ONE WISH FOR 2015: MINDFUL COMMON SENSE
When CBS’ “60 Minutes” covers the benefits of meditation for business creativity and productivity (at Google), we know mindfulness has gone mainstream. So much so, that on every self-respecting urban corner you can find a yoga studio or meditation center.
The Americanization of Eastern practices comes at a price. Gone are the philosophical commitments and the aspiration to transcendental other-worldliness that accompany these practices. In their stead, a heavy pragmatic diet of market-driven “measured outcomes” is offered in hourly sessions, with or without sweating.
Can you measure the benefits of mindfulness? It’s as ludicrous as measuring the outcome of college education. In both cases, only on one’s deathbed can one fully appreciate the benefits, the gifts that come with being mindful and/or educated.
The business-minded critic laughs at the thought of waiting till the dusk of life to reflect on one’s quality of life. He who has the most toys wins, no? Income and wealth are likewise easy ways of measuring and comparing oneself to others.
What would it look like to measure one’s quality of life in terms of mindfulness and education, that is, enlightenment? The cynic would answer: just see how long it takes for you to answer a question or make a decision; the longer the time interval, the more contemplative.
But of course this measurement is flawed because slowness in itself connotes nothing more than being slow: some are slow because they really think deeply before answering a question or making a decision, while others are just cognitively slow. How can we tell the difference?
Perhaps testimonies could do the trick: just ask the person what kind of slowness is being practiced. But as the psychologist Daniel Kahneman reminds us, we are prone to self-deception. In short, we can’t be trusted.
Maybe we don’t have to wait till we are on our deathbed to be reflective. Why can’t we actually practice mindfulness daily, and every time we are expected to answer a question or make a decision, we can become self-conscious of the fact that we are being mindful in the process.
Instead of taking stock of our life only once before we part from this world, we can do it all the time. Some meditate, some pray for the same reason—to stop the hustle and bustle of the daily grind and detach from small annoyances (and big ones) so as to see the big picture more clearly.
No wonder that we are prone to make New Year resolutions, promise to change our life. These promises are usually prompted by reflecting on what we did wrong in the past year, what we think is changeable, and what deserves our attention in the future.
Our reflection on past experiences is a sort of mindfulness that forces us to be honest with ourselves, self-police ourselves. Even when family and loved ones correct us, it’s up to us to act. This kind of mindfulness we cannot delegate or outsource; we can’t pay a yoga instructor to do what only we can accomplish.
Since political economists and businesspeople alike have historically claimed that their theories and principles are based on common-sense rather than speculation, they can endorse the kind of mindfulness advocated here. They believe that how we act and what we do in fact reflect on who we are.
You can’t be a “good guy,” as is commonly said about clients and vendors, partners and fellow-workers, unless you show it or prove it in your everyday work-ethic. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words, right?
If this is so, then mindful common-sense should be easy to accomplish. It’s not about Americanizing meditation practices, or turning board-meeting and sale-calls into awkward moments of silence.
Instead, mindfulness forces you to anticipate your own reactions and those of others, allows you to anticipate unintended consequences, and ensures that you see a continuous thread running from your past to your future, where the present is the only place you really occupy.
It makes sense to slow down, to think more carefully and critically about what you are about to say or do; it makes sense to retract a statement if wrong, and to compliment others when they say something smart or do something well. It also makes sense for you to be kind to yourself and count your blessings—they are all too many to recount.
As 2015 is about to begin, I implore everyone to be more philosophically-minded. It’s easier to do than you think; it’s more rewarding than anything else you regularly do; and if you practice it often enough, it’ll become second nature. Happy New Year!
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at email@example.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com