Mindfulness: it’s not a career counselling service
Many things have been said about mindfulness. In fact, it’s the new buzz word of recent years as people seek methods to cope with increasing personal and professional stress or even to gain a competitive advantage in the work place.
A recent article in City AM provides for an interesting commentary on the mindfulness craze. In the author’s view, such practice should not be seen as a means by which someone will resolve the difficulties or challenges they face in their career. She then goes further and describes how we should rather focus on:
“improving our circumstances and getting rid of the problems that caused us the stress in the first place”.
Her solution to this incalculable dilemma is to develop the feeling of ‘awe’. Watching enormous waves roll in and break during a storm from a cliff in Portugal allows her to ‘respond to the world in richer ways’. Such existential experience is truly subjective, however to measure this against the practice and experience of mindfulness is totally off the beat.
Let’s be clear then – one thing mindfulness and other holistic practices are certainly not is a substitute for trying to solve one’s own fundamental issues about the difficulties or realities they face in their own choice of career. Going to a yoga class or retreat is not going to resolve the intense displeasure you may feel as being chained to your desk from 8 AM in the morning till 6 PM or later at night; it won’t resolve the dehumanising experience of having to sit in a large open plan office as your identity simply gets reduced to being a desk number in an organisation and it won’t resolve the issue of being ‘on-call’ 24/7, thanks to the invention of the ‘crackberry’. All of these are the unfortunate side effects of working in the corporate world. Feeling less stressed and more in control of your thoughts will not change this fact.
“Mind” you, neither though is sitting on a cliff watching a huge wave roll through, for that matter. It takes courage and bravery to change the course of one’s career – perhaps that experience of ‘awe’ will give you the motivation and inspiration to change the course of your career. More likely though, it will not.
Take the typical example: If you had a large family with a mortgage and school fees to pay, then a career change to something more holistic may simply not be an option; and I don’t think any mindfulness proponent has been putting forward that either. It may transform your view of the world and the sensations and feelings you experience, but changing your fundamental view about how you wish to work and what you want to achieve and do with your life, it will not.
Alternatively, being in nature may restore one’s soul, but equally the problems that you face outside of it will not go away either. If being in nature gives you that ‘lightbulb’ moment to make a career change, then that’s great, but it is ‘breathtakingly naive’, in the author’s own words, to suggest that mindfulness should be associated as a saviour or as means of finding enlightenment in one’s journey through their working life.
As Carlos Pomeda suggests:
“And the most important thing is not to create a false dichotomy between ‘my practice’ and ‘the rest of my life'”
‘Hatha Yoga: A springboard in Yoga Philosophy. Taking the first step off the yoga mat’. Quoted by Chloe Yates in Namaskar, April 2016.
The key to the practice of mindfulness, yoga and meditation is not to separate your practice from your daily life. Rather, to integrate them into everything you do, in order to make a meaningful difference. Viewing mindfulness and yoga as an independent practice, separate from your daily life, is bound to end in failure. It is no wonder the article totally misses the point.
With mindfulness and yoga being so prominent in the wellness scene, it is easy to see why such practices get inappropriately lumped into the same category as pain-numbing and mind-altering substances such as paracetamol, alcohol and drugs, with the same end result – temporary relief, whilst only scratching the surface. From this perspective, attending a mindfulness course and hoping to achieve ‘nirvana’ in your corporate job is the stuff of fantasy.. and delusion.