Mindfulness is no longer a state of being. It’s a commodity, a movement, a tribe with different hats (from Zen Buddhist monk to ethical entrepreneur), a place to meet ‘conscious’ people, a concept to engage in, a prefix (mindful gardening), an adverb (walk your dog mindfully), an attractive attribute (a good thing to say you are on a dating app profile).
The recent explosion into the stratosphere of our modern day secular ‘as you like it’ way of living, of what was originally a way of deepening one’s spiritual connection to life, is a revolution in the evolution of mindfulness itself.
From its roots in an untraceable time and place in ancient times, to a couple of thousand years ago where we have clues left like breadcrumbs in the moonshine by those living in caves and forests of south east and far east Asia (where practising Hindus and Buddhists seem to have formalised mindfulness into a practice), to hushed prayer enclaves of certain sects of Christianity, such as the Quakers, in the middle age, through to the 1960s and ‘70s when Western seekers (and stoners) got excited at discovering ‘far out’ ways of getting to know their mind other than through acid and bongs, the trajectory of mindfulness seems to have now reached its greatest peak yet. When a word is part of modern day lexicon, and even shouts at you at the aisle of Tesco (have you seen those Mindful Colouring Books sitting next to copies of Grazia?) it’s beyond a trend.
So no surprise then, and only a matter of when not if, that the world’s first show and festival dedicated solely to mindfulness has been launched. As you might guess if you know me, there was a groan or two from my corner of the sofa when I first heard rumblings of… ‘The Mindful Living Show’, a two-day event marketed (with plenty of colourful illustrations of happy people with balloons and dogs) as offering something for both the average Jo(anna) as well as the seasoned meditator.
Oh good grief. Oh give me spirulina strength!
Images before my eyes appeared of rows of white middle class liberal types on their stalls, preaching their mindfulness wares, from pottery classes for mindful creativity to cooking mindfully with quinoa, from the promise of bigger orgasms* with mindful breathing to 8 weeks to learn how to get intimate with a raisin, from mindfully blended essential oils to make you that extra bit mindful when you’re stressed about that new house buying purchase to lavender-scented subscriptions to online courses and apps where RADA-trained-turned psychotherapists who live in Surrey (or somewhere green and lovely) tell you how to find peace and calm.
And… that’s exactly what I found when I got to the show!
(Ok, so my imaginings, groans and scoffing not withstanding, I still got a ticket and went… that’s what we’re like, us mind body spirit types, whatever end of the spirituality spectrum we’re at, it has us hooked like dopamine).
But yes, indeed, all that I’d envisaged with a wince – did I forget to mention the Mala Workshop (how to make your own sacred beaded necklace or friendship bracelet) and the What Tibetan Bowl Are You stand? – were all there. But that was not all. The show could have been a back door retail therapy experience for mind body spirit addicts, and probably would have garnered more shoppers, sorry, I mean mindful visitors, if it had been. (It wasn’t packed, shall we say). However…
… the crux of the show were the speaker events and these were given and shared by professionals who have dedicated their lives to learning and developing skills to help others’ with their wellbeing. The open heartedness and genuine desire to contribute to people’s happiness and the profound topics of the talks, from using mindfulness to assist in the process of dying for carers and loved ones, finding courage and compassion in adversity, discovering the unconditioned mind, to better workplace relationships, and how to find joy within regardless of your outer circumstances… well, I was moved by simply being in the presence of these individuals and hearing what they had to say.
One of my meditation teachers, the inimitable globally renowned Jack Kornfield, recently gave a dharma (spiritual) talk about reclaiming the essence of mindfulness. He said that it was fine to approach or use mindfulness to alleviate stress, find wellbeing, be more creative, and the rest… but that really mindfulness was about the heart. Developing a skill, capacity and willing to hold it all – life in its entirety, outer and inner, and with compassion (that’s my paraphrase of his 7 best-selling books, … – you’re welcome Jack…).
If I had gone to the Mindful Living Show a few years ago, I probably would’ve done an about-turn within a few minutes of arriving. The music, the shiny marketing, the privileged classes holding court, the accessories, the even-more-accessories-that-you-must-have to be even-more mindful, and not all the talks rubbed me up the right way either (‘Boost your Happiness’, ‘How to Manifest your Soul Mate’, you don’t need me to go on do you…).
But since making an effort to be more committed (making it a daily thing) with my meditation practice (which, by the way, no longer follows a
tradition, school, teacher, philosophy, app, course, guru, book best-seller, global name – I just sit at the window in my front room in my jim jams, look at the trees for a while, close my eyes for a while, feel my breath for a while, drink my tea, repeat the above, then move on with my day), I feel a little more at ease with things that mentally may not sit well with me. I am a little more at peace with people and things and situations that may not be up my street or even beneficial to my wellbeing. I am definitely more sentimental and feel like coats of armour that were once there have fallen off, leaving me quite raw and exposed to the world, both close and far.
Patterns and preferences are still there. Life events are no easier or harder. I have nothing to ‘show’ for my more committed meditation practice – time passes and I have more wrinkles and grey hair, no more or less money, some losses of loved ones, and some very deep desires yet to be fulfilled (if they ever will be). But I can see all these things, and carry them, without falling down or protesting.
I can go to a trade show that reeks of capitalising on spirituality and wellbeing, and still find lots to feel grateful, happy and glad about.
As Alex, the Show’s Founder put it, “If people find a bit of peace and contemplation when they practice mindfulness, then it’s potentially a gateway to far more.” Indeed, though the ‘more’ bit is not a material gain. It’s an invisible way of seeing life anew, and just as it always was.
As T S Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Painting of Zen Buddhist Monk, Peace activist and the father of modern mindfulness Thich Nhat Hahn. On a visit to Google HQ in Silicon Valley, he told a group of senior execs: “Time is not money. Time is life, time is love.”
*Yes, it’s a thing, the Tutor calls herself the OM Coach (Orgasmic Meditation).