From intellectual purism to populist fashion following, there is an underlying assumption that if something is fashionable it is somehow less special. Take mindfulness, now all the rage in women’s magazines, we’ve got mindfulness colouring books in Foyles and Waterstones, it’s both lauded and derided in the national news.
My first instinct is to wrinkle my nose, that something as fundamentally basic as mindfulness can be packaged up and sold for profit, especially as I’ve been using it since 2012 to deal with emotional struggles.
And yet, if the population at large is interested in being more mindful – that is, paying more attention to what is actually happening rather than incessantly exerting the will of the rational mind, isn’t that a good thing?
Popularity suggests the thing is somehow polluted, diverging from its natural state. But no one should want to live in their ivory tower of intellectual purity, where the only good ideas are the ones hardly anyone knows about. Maybe we need to make our deal with the devil to ensure as many people as possible know about important life enhancing ideas like mindfulness, and hope that the central message doesn’t get too lost along the way.
However, the problem comes when we begin to translate the abstract into the physical, as happens when something becomes ‘fashion’.
Perhaps because for something to become popular it has necessarily been distributed by mass media and marketing, which is motivated by profit rather than the elevation of the soul and senses. Profit is usually driven by greed, and marketing achieves its goals by appealing to baser human motives like lust for sex, eternal youth, power.
But does mindfulness escape this charge? Perhaps it is no bad thing to wish for improved well-being by doing something that actually costs nothing: stopping for a moment, paying attention, perhaps meditating for some length of time. Indeed, the wellbeing industry is worth billions of pounds with books, spas, courses – you name it. We can indeed pay for happiness.
Perhaps, ultimately, it all depends on motive. If we, as individuals, seek wellbeing and we pay for it because we are striving to become better people, live more fulfilling lives and help others, then that is probably one of the best ways to spend our money. If we just want to consume wellbeing products as fuel to increase our productivity for its own sake, to buy more things and obtain that illusory security, then it’s all a huge scam.
When does something stop being intellectually pure and pass into consumerism? If I buy a book by Rousseau because I want to read about his ideas, carry it around and show it off on the tube, do I become a consumer of ideas and lose my integrity? Or is my motive still pure?
If I want to grow my beard because I enjoy facial hair, have the necessary masculine hormones to do so and I think it will be comely on me, does that make me a populist trend follower because beards are now in fashion? You can buy beard cards, beard manuals and beard baubles.
It’s hard to know where the person ends and capitalism begins, but we can go back to where we started and employ a bit of mindfulness.
Take a moment to disengage from the endless thoughts and impressions, reflexes to think about what is happening and the urge to do, think more, act, move. It’s like unhooking a heavy mental weight and suddenly you are aware but not thinking. All of your autonomy lies in this moment when you are no longer being washed along by ideas or urges. You can simply be, and realise it doesn’t matter.
Catherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature.