Thriving on Stress
July 28, 2019 1:12 PM   Subscribe

"Now, nobody can tell me when I’m done making up for lost time. Nobody can tell me how to spend my time. Nobody can tell me what I’m allowed to do inside my own skull." Taffy Brodesser-Akner on the opposite of mindfulness.
posted by Mchelly (60 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
A good topic to address, but too many “I”’s in the article.
posted by Melismata at 2:33 PM on July 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Having a busy schedule and a "messy" life is not subversive. Thich Nhat Hanh and Gwyneth Paltrow are not going to to come to your house and force you to meditate. Not meditating and not practicing mindfulness are pretty normal in the US, although it probably doesn't seem that way if you're spending your time interviewing actors. Tbh, she should probably stop listening to the wellness podcast. That is literally a voice in her head that can be turned off. I used to listen to a podcast called the Good Life Project, but then I started developing an allergy to the word creativity. Nurturing, so many people nurturing themselves, I couldn't listen anymore.

Anyway, the article is basically a humblebrag. It would be great if women could own their success without self-deprecation, but I guess that's not the world we live in.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:43 PM on July 28, 2019 [53 favorites]


Her new novel is good!! Check it out. Don’t judge by this article.
posted by lyssabee at 2:53 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


This article is great. Yeah my room isn’t spotless and my life is chaotic. Yeah my garden is weedy and my tomatoes are poorly pruned. But I’m happier and healthier then I’ve even been then when I’d tear myself apart inside for not being perfect and all together.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:06 PM on July 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


Having a busy schedule and a "messy" life is not subversive.

It kind of is, if you're busy doing creative or technical work, if you've pared down domestic labor to the bare minimum, if your schedule doesn't have a slot for yoga or cycling. That kind of thing is for men.

I'll take this kind of humblebragging over endless commentaries about the joys of running or swimming or meditating any day.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:35 PM on July 28, 2019 [30 favorites]


This resonated so hard. Because as a neurodivergent woman, yeah, actually, I am told all the goddamn time to slow down, to think less, to be more focused, be in the moment, be present, meditate, meditate, meditate. My doctors tell me to meditate, my teachers tell me to meditate, everywhere I look someone's telling me to be more mindful and I'll have such a happier, better life. It's become almost as ubiquitous as "eat better and exercise!" Sure, plenty of people aren't doing it, but we're all being told we should. That's self care!

The thing is, I don't take care of myself by meditating or slowing down. I take care of myself by stuffing my schedule full of things I love: reading, writing, creating art, petting my cat, eating good food, spending time with my family and friends, going on walks with my partner, going to church and craft meetups. I never stop and meditate because I always think, "Oh, but I could be doing xyz that brings me joy" and I do that thing instead. And because of this, I'm a pretty busy person, and therefore it's easy to drop or forget things or be super disorganized and distracted.

But I'm happy. Sure, I'm a queer disabled woman in Trump's America, working on a PhD in a field that's inherently hostile to my neurodivergence, waiting on MRI results to find out if my partner has a brain tumor, living paycheck to paycheck, but I've filled my life so much with love that my mental health is pretty damn good, actually. I know a huge part of that is privilege, and if I were a person of color or an immigrant or earned a few thousand dollars less a year and actually couldn't afford to eat, sure, I might not be. And if people in different situations from me find value in meditation and mindfulness, that's great! But I'm a little tired of having it plastered everywhere as This Thing Everyone Should Be Doing For Their Health, and at least where I live it definitely is. But meditation has never done anything for me (and I've tried it countless times). Doing, loving, being has.

Hm. I realize I just repeated this earlier comment of mine. I have definitely been told to meditate/be mindful/slow down way too many times since then.
posted by brook horse at 3:45 PM on July 28, 2019 [54 favorites]


I think it feels like a humblebrag because it is officially the Summer of Taffy Brodesser-Akner, so it kind of feels like "you may be calm, mindful and centered, but I spend my whole messy life walking around in a cloud of gold dust and accolades, so why don't you meditate on that, bitch?" Whereas the rest of us are not mindful or yogafied and also don't have best-selling novels or much-talked-about-profiles-of-Gwyneth-Paltrow out, and "I'm a mess and also not especially successful" is a much less compelling article.

I do have one of those glitter jars, for what it's worth, and I love it. I don't know if it makes me mindful, but it's really pretty.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:54 PM on July 28, 2019 [23 favorites]


Mindful or messy, these how-to-be narratives are too narrow.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2019 [19 favorites]


Once or twice I forgot to drive the carpool. Just think about that for a minute. Once or twice, I left children waiting for me to pick them up, and I sat, unaware they were waiting.

The thing about carpooling is that some of those were someone else's kids she'd left out there, waiting to be picked up.

I'd be fine with the whole "Screw it, I do what I want and it works out" approach if there weren't other people involved. I'd hate for anyone I rely on to take this attitude. If you're walking out on dinner to go work, or your children are late to the games and the coach has to figure out what to do, and some other family's plans have gotten more complicated because they were counting on you to bring their kids home in time for something, it's an indication that you have too much on your plate.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2019 [25 favorites]


I know Freud has been pretty much deprecated, but to me it breaks down between anal retentive / repulsive types... me, there is just no way I would have everything under control, it is a deep affront to who I am. Yes, those are all my clothes on the floor, why do you ask? No, I do not have a hamper.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:40 PM on July 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'd hate for anyone I rely on to take this attitude.

For me, the appeal of the meditation/mindfulness craze is due to an overscheduled childhood run by an overscheduled, extroverted, ambitious, extremely social, Taffy-like parent. When you’re a kid it’s hard to understand why your parent is often over an hour late to pick you up. It’s hard for people who really value free time to understand why the perennially-stressed, late, busy people don’t just say “no” a little more often. But then so much of this is about personality, so much can’t be separated from gender, economic inequality, etc.
posted by sallybrown at 4:57 PM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


I know Freud has been pretty much deprecated, but to me it breaks down between anal retentive / repulsive types.

