The term ‘mindful’ has become a powerful buzzword these days.
It’s being used to sell everything from $150 yoga pants, to tropical retreats, to detox diets.
Although it’s popularity in Western dialogue is more of a recent phenomena, different expressions of mindfulness have been practiced in cultures around the world for thousands of years.
Without all the stuff.
Believe it or not, people have been meditating for millennia without cell phone apps. They’ve been practicing yoga without Lululemon. They’ve even managed to survive without detoxifying green smoothies and wellness spas.
So why are we suddenly so obsessed with buying mindfulness? Why do we need all sorts of new gizmos and gadgets for wellness?
And marketing promises aside, can you really buy peace of mind?
Mindfulness has become big business
Who would have thought that one day, Silicon Valley- the very poster child of a high stress, fast-paced, and cut-throat business model would be funding Zen habits for Americans?
That’s right, home of start-ups, global tech development, and overworked employees is investing large sums of money into meditation and mindful projects.
Mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Simple Habit have received tens of millions of dollars in venture capital. The popular Headspace app founded by Buddhist monk turned entrepreneur Andy Puddicombe has so far received over $75.2 million of funding.
Giant corporations have also joining the mindfulness bandwagon. Google for example developed popular mindful leadership programs most notably Search Inside Yourself. Similarly, companies such as Intel, Aetna, Target, and General Mills, offer mindfulness programs and resources to their employees.
At quick glance, it would appear like many of the leaders in the American corporate culture are encouraging their employees to slow down and embrace a more meaningful, healthy, and sustainable lifestyle. But is this really the case?
Is their concern altruistic and founded in a hope of improving worker happiness and wellbeing? Or is it aimed at improving productivity and reducing stress-related sick days and workplace related health conditions? What about fulfilling a need to keep up with the times and maintain good public image? Or is it a combination of all of these, or something entirely different?
The commodification of mindfulness, whether as an app, product, or service, has raised numerous eyebrows and begs a few questions such as:
- Can you buy mindfulness?
- What’s the appeal in buying stuff to be more mindful?
- Can stuff actually make you more mindful?
What can mindfulness do for me?
Mindfulness has been neatly packaged for a western audience with an alluring promise that it can fix something in your life.
There’s a very strong emphasis in the modern movement placed on what mindfulness can do for you. What can this ancient wisdom cure or improve in your life? Some common themes include:
- How can mindfulness make you happier?
- How can mindfulness cure your stress, anxiety, or depression?
- How can mindfulness improve your love life?
- How can mindfulness make you thin, beautiful, calm, successful, and healthy?
- How can mindfulness make workers more productive and efficient at their jobs?
- How can mindfulness make you a better parent, partner, or lover?
Unlocking the secrets to the practice and fast tracking your way to mindful bliss is often glamourized by advertisements for mindful products and services. With endorsements from celebrities, pop culture icons, and references from quasi-related scientific journals, it would appear that mindfulness is a cure-all for all modern afflictions.
According to the ads, the key to your happiness and mental peace is available to you in just 5 minutes a day (and a monthly subscription or one in-app time purchase, no doctor needed). A trendy athleisure outfit will improve your concentration and meditative experience (at the cost of a well tailored suit). Wearable gadgets will monitor your activity levels and magically inspire you to change your lifestyle and brainwaves (because this device knows whats best for you).
Mindfulness, it would appear has become very in-style. Very fashionable. Very practical. It’s become a useful solution to all the challenges of modern life.
But at what cost?
What do you need to be mindful?
The short answer – nothing.
At most, just an open mind and an open heart. And most importantly, your breath.
But as for stuff, tangible items that are a prerequisite for your practice… nothing.
You don’t need anything for mindful practice. The irony is that the more stuff you have, often the more cluttered your mind is and the harder it can be to sit down and focus.
There are numerous kinds of meditation tools, both antique and modern that can help with your practice. Some traditional examples are:
- cushions to relieve physical discomforts
- instruments to invite sound
- candles, oils, and incense to bring scents
- wheels for improving memory and recitation; and
- malas for counting mantras
Yet these are mere tools, not necessities.
Modern meditative and mindfulness items have evolved from these humble tools to include things like cellphone apps, digital headbands, games, coloring books, jewelry, activity trackers, clothing lines, movie subscriptions, yoga accessories, kombucha and herbal elixirs, self-help books, trainings, and pricey exotic retreats.
It’s safe to say that the practice and simplified way of minimalistic living associated with traditional mindfulness has strayed quite far from its humble Buddhist roots.
Be cautious of so-called mindful products
If you’ve been looking to purchase something to help you deepen your meditation practice, do your research and be wary of the sales pitch.
Companies that offer these products or services rely heavily on the science of meditation to sell to their audience as opposed to the science behind what they’re selling.
Think about it.
A company that’s offering an app, a candle, or yoga mat might reference reputable scientific articles that demonstrate the healing and therapeutic benefits of mindful practice. What they’re not doing is referencing the literature that provides evidence that what they’re selling actually works.
For vulnerable populations, such as people who suffer from depression, apps claiming to fix or end depressive episodes can become dangerous. The wrong kind of advice can trigger a relapse, add more stress to an already difficult situation, or provide a false sense of treatment. Despite their widespread availability, the effectiveness of mental health apps remains inconclusive at best.
This isn’t to say that all products don’t work.
But buyer beware and do your homework.
Start with your breath
If you’re new to meditation and mindful practice, before you go loading up your cart with “mindful stuff”, take a moment to sit down with your breath.
Take some time to get used to your own breathing. Your own body. Your own mental landscape.
Don’t rush into buying lots of stuff. Too many physical possessions can create mental clutter (and drain your bank account). If you’re interested in making a purchase, do your research and read the fine print.
Also consider sourcing out a qualified teacher or community to help guide you along your journey.
Can you buy peace of mind?
Mindfulness has become part of a billion dollar global wellness enterprise.
In the West, it’s often seen as a solution to the challenges of modern day life and better health.
It’s used to sell a wide assortment of products and services across numerous industries from tech, to fitness, food, clothing, courses and much more.
Despite the marketing and publicity, the fact remains that mindfulness is available to any person, anywhere, at any time.
It doesn’t require you to possess a single thing or attend a specific workshop. It’s not about getting more done or fixing a part of your life.
Mindfulness is about being present – right here, right now. Wherever you are, whoever you are.
And so we return to billion dollar question – can you buy peace of mind?
What do you think?