In Spirituality since the 80s I spoke of belief within a meaningless world, and how trends such as meditation could be seen as an escape or a means of offsetting modern living. But can these practices offer more than merely a convenient repackaging of ancient wisdom in a form that assuages yet sustains our way of life?
Essentially, we’re talking about a strengthening of the awareness behind thinking, and the capacity to detach somewhat from the thoughts or feelings that often occupy our waking mind. The practice of mindfulness seems to have arisen from Buddhism (or possibly within other spiritual traditions), and recently been revived in its capacity to support or rebalance aspects of modern life. Whether within the context of mental health concerns or more broadly within mainstream culture, this has found a place among the tools at our disposal for managing our lives.
As discussed with regard to The ideas of Eckhart Tolle, it seems the value lies in suggesting a different pace of being or another way of relating to existence. Tolle’s writings – as those of Krishnamurti – model alternative ways of thinking about thinking, and seek to break the hold current thought patterns have over us. Whether this is through meditation, techniques for redirecting our thoughts, or practices such as walking and colouring; the essence seems to be in calming the mind and letting certain things simply pass us by.
What intrigues me most is how spiritual ideas have stepped into this role of mitigating the strains of society; often becoming something we adopt ad hoc rather than as an end in themselves. As mentioned in Happiness and modern life, there seems to be a sense that our way of living requires certain mental adjustments on a human level.
In How many things are cycles (we could break) I reflected on ways modern civilisation seems to depend on certain patterns of thought or consumption; and if there’s any real interest in breaking these. It seems to me sometimes that society undermines our worth: telling us we need more; that our personal or social standing rests on many things outside of ourselves.
What is this system we exist within? Schumacher spoke in “Small is Beautiful” about how maybe our society doesn’t truly want balance and peace. Within a predominantly economic system, it seems there’s little call to resolve problems so much as to offer a temporary remedy (see Values and the economic). Are the solutions we say we’re seeking possible within such a society?
One of the unspoken questions arising from the post on cycles was, What would it mean to break them? And my thoughts on Tolle led in a way to asking, What would it mean to be awake? So here, What might mindfulness offer us as a completely different way of being? Spiritual practices seem to re-emerge at times as these convenient offerings to serve our way of life; but could they be part of something larger, that might not require such checks and balances?