I don't think Freud had any such theory, btw
posted by thelonius at 4:59 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Telling women to think less is a political act and it sure isn‘t liberating. I usually get it from guys losing an argument but sure, it might also come from yoga teachers.

Reminded me a bit of the church lady who would always emphasize how she leaves her anger at home when she enters the church and I thought to myself, if God can‘t even deal with me being angry, why do I come here? (I stopped going and likewise wouldn‘t enjoy ‚mindfulness‘ exercises).

Anyway and more to the point, I don‘t see how being mindful or scattered determines your productivity. It seems some productive people are very mindful. Others are a disorganized mess.

The fundamental problem seems to be with identifying your value as a human being with your productivity, no matter how it comes about.
posted by The Toad at 5:04 PM on July 28, 2019 [18 favorites]


This article is why the phrase "weird flex, but okay" was invented.
posted by Reyturner at 5:34 PM on July 28, 2019 [33 favorites]


We sure hate when women become too successful and/or talk about themselves

I think this essay will strike a chord with a lot of women who take a lot of shit (internally and/or externally) for not having Instagram lives, and I think it's scary and brave at this point to admit to any sort of imperfect mothering/wifeing in public, because it's pretty much guaranteed that someone's going to call CPS on her for missing a soccer game.

If more people were comfortable admitting to living this quite normal life, it wouldn't feel so extraordinary to write an essay about it.

I do think "mindfulness" and meditation is becoming a thing right up there with "wellness": a product that exists to combat the anxiety of (and manufactured by) capitalism. (Not my original idea, example.) When doctors are telling women to meditate instead of use pain management because women's pain isn't real, when employers use "meditation breaks" as a way to drive performative (and competitive) loyalty, when taking ten minutes to yourself has to be given a special name because you're a woman and your time belongs to other people unless you justify its use for yourself, it's fine and excellent for pop culture to take some shots at it.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:45 PM on July 28, 2019 [33 favorites]


I don't think Freud had any such theory, btw

He actually does, but it's anal retentive versus anal expulsive. I assumed this was a typo.
posted by sciatrix at 5:53 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Nah it was just wooly memory but thank you for the assist sciatrix!
posted by Meatbomb at 6:09 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Whenever I read stuff like this I want to introduce the writer to some of the female Buddhist monastics I've met. They would chew Gwenyth Paltrow up and spit her out, let me tell you.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:01 PM on July 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


Whatever brand of "mindfulness" that she's talking about here is I think much different from the mindfulness that I learned about but it's definitely getting an unfair wrap here. Mindfulness isn't about teaching yourself not to think or teaching yourself to think slowly or teaching yourself not to be a writer and to not have ideas. It's just about taking a little bit of time to practice being in control of your mind instead of letting everything you perceive push you around.

I am definitely not one of these beautiful shiny-haired mega-women who are Doing It All and Doing It All With Yoga And 100% Better Than You and Part Of The Cult That Will Never Let You In (TM), I definitely don't know any and I absolutely don't care if people are interested in mindfulness or not but I wish people wouldn't conflate the two. She's talking about a very old idea being co-opted into yet another pile of bullshit our culture can use to oppress women. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I am pretty scrappy and I let things slide and I'm winging it and my hair is usually pretty frizzy and I have all kinds of interesting thoughts too. I don't throw my thoughts away or stop them from coming. AND I practice mindfulness AND I think it's a valuable tool in the toolbox of life.

I mean, maybe try to read a book about something before writing a whole big thing about how much you don't know about it? Because this?
But sometimes I feel sun on my face for the first time in the spring. Or I notice that the dogwood tree has bloomed. Sometimes I watch my 11-year-old read, his eyes blinking every few minutes. I do this on my schedule. I do not preempt anything else for it.

The point of mindfulness is to help you practice so that you can experience these moments when they come up. It's not supposed to be "Now is your contemplation time and you may not contemplate at any other time." That's just not what it is.
posted by bleep at 7:07 PM on July 28, 2019 [58 favorites]


I like this article. Being proud of your accomplishments that have been a long time coming, owning up to "imperfect parenting," recognizing the importance or necessity of prioritizing your own work above just about everything else sometimes, noticing the importance of just getting on with living. I feel like my wife has expressed a lot of these sentiments as she's come to realize them in the past couple of years too, and she seems happier for it. Which isn't to say I don't get pissed when I find out five minutes after it's time to leave that she won't be home for her turn to take the eldest to swim practice after all, and now I need to rush out the door with the whole household in tow. But I get over it, we're all trying to do the best we can.

I take one of her points to be that there is a lot of self-care talk in our culture right now (possibly even more talk than there is actual self-care) and you'd be just as good or better off getting on with your life as you would investing your time in it. Everything in moderation, including self-care. Better to be comfortable as you are now than to feel like you constantly have to work to be some kind of idealized you. Especially if you don't particularly feel like you are suffering to begin with. Maybe I'm reading too much into that, though.

I don't personally buy the "maintaining a frenetic state is the key to my creativity" argument. To me it sounds too much like the "I must keep using because it is the key to my creativity" argument. I think people tend to find that, when they change their ways, it turns out that their creativity is more resilient than they gave it credit for, and now they are just plain better off than they were before. But hey, if it ain't broke.
posted by teh_boy at 7:42 PM on July 28, 2019


The thing about carpooling is that some of those were someone else's kids she'd left out there, waiting to be picked up.

I'd be fine with the whole "Screw it, I do what I want and it works out" approach if there weren't other people involved. I'd hate for anyone I rely on to take this attitude.


I didn't get the sense that she was saying she forgot the carpool because it's a sign of her new freedom - to me it was saying, this only works for her up to a point, but when it doesn't, she fucks up in ways that she's deeply ashamed of.

This piece resonated with me because I'm someone who can't turn my own brain off, ever. And when I've tried deep breathing and other "mindful" exercises, I find that the closest I can come to emptying my mind is thinking the words "now I'm supposed to be emptying my mind, and now I'm thinking about my breathing and now I'm ignoring that the floor is uncomfortable and now..." while singing along the lyrics to whatever song I heard last. And it was good to see that reframed as healthy or at least differently-enlightened, rather than a sign that I'll never reach the "better," "connected" (Buddhist?) place that genuinely intelligent or soulful people strive for.

