Mindfulness and its limitations in a neoliberal society

By Ronald E. Purser & Jack Petranker | May 13, 2018

It is not a sign of health to be well adjusted to a sick society”

 – Krishnamurti

Mindfulness, a practice with Buddhist roots but a contemporary secular face, is today found almost everywhere. From programs in schools, hospitals and prisons; to endorsements by celebrities; to monks, neuroscientists, and meditation coaches rubbing shoulders with CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it is clear that mindfulness has gone mainstream. Some have called it a mindfulness revolution.

There is much that is good in this. Thousands of people in all walks of life attest to the value of mindfulness in dealing with stress, anxiety, and burn-out, not to mention chronic pain, negative and buried emotions, and much more. The scientific evidence, though mixed, offers at least some support for such claims.

On the negative side, the evangelical promotion of mindfulness as a panacea for all that ails us has generated a backlash—a drumbeat of criticism suggesting that its claims for achieving happiness, well-being, and career success have been oversold.

More and more, a deeper critique is also being heard. Despite the good intentions with which it has been introduced and popularized, say the naysayers, mindfulness is increasingly used to prop up an economic and social order that instead needs to be fundamentally reformed.