Can Mindfulness and Capitalism Coexist?

Author: Guest Author

“Capitalism will eventually corrupt this entire wellness movement, including meditation. We are bound to turn it into nothing more than a consumable product.”

So, said a friend of mine when I first told her that I had decided to try meditation. I am generally a very anxious person, especially when it comes to my work. I’m in a very tense, nervous state of mind, whenever I’m at work or doing anything work related. Hence my desire to try meditation. This was a few years ago; while meditation and mindfulness hadn’t become the huge fad they are today, they had begun to receive more and more attention. I made fun of my friend a bit that day, calling her a skeptic. But these days, as I look around the world that we live in, I can’t help but think that she might be right.

Mindfulness & Capitalism

A little background: I tried my hand at meditation around the time I had this conversation with my friend, Emily. I failed miserably. I decided that I wasn’t ready for meditation yet and would try again when I was. Years passed by before I tried meditation again and during those years, I observed how meditation and mindfulness became increasingly popular.

Actually, it was this entire wellness movement that was becoming popular: raw foods, spirulina, mindful eating, mindful sex… Before I knew it, this wonderful concept was quickly turning into an industry! The meditation and mindfulness apps, meditation retreats and centers, meditation books, websites, DVDs, employer programs… Wherever I looked, it was meditation, meditation, meditation.

“You’re exaggerating,” I told myself, “isn’t it a good thing that people are getting into something that’s beneficial for them. You’re probably only thinking this because of what Emily said.” But was I? There was only one way to answer that question. So, I dove into website after website, reading what various experts and journalists had to say on the matter. I quickly saw that Emily was right. What should’ve been a personal journey for one’s individual health had quickly been turned into a very profitable, not to mention exploitable market. A market that was valued at $1.2 billion in 2017.

The Diamond in the Rough

Realizing that Emily had been right was a little upsetting. It was also somewhat of a relief because it meant that I could finally stop feeling guilty about never managing to get into meditation. It was not that I had failed, I said to myself, I just hadn’t fallen for the mindfulness trap.

A couple of weeks later, Emily and I got together for a cup of coffee. I couldn’t not share my observations with her. “You were right,” I told her. “Everything meditation related out there is completely useless. It’s all just a marketing ploy.” Emily grew very quiet all of a sudden.

“You know,” she finally said, “I kind of think the opposite now,” she said, and I nearly choked on my coffee.

“The thing is,” she continued, “a large chunk of the wellness market is profit based and is completely part of the capitalist system. “But there are exceptions. There are places out there that have truly set out to help you. The diamonds in the rough, so to speak. It’s just a matter of finding them.”

She went on to talk about how despite meditation and mindfulness being commercialized, it was still possible for us as individuals to benefit personally and spiritually from these products. She had experienced this herself once she finally gave it a shot.

In light of my research, I found this a bit hard to believe though I also found it rather amusing that in the course of a few years she and I had completely switched positions. I had become the skeptic, whereas she had become… Naïve? Hopeful? Whatever it was, I was amused by the situation. So, I decided to listen.

Mindfulness & meditation as a guide, not a solution

From what Emily said, there were apps, books and meditation programs out there that actually did what they did to truly be of help to people. One of the apps she mentioned was Meditopia.

What made Meditopia different, Emily told me, was that it didn’t just aim to act as an instant pain relief or anti-stress method. It didn’t try to pretend that after just one meditation, all of your problems would be solved. Emily mentioned that this app had in fact challenged and pushed her to be patient with the process. It helped her get to the root of her anxiety, stress and feelings of self-doubt. After months of practice, she slowly started to uncover the root of her emotions, behaviors, and actions—she slowly felt herself making small shifts in how she lived and viewed things. Rather than the band-aid most products offered, she felt she had made sustainable progress.

“It’s truly helped me,” Emily told me. “It’s like having my own, personal therapist to put in the mental and emotional work on a daily basis.”

Giving Meditation a shot

Emily had managed to get into my head once again. My skepticism persisted for a couple of days, but I couldn’t help but wonder. The tiny voice in my head, the one that made me feel guilty about not persisting with meditation when it got a little difficult, kept asking: “What if she’s right?” I also kept wondering if it was useful to condemn any app, book, guide, or product that aimed to help with mental wellness. I realized it was kind of a catch 22 to reject anything that was commercialized; what else in my life was I willfully “buying” into that was still beneficial for me? I started looking at everything I have in my life and wondering if it was a bit hypocritical of me to use so many other products and services on a daily basis and reject a Meditation-based product just because of its initial intention.

Perhaps I was over-generalizing, and missing the point of what meditation could do for people if shared on a wider scale.

This is how I, once again, put my prejudices on hold and gave meditation another try. To be honest, when I first downloaded the app, I was figuratively rolling my eyes at how something that was supposed to be so spiritual and personal was being broken down into calls to action and download buttons.

When I started my first meditation, I was naturally a bit uncomfortable and fidgety. One of the first things that my guide  told me was that this was completely normal. Listening to her talk about how normal this was, how it would get easier in time helped put my mind at ease and my first meditation was over before I knew it.

Can a Meditation App Change Your Life?

Once I was done with the introductory meditations about how to actually meditate, I opened up a series on anxiety. Part of me wanted to prove Emily wrong. I thought that maybe it would be the same old, ‘take some deep breaths and calm down’ that you usually hear. This was not the case. The meditations in this series sought to specifically discover the underlying causes of my stress. I didn’t feel like I was being prescribed any specific solutions; rather, the solution was inside of me, and these meditations were merely guiding me toward understanding my triggers, emotions, and behaviors better.

Now, I’ve always attributed my nervous energy to work. Everyday as I would look at my TO DO list, I would feel the anxiety creeping up my chest into my throat. Some days I felt like I was taking short and shallow breaths all day long. The meditations in the series, however, prompted me to think about why it was that I was getting so anxious. After all, plenty of people lead busy work lives and they’re not half as stressed as I am.

In time, I came to realize that my anxiety when it came to my work stemmed from a deep-rooted fear of failure. I was so afraid of failing and letting my bosses, coworkers and myself down that I tried to rush through my work and couldn’t breathe until it was done. Becoming aware of this fear helped me become more aware of it and work on it. Change didn’t happen overnight, of course. It was and is still a gradual process. Every now and then, I still have the impulse to fly into panic mode at work. Though now that I know what causes it, I now actually address it and truly calm myself down.

It’s interesting to look back and see how my approach to meditation changed over the years though now I’m glad I’ve made this transition to focusing on the value and goal of meditation, rather than the medium.

I know this is a controversial topic and I’d welcome your thoughts and perspectives. I’ve certainly gone back and forth and can understand the hesitation many people may have in trying to transform oneself emotionally and spiritually using a smartphone app.

I look forward to reading your comments and ideas on this topic in the comments section below.

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