If all i got from this is a messy mind can also spark joy, I'm all for it.
posted by Mchelly at 8:22 PM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


Whatever brand of "mindfulness" that she's talking about here is I think much different from the mindfulness that I learned about but it's definitely getting an unfair wrap here. Mindfulness isn't about teaching yourself not to think or teaching yourself to think slowly or teaching yourself not to be a writer and to not have ideas. It's just about taking a little bit of time to practice being in control of your mind instead of letting everything you perceive push you around.

Completely agreed, bleep. It just feels like the entire article is her grappling with this absurd, ill-informed version of what mindfulness actually means. Sure, it has a subjective meaning, I suppose, but she acts like if she were to make a serious effort at a regular mindfulness practice she would be unable to still have spontaneous thought and creativity.

Also, it's great for her that her job is the type that benefits from allowing yourself to go wherever your mind takes you, but I'd say that's generally not true of most people's work. Personally, even when doing tasks/work that I enjoy, I know that if I'm having a lot of anxiety about other aspects of my life, or even excitement about something in the future, I can be completely useless. Mindfulness practices have helped me to reign in these occasional fixations (which I think a vast majority of people experience from time-to-time) and return to a state where I can focus on what I actually want to focus on.
posted by unid41 at 8:42 PM on July 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


I skimmed the essay, reading the last paragraphs in full. It feels like she skimmed the practice of mindfulness. Agree with bleep above that the author is conflating this co-opted, white-washed, self-care movement with a very simple, ages old tradition. She is being mindful when she describes noticing her kids or the dogwood. I bet when she's writing, she's in the flow of mindfulness and creativity. I mean, I get what she's trying to say, but mindfulness isn't the catchall term for what she's railing against, in fact.
posted by jj's.mama at 8:48 PM on July 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


This article just comes off as defensive as hell. I mean, I mostly liked it, but like, damn man. If you don't want to meditate, that's cool. Maybe you should stop going to yoga.

I feel like all of us eventually have a moment of self acceptance, or maybe multiple moments for multiple issues, moments like "you know what? I'll probably always be 5-15 pounds overweight and won't ever look a-ma-zing in a bikini and I actually don't care, like at all." Or whatever. I guess for her it's about mindfulness.
posted by salvia at 9:35 PM on July 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


I don't stan this lady, but why is it we are willing to see that women are pressured to do all kinds of stupid stuff in ways they can't just dismiss out of hand in other areas and not here? Just because it may not be the kind of social pressure you personally experience doesn't mean it doesn't exist. (I recognize it--from afar--as something I yelled "fuuuuuuuuck no" to and opted out of at considerable cost, but many of my friends are in its toils, and I can't say it doesn't lurk down the alleys of certain potential futures of mine.)
posted by praemunire at 10:42 PM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


That social pressure exists but she's blaming the whole concept of mindfulness which is wrong both in the sense of being incorrect and in the sense of something you shouldn't do. If she wants to complain about social pressure and an over-emphasis on performing femininity and the damaging practices of co-opting and white-washing ancient practices I'll be right there. If she actually makes an effort to find out what mindfulness is first.
posted by bleep at 10:51 PM on July 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


f she wants to complain about social pressure and an over-emphasis on performing femininity and the damaging practices of co-opting and white-washing ancient practices I'll be right there. If she actually makes an effort to find out what mindfulness is first.

Doesn't sound like half the people pressuring her did their homework re: mindfulness, so it's a bit of a double standard at play here. She's being pressured into some bullshit, and that bullshit is sold to her as mindfulness. So she rails against mindfulness. If you have a "but that's not REAL mindfulness she has a problem with!" complaint, it should maybe go to the huge swathe of society pushing just-so bullshit (whether the Instagram variety, or the corporate productivity bullshit variety, or whatever else) and calling it mindfulness.

The bullshit is called mindfulness often enough that, if you accept any degree of linguistic descriptivism over pure prescriptivism, you have to accept that it is one of the things that 'mindfulness' means at this point.
posted by Dysk at 1:34 AM on July 29, 2019 [21 favorites]


why is it we are willing to see that women are pressured to do all kinds of stupid stuff in ways they can't just dismiss out of hand in other areas and not here?

I think because it just misses the mark somehow in the way it's written -- simultaneously overgeneral and inaccurate (about mindfulness) and also really specific? Kind of helter skelter in the points she pulls in? Off-putting in the humblebrag aspects?

I'm not sure, but I do know that I didn't find it super-compelling or -relatable despite having spent about a decade going to yoga in Berkeley. How'd I miss this heavy-handed pressure to meditate and be regimented? Is this something I'd have to subscribe to Real Simple magazine to understand?

Its thesis isn't actually, "here is something that afflicts many women;" it's more "I'm super successful despite rejecting this thing that I'm not describing with all that much precision." If she's going to boldly claim that there's this new (??)* pressure to be a Highly Regimented Woman, I kinda feel like it's on her to describe that phenomenon clearly.

Instead, she conflates predictability / routine and mindfulness. She pulls in failing at high school and working a soulless job and foreboding stuff about the days of our lives being numbered.

Supposedly, her highly disorganized life supports her in creating the work she wants to do -- so then why does this essay feel so scattershot and imprecise? Maybe a little regimentation would've helped this essay?

(* And is it new? I wouldn't be surprised if this regimentation is the latest version of the science of home economics taught in the 50s and 60s, and if yoga and meditation are the latest version of cotillion and finishing school (teaching women to appear effortlessly graceful even if they must work triple hard behind the scenes to achieve it). I'm sure someone who took American Studies could explain this more accurately.)

I hope I don't sound like I hate this essay. I mostly enjoyed reading it. I just feel like she has a few points in here that I'd love to see developed more clearly.
posted by salvia at 2:22 AM on July 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


When I went to a Yoga class, the teacher asked me to focus on my posture! Seriously, I couldn't believe it. I've slouched my whole life and it's gotten me where I am today! Slouching is a way to relieve the conditions of stress by having others expect less of you. It's a signal that I'm not one to be asked for extra measures since I can't even be bothered to sit up straight.

