The backlash of presence

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If you’re like me, you have a love and hate relationship with the mindfulness practice. It only seems to work when you’re actually doing it, at home in your chair far away from the chaos of life. The rest of your time you’re trying to install this moment-by-moment awareness into your real life to no avail. It’s both frustrating and hilarious.

The author of America the Anxious Ruth Whippman sums up the insidiousness of mindfulness in a recent op-ed in the New York Times:

“Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them. It’s a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.”

There are some benefits of meditation–it calls attention to our lack of focus. We’re all so easily distractable in the smartphone age. Instead of acting smug about inner-noticing and our failure of presence, perhaps the quickest path to emotional calm is to stop trying so hard to be here now in the first place.

“This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving. The problem is not your sky-high rent or meager paycheck, your cheating spouse or unfair boss or teetering pile of dirty dishes. The problem is you.”

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