opposite of mindfulness. It’s mindlessness. Or, as the Zennists refer to it (again, the thread returns to “zen,” see?) “No-mind.” It’s not about being in the moment or not being in the moment. It’s about BEING THE MOMENT. It’s not complicated. You just need the courage to give your ego monster a quick boot over a deep abyss, which almost no one does.

But try selling that to your corporate henchmen…or to any American for that matter.

Endless number rows
Have sex with me in my dreams
—Excel Spreadsheets!

 

Mr. Furious

Mr. Furious

Mr. Furious lives in rural southern Colorado and tries to live as boring, apathetic and lazy a life as possible. He is hoping one day to be invited to do a "Life Class" for "Super Soul Sundays" on the Oprah Winfrey Network. You can read his short fiction, poetry and short essays at www.puerileandpointless.blogspot.com. He wrote a really stupid novel called " Puerile and Pointless with no Hope for Enlightenment" that you can purchase at Amazon and waste your time with. He can be contacted and/or harassed at misterfurious1@yahoo.com.
Mr. Furious