Don't believe me? Just imagine there's something of great importance to be done, are you gonna ask the guy who's got his chair tipped back and one leg over an armrest or the guy who's sitting completely erect, feet on the ground, looking like he's ready to jump at a moments notice? How about the guy walking around with his head slumped as if he's scanning the ground for spare change compared to Peter Perfectposture strutting about with his head on the level making eye contact with everyone? It's no question that Slouchy McSlouchypants isn't gonna get asked for much extra effort on any occasion as he'll undoubtedly be a low energy wishy-washy fellow, so why bother when Mr. Bolt-Upright is around? It's been an enormous time and stress saver and doesn't hurt in the spare change department either.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:38 AM on July 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


I think it's possible for all of us in this thread to have different perceptions of what mindfulness is, how useful it is to us and to others, the extent to which it's being presented as a solution to any number of problems, and whether you feel "pushed" into it.

Anecdotally from my left-leaning, Guardian-reading, app-using corner of the UK: yes, I really do think that mindfulness is increasingly being presented as a solution to lots of problems, not merely by "influencers" but also by large companies and the government. And as Dysk says, there are many different images of mindfulness being presented and sold, and what one person might see and be OK with is completely different with what others see. That's without making any value judgements about whatever strain of mindfulness you subscribe to.

tl,dr: YMMV
posted by adrianhon at 2:48 AM on July 29, 2019 [7 favorites]


Speaking personally, I have a live and let live approach to mindfulness. I'm not sure it's for me but I recognise that I enjoy some of the same ideas when I go out swimming or running, and I totally get that it's really valuable for an awful lot of people.

The pushback in this article and others, IMO, is the result of some people feeling a bit grouchy about being told of this awesome new practice that you really must do because it'll change your life – and if you don't take it up then you must be stubborn and unwilling to help yourself!

I can't point to any single culprit (certainly not in this thread) that is causing this feeling in me, it's more the tendency that capitalism and advertising has to want to sell the shit out of anything "new" – and yes, I know mindfulness isn't technically new – and so I'm seeing it in my App Store and on posters and in book stores and newspapers and such, in much more simplistic/extreme/warped forms of "real" mindfulness. So forgive us mindfulness abstainers for the occasional bout of grouchiness, even if in this case it is mixed with a bit of flexing.
posted by adrianhon at 2:58 AM on July 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


Anecdotally from my left-leaning, Guardian-reading, app-using corner of the UK: yes, I really do think that mindfulness is increasingly being presented as a solution to lots of problems, not merely by "influencers" but also by large companies and the government.

I don't read the Guardian or use Apps much, but this, a thousand times.

You know how you can totally understand when someone with some kind of mental health issue goes "...and if one more person tells me to try fucking yoga..." or similar, because of how overexposed to two-dimensional misunderstandings of yoga we all are, and how it's pushed as a catch-all solution to, well everything, because that's cheaper than providing meaningful healthcare, and makes it the sufferer's responsibility to boot? This is exactly the same thing, except it's pushed even more broadly if anything. You might not be suffering from anything more specific than life under late-stage capitalism, but boy howdy if the solution isn't to be more Mindful(TM) and do some meditation and live in the moment, never to address any of the structural issues causing widespread dissatisfaction.
posted by Dysk at 3:23 AM on July 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


I just want to call out this conceit of rhetorically using reality to trump theory when this entire paragraph is itself theorizing:

Here is the thing about mindfulness and routine and slowness: They are great in theory, but when they become more important than the things they were supposed to provide you, they are a danger. They can drown out the voices that are telling you how to live, and that’s what I’m afraid of. These thoughts that everyone is spending so much time trying to chase away—they’re gifts. They are blessings. They are the thing that makes us alive.

The author is a poor theorist, is explicitly anti-science, uses a straw-person definition of mindfulness, thinks skipping showers is a counterexample to people who use mindfulness techniques to cope with mental health issues such as intrusive traumatic thoughts. This explains why they're hired to write for the Magazine.
posted by polymodus at 3:59 AM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


And on that note, I've never really meditated before and I'll make a point of trying it some time during the week. When I have time.
posted by polymodus at 4:01 AM on July 29, 2019


is explicitly anti-science
What do you gather that from?
posted by peacheater at 4:11 AM on July 29, 2019



We sure hate when women become too successful and/or talk about themselves


To be fair, I'm getting tired of everyone talking so much about themselves constantly on every medium imaginable and/or creating new media to do so.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:27 AM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


is explicitly anti-science
What do you gather that from?


I imagine from this bit for the explicitly, but the overall article for choosing to ignore that aspect.

There are studies that show that meditation works, that people thrive in routine. That there is no such thing as multitasking.

They never study me, though. They never ask me questions about what the cost-benefit analysis of all this living is. If they did, I’d tell them that it is none of their business.


To me, it's more that the article comes from a place of serious privilege, as it is pretty strongly tied to the idea of the work being meaningfully compelling instead of just work, relying on those 90,000 words for the New York Times to do a big part of the lifting for not wanting to allow "the moment" to interfere with the writing. If they worked instead for the DMV and was allowing her attention to drift to deciding how to set the stanchions, the wording for the signs directing people to each station or whether they remembered to requisition enough office supplies and rolls of numbered tickets for people to hold, the allure of the claims would seem lesser to most readers.

The author is more or less happy with their life as it is, that's great! But the article doesn't really say much about mindfulness, doesn't suggest the author has really experienced it as a base of comparison, and kinda reads like a "I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan" style boast that was/is sometimes wielded against women who suggest there is an unfair imbalance in their lives, with a dash of "I don't have a thinking problem, I could be mindful any time I wanted" maybe thrown in for good measure.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:43 AM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


They are great in theory, but when they become more important than the things they were supposed to provide you, they are a danger.

There are a zillion forms of mindfulness practice, but the one I was trained in isn't supposed to provide anything. A teacher from yet a different tradition refers to this as "spiritual materialism". Besides, to me asking if someone has "tried mindfulness" to fix their problems is right up there with asking if people have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Let people assess their spiritual or contemplative needs on their own. My input is not necessary.

