A recent article in the Washington Post on mindfulness turned up the flames of an ongoing debate in my mind about the "root" of mindful practices (Buddhism and the Vedic traditions) and modern mindful offerings. I will not debate the merits of the article in no small part because the author is entitled to his opinion on the evolution of mindfulness. As with almost anything I write about, I find my own feelings around the mindfulness debate to be worthy of exploration. What can I learn about my own judgments and biases in this space? (A question worthy of contemplation no matter the context.)
I often have my own internal struggle around what I view as "watered-down" Buddhism or spirituality in organizational environments. Part of this internal struggle arises from the fact that I am one of the people who teaches or imparts these "diluted" practices of mindfulness to organizations that under other circumstances would be reticent to explore mindfulness in its "root" form. To even say the word "Buddhism" in some venues creates such discomfort or disregard for the practice that it is best to avoid it altogether. Instead, we woo the audience with statistics and studies about increased effectiveness of even small (ten breaths, ten minutes) regular mindfulness practices. We hook them with facts, data, and analysis. We speak their language with "strategic" big pictures and paths to "success," even if that path really means more money, power, or influence - in many ways, the antithesis of the "root" practice.
Some days, I am energized by the impact mindfulness can have on a person, an audience, an entire society. Someone has an "a-ha" moment that changes that their life forever; entire groups of people are illuminated by empathy, compassion, and kindness for each other; whole communities or societies mindfully reach out to others in a time of need. On those days, I feel I have served my purpose and I know why I do what I do. I rejoice not only in the intention, but in the impact.
Other days, I'm disgusted...by myself, by the "industry," by the entire bastardization of the practice. I feel as if I have taken an ancient practice and given the self-absorbed even more selfishness and aggrandizement (money, power, influence). I have given them a "tool" to help them get through the tough times and then to discard as they see fit. I feel as if I have sold out my own spirituality in a quest to spread a message that will never be interpreted the right way. My intention may have been right but I feel the impact is so...wrong.
Therein lies my problem. What "right way"? Who am I to decide what is right and what is wrong? By assigning a righteous value to any given situation, idea, theory, person, statement, thought, passion, organization, society...am I not judging them for my own sake? Am I not straying from the "root" of my own practice by creating prejudice, fear, anger, and disgust around a reality that is exactly that - reality.
Over the course of my yogic studies, I have adopted many Buddhist practices but my spiritual beliefs have grown quite complex. Non-Dual Saiva Tantra speaks of Shiva, the unchanging, untouched supreme space-consciousness; and Shakti, the changing, immanently accessible supreme radiance activity.* Root and evolution - our creation energy. Shiva holds the space while Shakti explores and expands it. Shiva manifests as the root of mindfulness and Shakti as the modern mindfulness practice. Shiva could not exist without Shakti and vice versa. Not one or the other, not right or wrong, not good or bad. Both at the same time - "yoked" - in space. There is no dualism, there just is.
It's up to each of us to decide how we want to explore mindfulness and for what purpose. Our own awareness and consciousness around any perceived darkness is in itself the light we seek.
We must fail to succeed, we must fear and face the unknown before we can learn and grow, and we must accept and extend loving kindness to those on a path distinct from ours. We are all in this together. We are all exactly where we were meant to be.
*Reference: Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis