Mindfulness Myth Will Make You Miserable

Mindfulness has gone mainstream. From education to healthcare, the corporate world to criminal justice, parliament to the military, this ancient Buddhist tradition has been reignited in the Western conscience as the old cure for modern ills. The practice encourages, mostly through meditation, the observation of present thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations in a non-judgemental way. By being more mindful, advocates argue we can develop life-changing skills to temper the stresses of the modern world and begin the journey to enlightened, healthy and happy existence. 

But critics argue the evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness is not strong. In a recent academic article, a number of psychologists and cognitive scientists warn that despite the hype, ‘misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead the public to be harmed, misled, and disappointed.’

There are no doubt certain benefits to meditation and being aware of one’s emotional state. But the mindfulness industry has co-opted these tools and over-promised their utility to sell us more stuff, from ‘mindful eating’ to wellness apps.

Far from making us happier, modern mindfulness is actually inhibiting us from tackling the real issues causing stress in our lives by trying to sell us internal solutions to external problems. If we are overworked and underpaid the problem isn’t our internal wrangling but the external conditions of our unfulfilling work life. Mindfulness tells us our problems are all in our head. But no amount of meditating can conceal the fact we may just need a new job. 

 

Sources & further reading:

The Problem With Mindfulness:

https://theconversation.com/the-problem-with-mindfulness-115648

The Mindfulness Conspiracy:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/14/the-mindfulness-conspiracy-capitalist-spirituality

 

Selfie: How We Became So Self Obsessed

We live in strange times. A generation of selfies and self harm. We create edited online personas of people seemingly living perfect lives. Yet behind the screens insecurity, vanity and depression are the defining characteristics of our culture.

People absorb culture like sponges. Every time we open our phones we internalize the competitive game of likes, retweets and follows as we strive to reach the false cultural concept of the — “perfect self” —  (why did I only get 12 likes on my last post?! I’m better that that!) and when we don’t receive positive, dopamine fueled feedback we hate ourselves for failing. Hence the recent spikes in self-harm, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and suicide can be attributed to this damaging culture of ‘social perfectionism.’

This is the argument of a brilliant new book by author Will Storr who traces our story of self obsession back to Ancient Greece and Aristotle. Storr describes how the Greek concept of “selfhood” was heavily based on individual self improvement and through the persistence of personal will one could obtain the optimal level of spiritual, mental, physical, and material being.

Fetishizing the self permeated the Western conscience ever since. Storr decides to live with monks in a secluded monastic settlement, enrolls in the infamous California retreat centre named the Esalen Institute where the “self-esteem” movement is said to have been born and finally stays with the tech evangelist entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley to try and piece together how the modern self was formed and how we can survive it.

This is a phenomenal exploration of Western culture and through Storr’s blend of interviews, personal reflection and analysis the book reads like a Louis Theroux documentary. There are times when chapters can feel verbose and Storr spends a third of the book discussing the Esalen Institute and the libertarian movement’s impact on the social and political direction of the 20th century. Yet it’s a book that has stuck with me a month after reading and opened my mind to the extent our motivations and opinions of ourselves are products of a deeply individualistic culture of perfectionism.  I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Selfie ohoto

The Beauty Myth: Time To Wake Up

Nothing in American culture has caused so many health problems as the Beauty Myth. The belief, due to media-crazed hype, that women must be painfully thin to be beautiful has caused both physical and mental distress for so many young women. The fact these issues are mostly ignored outside the medical community is an even larger problem. It is ignored because it affects mostly the half of the population that is thought to be unworthy of thought, women.

Using myself as an example; I have been on both sides of the weight issue and have been part of the problem. As a model in my teens and twenties, I was painfully thin and portrayed that image. I was also suffering from a common disorder among our young, anorexia nervosa. I counted every calorie, lived on salad almost exclusively, and exercised like a madwoman to maintain the weight expected of me. At five-foot-five (66 inches or 165.10 CM), that weight was an unhealthy low of one-hundred-ten pounds (50 KG); right off the BMI chart altogether at the low end. Normal weight for someone my height is roughly one-hundred-eighteen pounds (54 KG) up to one-hundred-forty-eight pounds (67 KG): and I strove to lower that even more.

 

Fast-forward to my forties, and I am attempting to find some relief from a lifetime of major depressive disorder. I was put on a medication called Remeron, a tetracyclic drug, used for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In six months I gained a whopping one-hundred-fifteen pounds (52 KG)! Suddenly I went from the normal end of the BMI chart to the obese domain. I was devastated, as you may imagine. My delayed research indicated that researchers don’t know why, but some medications can cause weight gain of up to twenty pounds a month and change your metabolism and the way your body stores nutrients. I have struggled for the past ten years to remove that weight, with little result.

I now have all the complications you would expect from being overweight: diabetes, high cholesterol, and self-esteem issues aplenty. As a teen suffering anorexia, my self-esteem has always been largely tied to my weight. I now live with “fat discrimination” and “body shaming” as a regular occurrence. One of my oldest friends does not believe that I don’t just sit on the couch, stuffing my face with pies, cakes, and cookies. I have
been called both a cow and a pig, especially by young men.

I have now seen both sides of the beauty myth coin and would like to call attention to them both. Neither extreme is healthy, either physically or mentally, for anyone, man or woman. For men, it is different. Men don’t live under the beauty myth’s focus. Not to say, by any means, that there aren’t young men whose self-esteem is tied to body weight and image, or suffer the debilitating effects of anorexia, there are, but it is far less common than it is for young women.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Many have medical issues that put them on one side or the other of a healthy weight to begin with. Most women do not meet the glorified ideal portrayed through the media naturally. We expect a young woman to be thin to be beautiful putting a tremendous strain and mental fixation on our youth. Who doesn’t want to be considered beautiful?

Especially in this media-driven, advertising society where beauty is worshiped more than any god. It forces young women who were not fortunate enough to be small-boned and low in body fat into being anorexic to fit that image, to fit in, to be good enough, loved enough. In the case of so many, like Karen Carpenter, a music icon of the seventies, it can lead to death, or at the very least, an unhealthy idea of eating. I know an eight-year-old girl whose mother put her into modeling.

She is already showing signs of developing anorexia, and she’s not alone. The age of development of these disorders drops every decade. Body shaming has become a common term because it is so prevalent in our society which is so enmeshed in social media.

The good part of social media is that people have become more aware of health and wellness. We have begun, as a culture, to educate ourselves about a healthy weight and how to achieve and maintain it. At least among some of the adult population. Our young women are still inundated by the media ideal of beauty being an unachievable or life threatening level of thin. It’s time we started to open our eyes to the problem of the “beauty myth” and start to break through it.

Michele is an American writer, a student of psychology, and a substitute teacher. You can follow her blog ‘a single step’ here: 

https://notasweknow.wordpress.com/