So, she can 100% do what she wants and whatever she's doing it is clearly working for her. My life is a hot mess most of the time and I'm not writing best-sellers out the other end of it, either. I'm just surviving, the best I know how (which is often not great and sometimes downright disastrous). I just wish the backlash against "mindfulness" would instead take the form of a more explicit backlash against spiritual materialism instead of perpetuating the same misuse and misapplication of the term.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:32 AM on July 29, 2019 [7 favorites]


The part I related to in the article was how there's a pretty pervasive assumption nowadays that being a creature of habit and living within a very structured routine is a good thing. That routines and extremely high levels of predictability, rigidity and structure are signs of success and to be aspired to.

Routines like that (you must do X every morning, you must do Y every Saturday, ABC are how things are always done, etc) feel suffocating and demoralizing to me. Like instead of a human animal, suddenly I'm just Sisyphus, doomed to spend my life rolling one rock or another.

Of course irresponsibility can be aggravating, of course chaos can be stressful, of course some routines are necessary and some happy little rituals also form organically and you keep on keeping to them for the pleasure of it. But it used to be that if you were absolutely mired in routine, the assumption was that you were in a rut, that you needed to free your mind (and your soul). Now it's like even the inside of your mind is supposed to be disciplined and regimented and tidy, let alone the rest of your life (and your soul, too, I guess).

I relate to the author in that I don't thrive on predictability and structure and routine and discipline, I thrive on change and freedom and creativity and agility -- I'm happier and, yes, phenomenally more productive in that sort of environment. Even though there seems to be a message now that that's subversive.
posted by rue72 at 7:55 AM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think where some of us are having issues is that the "mindfulness" she's describing is not mindfulness, but capitalism-disguised-as-mindfulness (plus patriarchy, when applied to women in this way), which is TOTALLY a thing that's getting pushed on everyone and a lot on women in gendered ways ("Boost your productivity through meditation!" "Stop fighting against the patriarchy by focusing on the moment!" "Do everything perfectly all the time so that you look perfect all the time!" "Stop thinking about politics because you will damage your children by not being present with them at all moments!") but which is also pretty much the exact opposite of what true mindfulness is, which can be about accepting all the wonderful imperfections that make you you and also about tuning into your own values to gain the clarity to fight against injustice.

So I 100% agree with her about the societal pressures, and I agree that they're often wrapped in the label of "mindfulness," but I wish she had gone that one step further in analyzing where those pressures are actually coming from. I think the essay would have been stronger for it.
posted by lazuli at 7:57 AM on July 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


That was exhausting to read. I'm overcome with sadness for her because it must suck to feel you've got to defend your way of being in the world so vigorously.

She is an unfortunate byproduct of how mindfulness has been packaged here, as mentioned above. I'm never going to tell someone how to live, but when you divorce Buddhism and its ethical component from the practice of mindfulness, all you get is ten minutes where you try to control your mind. As anyone acquainted with Buddhism knows, that is precisely the opposite of the point, and in fact trying to control things leads to suffering.

I'm a mess too, and mindfulness allowed me to live in the mess and accept it, to change it on whatever terms I so choose, and to understand that it's okay to not run everything all the time. I don't ignore my thoughts. I see them. I understand them. I accept them. It's about observation, not control. And when you boil every last shred of it down to base, it's about accepting your mess so that you can help others with theirs. It's about compassion, not acquisition of a state. Spiritual materialism. I couldn't have put it better myself.

It's very disappointing that capitalism so cavalierly uprooted the practice from its source. I run the risk of sounding arrogant and that's really not my intention, but I hope she finds a way to actually accept her way of living so that she doesn't feel the need to make a preemptive strike against something she doesn't actually understand, and I hope that even in its warped state, that mindfulness more generally finds a way to people in its unadulterated form rather than this strange misshapen thing we are saddled with now.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


I'm overcome with sadness for her because it must suck to feel you've got to defend your way of being in the world so vigorously.

I don't say this at all flippantly: welcome to the reality of women.
posted by cooker girl at 8:29 AM on July 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


Oh, I just had a chance to actually read this piece. Yes. Of course this resonates. Yes.

This resonated so hard. Because as a neurodivergent woman, yeah, actually, I am told all the goddamn time to slow down, to think less, to be more focused, be in the moment, be present, meditate, meditate, meditate. My doctors tell me to meditate, my teachers tell me to meditate, everywhere I look someone's telling me to be more mindful and I'll have such a happier, better life.

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Now, nobody can tell me when I’m done making up for lost time. Nobody can tell me how to spend my time. Nobody can tell me what I’m allowed to do inside my own skull.

yes. yes, yes, yes.

I missed the FPP brook horse mentioned in her previous comment from earlier in the month, but I've certainly spun off my own furious rants about mindfulness here in the past. The people who promote this shit do it, in my experience, as a one-size-fits-all cure to all your ailments, whether or not those ailments are actually anything you have any fucking control over. (Oh, brook horse, one PhD to another: boy does that list of disasters resonate. My current joy is having just gotten my house put back together after the flood we had in early May; who has time to meditate when you have garbage everywhere and rotting furniture and nowhere to put anything and a pica cat gnawing through every piece of fabric anyone owns? And yet you would be astonished how often, when I try to get support or even just commiseration over that shit, people tell me to just be in the moment more. No! The moment is often shitty! I don't want to be in this moment, I want to be in the moment when I've done something that will bring me some fucking joy, because this moment is shitty and boring and horrible, and if I just think very hard about a future moment, I can motivate myself to get there, dammit.)

Mindfulness. It's the no true scotsman of self help, and of asking for help from stress more generally. It is poisoned, and all you saying "oh, well, they're just doing it wrong"--well, fine, tell me why I keep getting this "oh, well, just meditate/be mindful/spend some time in the meditation room" bullshit from actual fucking therapists, before I get so much as an acknowledgement that the circumstances I am in are actually contributing to the underlying stress and that it's not my fucking fault that these things are happening! Mindfulness has become a comforting illusion of control--if only I could make myself more present, miraculously I would be a different person, one who could handle external stresses with equiminanity--and of course, more present, more present, focus more, pay attention, be in this moment: I can't think of anything more torturous and difficult to make my goddamn brain try to do!

Emptying my brain leads me to numbness and paralysis. If that's not so for you, reader, I am overjoyed for you, but it's not like that for me, and it never has been, and from observation my brain ain't unique but it's not exactly common either, so please fucking trust me when I tell you what does and does not work for me. Mindfulness advocates never seem to do this, never seem to listen when I try to explain that "let go of all thoughts" winds up playing a game of fuckin' whack-a-mole, that I get more and more upset and disturbed the more I try to tidy my mind away without giving it anything to hold on to, that it winds up being--it's like a sensory deprivation tank. Some people might find those freeing; I just feel unmoored and falling.

And that should be okay, but it's not, and there's no fucking model for clawing your way out of stressful and exhausting and grief-stricken circumstances without stress and pain because the sources of that pain aren't always internal. Not all emotions and frustrations I experience start with me! We need to have other ways of dealing with these pressures and manage the chaos of our lives without focusing so heavily on ourselves and pretending so hard that we are capable of individualistically controlling things.

And that is the way mindfulness is sold to many of us. If that's a perversion of the original practice, well, it sucks to be trying to justify something that is helpful to you, but the no-true-Scotsman arguments have the same general effect as responding to complaints about Christian hegemony and attempts at fundamentalist theocracy by insisting that Christianity is really about loving your neighbour and no true Christian would do any of those things. It's your job to speak to your mindfulness-touting kinsfolk, people, not mine as an innocent bystander trying to seek support and help generally. You might have a hammer, but my problem isn't a nail: learn to beat your hammer into a plowshare, and then come talk to me. In the meantime, perhaps you could speak to all the people who keep trying to help me sow my fields with hammers every time I lament the effort that doing it by hand takes.
posted by sciatrix at 8:54 AM on July 29, 2019 [17 favorites]


It is poisoned, and all you saying "oh, well, they're just doing it wrong"--well, fine, tell me why I keep getting this "oh, well, just meditate/be mindful/spend some time in the meditation room" bullshit from actual fucking therapists, before I get so much as an acknowledgement that the circumstances I am in are actually contributing to the underlying stress and that it's not my fucking fault that these things are happening!

Because therapists are just as prone (possibly more so) to accepting neoliberal capitalist-based paradigms as anyone else and we need to encourage them/us (I'm a therapist) to go deeper, which is why I want essays like this to also go deeper. A friend posted something on my Facebook wall a bit ago that said, "While trauma-informed therapy is important, social-justice-informed therapy is even more important. One cannot fully practice trauma-informed therapy without understanding the trauma of social injustice." We HAVE to train therapists in social justice, and we (as a profession) have to hold ourselves accountable to considering social justice and overall contexts/society/power-dynamics when working with individual clients. And we have to be on the front lines pushing to FIX the societal injustices, because mental health cannot truly exist in a sick society. And we DEFINITELY need to stop blaming clients -- implicitly or explicitly -- for having completely normal human reactions to traumatic, dehumanizing, and uncontrollable situations.

We can also work with clients to develop coping skills, and we should do that, but we should never pretend that coping skills are a just way of dealing with injustice. We always must explicitly acknowledge the injustice, which requires having the clarity and training to SEE the injustice in the first place, and we must work outside of our offices to fix those injustices.

Teaching coping skills, mindfulness based or not, can be a powerful way to help an individual take some control back, a way to get some breathing room to regroup, but the next step always has to be, "And now we work on changing the circumstances that are causing the problem." Focusing on only the first step is cruel and victim-blaming.
posted by lazuli at 9:28 AM on July 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


It's funny that this is published in Real Simple, a magazine that generally sells pseudo peace from things like clearing out the clutter, meditating, and drinking organic tea ($7/box) under an all-natural wool throw ($127). Just Ten Minutes of Morning Stretches Can Give Your Whole Day a Boost.
posted by salvia at 9:53 AM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


the next step always has to be, "And now we work on changing the circumstances that are causing the problem." Focusing on only the first step is cruel and victim-blaming.

I feel like my problem has been... what happens when the circumstances causing the problem aren't within the patient's control? Like, underlying issues for me have been deeply exacerbated by repeated and long-term disturbances to my living situation caused by local natural disasters and climate change, combined with a low discretionary income and a bunch of systemic shit. Some of that is in my control, but there's an awful lot that just isn't, and there's an awful lot that is... well, do you spend money you don't have on buttressing yourself against Disaster X in case it happens again, or do you try to brace against Disaster Y, and do you blame yourself if you can't plan for Disaster Z?

There's this really deep attitude in helping professions that is focused on: the client is in pain, and what can we do to solve that pain? First we handle coping mechanisms to get to a place where we have the energy for actual change, and then we figure out what the client can do to resolve underlying issues, right? And like physical pain, I'm not always convinced that emotional pain is in the control of patients, particularly when it comes to systemic trauma. When you are small, and broke, and unlucky... what can you do, to prevent yourself from being crushed under the wheels of a system that is beyond your control?

I'm not even just talking about me; I'm thinking about people I know and situations I've seen and shit like Linda Tirado's famous essay on poverty and bad decisions. I often see people who are dealing with issues of systemic privation try to use mental health care to help themselves crawl out of some shitty, shitty places... and become frustrated and eventually exhausted by the well-meaning suggestion that there's something, anything that they haven't considered that would solve the myriad stresses which are causing or exacerbating the mental health ailments they're struggling with.

I agree with you entirely that therapists and mental health professionals ought to go deeper and would have loved it if this article had, too; it's certainly got the reach to do a lot of good if it had chosen to do that. But I'd like to ignore the article itself and go deeper here, at least. I really wish that more pieces that focused on stress would do something much more basic that I have learned to do as a teacher, which is to acknowledge the difficulty of the task up front.

