Mindfulness is Whack
By Mo Edjlali, Mindful Leader Founder and CEO
For those of you who have a close connection to Mindful Leader, you probably know that one of the things that really makes us different is our embracing of critical thought. I grew up with a critical mindset, and joke with folks that if I was a character in the X-Files, I'd be Scully. I’m no Mulder. I’m a skeptic and a critical thinker. As someone who has been involved in this field since 2009, I have witnessed the rise and fall of mindful celebrities and organizations, have had a foot in both the business and spiritual sides, and see issues that exist both above and below the surface.
With all that I've seen, I am concerned for the future of mindfulness. I believe that sometimes this work is being manipulated and modeled in a way that encourages inner circles, corruption, deception, celebrity guru-ism, conflicts of interest, abuses of power, and is helping fuel the rise of the spiritual industrial complex. These issues are concerning, and it's important to ask tough questions and challenge preconceptions, even if it means risking upsetting some folks.
Let’s approach these topics with critical, thoughtful inquiry while also keeping things light. To help explore these topics, we're launching our "Mindfulness is Whack" series. The purpose of this series is to ask the questions that aren’t being asked, explore the sticky points that have gone unaddressed, and foster tough dialogues that benefit everyone. My hope is that this series will encourage more critical thinking and help unite the field around a vision for the future of mindfulness that addresses the unspoken problems that have limited the potential of our work.
To kick off this series, in the next few weeks, we've organized and will be releasing a collection of videos and resources from past critics. The first resource we’d like to explore is an article from almost four years ago. This was the inception of the idea around the Mindfulness is Whack series. We shared this article "The Deception of Buddhist-Based Mindfulness in Our Schools and the Dangers It Poses" over social media which led to our community reacting with pitchforks when their beliefs were challenged. Here it is:
"You guys are idiots"- the article that ENRAGED our fans - April 7, 2019
Thank you for joining us on this journey toward a more mindful and truthful exploration. What are your thoughts? Is Mindfulness Whack? Are we Idiots? And if you are wanting to reach for that pitch fork... give us a couple more articles first please!
Loving the audacity of the discussion you propose, Mo! And doing it together sounds like a valuable journey of learning, of holding opposing views simultaneously, and expanding perspectives. We can all be more articulate about the value of mindfulness, and hold our views lightly as others also express their own values. Thanks for the bold move! Great title!
Intellectual humility is wise! I think this is a great addition and look forward to the series. We have to challenge ourselves to avoid the echo chamber. Emotional regulation is also a potential benefit of mindfulness, so if we fall into the trap of a fast and furious response of outrage, we are human, but need to see it. This provides a living example to work with and it will allow us to grow. I personally want to know the negative too, so I can be prepared with a grounded response from a potential client. I appreciate you bringing the negative, in addition to the positive, to my attention.
You might want to reconsider the series title. At the very least, look up the meaning of “whack.” This was a reckless essay.
I wouldn’t worry about the future of mindfulness. We know it’s existed for at least 2500 years. I have a feeling it will be around a lot longer than we are, Mo. it’ll be just fine. It’s survived charlatans and mountebanks of every generation. It will survive the current lot too.
Perhaps a distinction could be made between mindfulness and mindfulne$$.
I think mindfulne$$ is in trouble, not mindfulness. And rightly so.
Hi Ed, I can see this article stirred you, can you tell me what exactly you find reckless? And the title was chosen very carefully.
As for the "do nothing" mentality, everything will be fine, mindfulness has been around and will be around so let's just leave it be - I don't buy that. I believe we need to act now, and we don't need to leave a mess for future generations.
I also do not consider mindfulness as something that has existed for 2500 years. Sure you can say the innate ability to practice mindfulness has been around since human beings have been around but the modern mindfulness movement is new. And I wonder if you are confusing Buddhism with mindfulness? When you say mindfulness do you mean Buddism? And mindfulne$$ would be what most people consider mindfulness?
I support you in looking critically at mindfulness, something I do often. But I agree with Ed about the meaning of whack = 'Whack' is a verb, meaning to punch, strike forcefully, or is a noun as a sharp or resounding blow or to try/attempt. 'Wack' is an adjective that describes something annoyingly or disappointingly bad, lousy, cringy, uncool, messed up. Could you clarify what you mean by whack?
Since mindfulness is considered chiefly in terms of facilitating insights (classical view), helping people deal with physical and psychological problems (secular therapeutic), and assisting people to become more effective in their roles and work assignments (secular instrumental), it’s essential to know what exactly the critique is about.
But this is an important and necessary discussion, so thank you, Mo, for starting the conversation.
As someone who has some fear of falling into a trap of believing and listening to those you describe as celebrity guru types, I appreciate Mindful Leader discussing this issue head on. Also, as someone currently training with Mindful Leader, it creates a space to challenge and I appreciate that. I look forward to the series.
The elephant in the room with corporate wellness/mindfulness programs is culture. There is an irony to this slathering of mindfulness programs on top of cultures that breed and promote stress, anxiety, fear, unhealthy competition, lack of trust/respect through financial and structural models that are in direct conflict with truly mindful thinking, being & doing.
I'm looking forward to the next entry on the "Mindfulness is Wack" series. Is it coming soon?
I'm all about critical analysis of mindfulness, but/and... I attended one of your conferences and as far as I could see, you are IN an echo chamber. With a couple of exceptions, the talks I went to and what was going on in the selling end ignored fundamental and deep conflicts between capitalism and mindfulness. So, it seems to me that you will only be willing to zoom out so far to look at mindfulness in 2023, and will need to cherry pick examples to criticize. The danger of Buddhism being brought to young children cannot be half that of raising them blind to the destruction caused by capitalism and income inequality in this country. A spirited and intelligent debate on whether mindfulness and US style capitalism can coexist is something I would gladly tune in for.
PS. I too am not the least bit worried about the future of mindfulness. It'll be just fine.
I appreciated the article you shared and all the debate it created - well done! I have always appreciated the middle road, and a light touch - so I anticipate with great interest reading your next whack!
I think it's good to note that "Whack" and "Wack" have different meanings... I believe it should be "Mindfulness is Wack" meaning "wacky?" I have noticed a couple of comments on the same, and this grammar blog does a pretty good job of talking about the two words: https://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/the-wacky-world-of-wack-and-whack
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