When I try to teach people and lead them through a course or module that they are intimidated by, I find that people react much better to being told "yes, this task or concept is going to be very difficult, but I believe you can do it, and here's the structure we're going to do to break it into achievable chunks" than they do to an approach that says "I see you're scared, but really this is easy!" The impulse to say "oh, but it's easy" makes sense as an instructor, because for me it is, and because I want the student's fear to ease away so they feel empowered and motivated to tackle the problem. But when it turns out not to be easy for some students, they blame themselves--after all, if it's so easy, why are they struggling? Or they blame me, and conclude I don't know what I'm talking about, and they don't pay attention to me after that. If I say "this is really difficult, but I think you can do it" and it turns out to be easy, students are proud of themselves; if it's still hard, they know it's hard and they aren't as deterred by failures along the way.

I wish that we approached mental health and trauma-centered care more like that, too. There's this nebulous idea I see a lot, where if the therapist acknowledges that the work is difficult, or that the stress causing the anxiety is real and challenging and hard, this will give the client permission to just... fall apart and stop trying to improve their situation and go limp in despair. That if we talk about these things as incredibly hard things that aren't necessarily our fault, or allow a client to divulge themselves from responsibility for their circumstances, clients will use this as an excuse to not do the work. And I think that attitude comes from an essentially well-meaning place, but I also think it causes a lot of harm and makes it harder for healing to come out of therapy, especially for clients who really don't have a lot of control over their lives or situations.
posted by sciatrix at 10:15 AM on July 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


sciatrix, I totally agree that meditation is presented completely wrong, because it's not at all easy or nurturing at the outset, and that it would be better to acknowledge that it is really hard work.

Mindfulness advocates never seem to do this, never seem to listen when I try to explain that "let go of all thoughts" winds up playing a game of fuckin' whack-a-mole, that I get more and more upset and disturbed... it's like a sensory deprivation tank.

In my early 20s I gave meditation a serious try. I went to a ten day silent retreat. I had dreams of being smothered by moths that wouldn't let me talk. Someone else told me that despite a comfortable room temperature, she felt burning hot for 8 of the 10 days. The theory in her case at least, is that she was working through accumulated layers of unprocessed stuff that made her hot, and maybe so. I'm not a meditation naysayer myself. If I had the fortitude, I'd go back. But that's the thing, especially at the outset, it's brutal. It's not some pleasant relaxation thing. I think a lot of people who throw it around as a good idea miss how super intense it is. Much like exercise, part of how it helps me (helped back when I was doing it) is that it makes daily life seem easy by being far tougher.
posted by salvia at 10:22 AM on July 29, 2019


The other thing I want to ask about is, this writer failed in high school? Because she couldn't adjust to doing math when she wanted to do English and vice versa? Wow. Is that a known thing -- are there other people who have identified this as a specific problem for themselves?

I'm another person who hates schedules, and though I've resigned myself that this is how the world works now, i would love to read a diatribe against clock time. I just think that's a pretty different thing from hating on mindfulness. There's some similarity -- in both, people are trying to tell you what to do with your mind -- but they're also such different issues that it made the essay confusing for me.
posted by salvia at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wish that we approached mental health and trauma-centered care more like that, too. There's this nebulous idea I see a lot, where if the therapist acknowledges that the work is difficult, or that the stress causing the anxiety is real and challenging and hard, this will give the client permission to just... fall apart and stop trying to improve their situation and go limp in despair. That if we talk about these things as incredibly hard things that aren't necessarily our fault, or allow a client to divulge themselves from responsibility for their circumstances, clients will use this as an excuse to not do the work. And I think that attitude comes from an essentially well-meaning place, but I also think it causes a lot of harm and makes it harder for healing to come out of therapy, especially for clients who really don't have a lot of control over their lives or situations.

Yes! Yes yes yes! Every time I have said exactly that to clients, it's like this heavy burden of self-doubt and anxiety and stuck-ness has lifted, and only then has it become possible to move forward. It's ridiculous when mental-health professionals act like acknowledging the immense unfairness we're all dealing with, and some way more so than others, is somehow "letting the client off the hook" (and I absolutely agree that some therapists think that way). Especially when dealing with clients who are members of historically marginalized communities and who are dealing with that kind of trauma, and especially especially if they are also dealing with personal trauma, they are already blaming themselves and holding themselves 376% accountable for shit that is NOT THEIR FAULT, and that self-blame and self-doubt is not exactly a motivating factor in one's personal growth. Therapists need to help remove that burden, not reinforce it. (I literally once told a room full of clients who had experienced various forms of trauma that it was absolutely fucking unfair that they were having to sit in a room with me and do this work while their abusers were la-la-la-ing about in their lives, and I was sorry, and I also didn't know any other way of helping them feel better. It was unfair they had to do this work, but that's just how it was. But it is totally fucking unfair.)

And in terms of situations that can't change, I do think there are times, with individual clients, when we need to work on radical acceptance; the therapy becomes about stress-management and reframing and whatever. But it can't start that way -- you don't know if something's unchangeable until you actually work through ways to change it. At the same time, as a therapist, I want to make sure I'm not acting like my just-thought-it-up idea is going to fix everything; I need to honor what the client's already tried, the wisdom they've gained from those attempts, and their own sense of what's going to work in their life. We might work on expanding that last one, but not in a sledge-hammery way. And if the situation ends up really unchangeable, then, ok, it's time to process the client's grief and anger and whatever else, not just throw up my hands and claim they're not trying hard enough.

Societally, however, therapists still need to be fighting to fix income inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, climate change, and all the other injustice that affects our clients. And we need to be acknowledging the effects of those things on our clients, and factoring that into our work with clients. Otherwise we're just working to maintain the status quo by keeping people juuuuuuust functional enough not to start a revolution, and I'm not ok with that being my job description.

/soapbox
posted by lazuli at 11:13 AM on July 29, 2019 [16 favorites]


It's not "no true Scotsman" if someone says "The definition of W is XYZ" when the definition of W is actually not XYZ, it's ABC. If you don't like doing it that's fine. I too have the experience of going to therapy and not actually getting any help but I'm not going to blame the entire concept of therapy. Doctors keep saying the only thing that can help me is exercise but never actually help me make that happen in light of the difficulties that presents for me but I'm not going to write a whole thinkpiece about how exercise itself is defined as running and it hurts my knees and therefore it's bad and my life is great even though I don't exercise. That would be an inaccurate definition of exercise, and I would be spreading false information. Exercise is really important and helpful and just because I'm personally tired of hearing about it doesn't give me the right to say things that aren't true.
posted by bleep at 11:14 AM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Bleep, do you truly not hear the people in this post telling you that "mindfulness" as the author describes it is, in fact, the form in which it pushed on many many people? You may not like it, but it is true.
posted by praemunire at 12:14 PM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


That doesn't change the fact that words mean things. If everyone just decided to rail against something new using a word that already meant something I'm sure I wouldn't be the only person saying you should find out what the original word meant before railing against it or you come off sounding ignorant.
posted by bleep at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't know Taffy B-A but one thing that I don't think has been mentioned on this thread is that... yeah, in my experience this is often how ex-Orthodox-Jewish people are.

Orthodox Judaism involves a *lot* of doing things in a routine and a schedule and cooking dinner on a Friday afternoon and lighting candles to welcome in the Sabbath and saying the same Hebrew prayers each Saturday and trying to really focus on the words each time. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, it is a life that is rich and thoughtful and often, yes, meditative.

But I fully recognise "those of us for whom that doesn't end up being the right way to live" in this piece. I and many of my ex-Orthodox friends have come out like coiled springs, having spent so long wanting to "join in" with a life that felt sealed off from us by a pane of glass we end up grabbing handfuls of it, constantly, filling our lives from floor to ceiling. All the ex-frum people I know have hobbies that'd be someone else's job, and jobs that'd be enough jobs for three other people... just because we want to try to "fit in" all the stuff that we were yearning for enough to break with our previous lives.

I think probably if you are an ex-frummer you are self-selected into a group that has tested to destruction how much "routine, repetition and mindful schedules" can give you and have come to the conclusion that "too much stuff, all of the time" is probably where you live best.
posted by naomialderman at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2019 [14 favorites]


That doesn't change the fact that words mean things. If everyone just decided to rail against something new using a word that already meant something I'm sure I wouldn't be the only person saying you should find out what the original word meant before railing against it or you come off sounding ignorant.

As a practical matter, words mean what people use them to mean. This woman is describing a specific practice in her specific environment which she is being pressured to use under a specific name. At that point, to complain that she's rejecting the practice using the name that the people around her use for it constantly is to reveal a much deeper ignorance.
posted by praemunire at 1:14 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


See but the author isn't doing that. She is using the word mindfulness as an absolute notion, she doesn't consider that people (the readers) will think it means different things and that it is an umbrella term. Authors are responsible for that, lest they overgeneralize and promulgate the very stereotypes their job it is to fight. If the article was published by the nytimes, her editors would have told her to revise.
posted by polymodus at 1:24 PM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


Until one day I realized I could turn pages along with everyone else. I could stand and sit and bow. But I could also think. I could make plans. I could dream up stories I wanted to write and places I wanted to go. In the quiet, I could still move forward. You could hold my body in place and obligate it to show up to all kinds of places. But if the moment sucked, I could live in the past or the future. I could live wherever I wanted to.

This was the part that jumped out for me. I did this in church when I was a kid. I had to be there, but I didn't have to be present there. I could be reading the parts of the bible that never got discussed, drawing, making lists, thinking about whatever I wanted. I still deliberately do this when I'm (rarely, thankfully) trapped in a useless, boring meeting. You can make me be here, but you can't have my mind.
posted by bunderful at 4:58 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Well gosh, if she is indeed ex-orthodox Jewish, that context would be super helpful in understanding where she's coming from and would probably help me really get it. But, part of the problem, I think?, is that these short magazine pieces can be absolute trash with no depth, so who knows what the editor told her. She might have been assigned to do a piece on mindfulness without really caring about the topic too much herself.

I am still on the side that, OK, this co-opted idea of mindfulness is what she's trashing, but I mean, c'mon, I'm a writer, too. And part of a writer's job is to do some research about a topic if you're going to discuss it. And this whole essay instead ends up sounding like a hot take. Not to mention she flat out says, well no one researches me, but if they wanted to I'd tell them it's none of their business. Like.... whaaaaat?
posted by jj's.mama at 8:28 PM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mean it sounds more like she's rebelling against her own culture and she should mention that instead of throwing someone else's unrelated culture under the bus.
posted by bleep at 8:46 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


See but the author isn't doing that. She is using the word mindfulness as an absolute notion, she doesn't consider that people (the readers) will think it means different things and that it is an umbrella term.

I think a lot of this anger could more productively be directed at the people actually pushing the two dimensional misunderstanding of mindfulness, rather than someone reacting against that. She didn't invent this conception of the term, and she didn't make it practically ubiquitous.

It's like when Americans rail against Christianity. To me, they're railing against some twisted, conservative prosperity gospel misunderstanding that neither is nor is compatible with Christianity. But I also recognise that that is effectively what the team Christianity means in large parts of the US. So I don't give the people reacting against that a hard time. The blame here really belongs with the people pushing the utter misunderstanding of Christianity, but the people having to deal with that unfortunate reality.

This is the same thing. Don't be mad at this woman, be mad at the forces that push the bullshit mindfulness, because they are the ones redefining terms for everyone else.
posted by Dysk at 2:21 AM on July 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


I belong to a flavor of Quakerism that has a long tradition of silent worship, that to outsiders looks a lot like meditation (until someone gets up to share a message of ministry). Whenever I describe this to people, they ask how I can handle the silence, or say "if I went there I'd probably fall asleep" which says to me how strongly American capitalist society has equated silence = snoozing. To be awake is to experience noise, constantly. But then, I've become enamored of Ursula Franklin's notion of the right to silence.

I don't know what makes me more sad: the late-capitalist devouring of meditation and silence as a lifestyle brand, or the idea that totally embracing chaos is some kind of subversive feminist act.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:36 PM on July 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


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