It's becoming ever more popular, so many wonder what the dangers of meditation are for their health and if there are any associated risks. Believe me, your health shouldn't be the main concern. There is a real threat to the economy and our businesses (cue dramatic music).
About the Poverties Project
This article is part of what was originally the 'Poverties project' which I ran from 2011-2016. It aimed to make social and economic research on poverty accessible to everyone. It focused on presenting evidence-based causes and solutions as much as possible, although with a pinch of sarcasm or dark humor at times. Hopefully, it helps make the description of certain (horrible) situations more bearable.
When I first picked up a few meditation books, I started doing those mindfulness-meditation exercises, which went quite well alongside my qigong (chi-gong)training. But I quickly realised that something was wrong after two, three weeks. I was becoming happy. And this, my friends, is one of the main dangers of meditation; its effects on the economy in a consumerist society are ravaging.
I mean I really became radiant, patient… in full bloom. What the hell! I did have issues managing my workload, having way too many projects to work on simultaneously, maintaining the head-space necessary for each of them and not exactly having the financial rewards I (secretly) wish I had because, well a lot of it was for charity, social or cultural work.
Anti-consumerism should be a crime
The benefits of meditation lie mostly in that it taught me to be self-content, being happy with what I have and who I am…
To paraphrase the animated film Inside-Out and a great psychologist friend of mine, who we are isn’t a fixed entity. We are defined by a core, ever-evolving self. This means that I can now focus on being rather than having. Improving my understanding of myself, the human nature, my friends and focusing on experiences rather than material haves.
But what a tragedy for our economy! This isn’t necessarily meant as an anti-consumerism piece but we’ve got to think about what would happen if we all suddenly accepted ourselves and our flaws. Our entire system would be seriously undermined and millions would lose their jobs!
Consumer society vs Buddhist economics
Why meditation is dangerous
Researching for this article I found the definition for this amazing concept: Buddhist economics. This is precisely what would happen if we integrated happiness and meditation as important measures of our economy:
"Buddhist economics is a spiritual approach to economics. It examines the psychology of the human mind and the anxiety, aspirations, and emotions that direct economic activity. A Buddhist understanding of economics aims to clear the confusion about what is harmful and beneficial in the range of human activities involving production and consumption. It tries to find a middle way between a purely mundane society and an immobile conventional society."
Benefits and effects of meditation
Enough digressing, back to my story. From the moment I found contentment onward, it was really the beginning of the end. I enjoyed a well-being and serenity you would only find in a spaced out Gandalf on ganja. It reached a point where I eventually started feeling this deep uneasiness. Or more like a type of economical awkwardness.
Because I had become economically inert. Because of meditation I subtracted myself from the commercial flows and exchanges.
Why, you ask?
The problem with meditation is that it helps you accept who you are, as you are. From then on, you’re not looking to consume in order to find products that will fix your problems, your lack of self-worth and confidence. Suddenly you’ve accepted your own flaws and personal issues:
- No more cigarettes or anti-anxiety drugs to overcome your stress because you now accept and welcome your fears;
- No more over-the-top and pseudo-techy beauty creams bought by the ton in order to keep you young, fit and sexy;
- No more crazy, expensive clothes, stressing myself to go to the gym, and so on
Suddenly I simply didn’t feel that need anymore. And now, what if everyone starts doing the same?
Long term consequences of meditation
Now the benefits of your beloved mindfulness meditation exercises become public enemy number one.
- Big pharma groups and their laboratories will suffer gigantic losses
- The cosmetic industry will crumble as well (not that make up is a heresy at all, however there is a fundamentally different use between indigenous tribes for instance and the mass production we rely on)
- While this isn’t the end of gyms, traditional sports and activities could become a lot more popular again because you get to master new skills over time, meet new people, work in teams etc (not that this doesn’t happen in gyms I suppose)
- Sales for ALL products will plummet as we don’t feel the imperative to renew our smartphones, fridges, TVs and cars every year or so. Worse, we might even start repairing them ourselves. The planet might thank us, but hell every single manufacturer out there will want our skin.
Especially given that in the fragile economic times we’re in, producing more and selling more is the best way we know to recover and give
jobs to people.
A consumerist society doesn't need your happiness (unless short-lived)
Our consumer society needs consumers to keep growing. If there is to be any happiness to be had, it should be as short-lived as possible so that we can then buy more stuff again to provide our next fix of temporary relief. After all, what's happiness good for if your financial future is compromised, if you can't live like a gangsta and do your number two in a golden toilet?
Can we really be happy with too little money?
If yes, then fine let’s all get into meditating. If not… what are we going to do about this? How do we define an acceptable, decent way of life that includes essential (positive) aspects of our modern civilisation: public access to healthcare, education, science, arts etc?
Bottom line? We can’t start meditating without deeply redefining our economic model.
Mindfulness vs business management
What other superficial solutions can we then think of? Something that doesn’t require a revolution or a profound change of our entire societies, which would most likely cause a civil war.
How about, instead of trying to elevate ourselves and our souls, we tried – not unlike business management techniques from the 1980s (still in use in many places) – to put everyone else down?
Let’s give into our shallow jealousies and belittle our friends, family and colleagues to make us feel better. That’s how we’ve done it for thousands of years and it’s worked pretty well so far.
Make people’s lives miserable, ensure they suffer and feel anxious about their future. That way they buy lots of stuff to help them endure the treatment they receive from you. So if you’re feeling a bit down, next time how about you “meditate someone else”.
I’m not sure how sustainable this plan is - if everyone is constantly attacking everyone else – but surely the effects are cumulative: the more people you belittle, the better you feel about yourself. And the more stuff people buy.
Mindfulness training for advertising
In the end, it's like many of us live in a giant game based on rewards that tries to get you spending more and more to get that 5 second gratification moment. In the 1970s we were subjected to 50 adverts per day, today it's closer to 500 adverts. That's how much the pressure to spend has increased.
And research shows a positive relationship between levels of anxiety and exposure to adverts. The more we see, the worse we feel. The more we are spoon-fed ideas about what we should be eating, wearing, drinking, achieving, doing of our evenings and what our bodies should look like. The impact is nothing short of terrible:
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety (duh)
And more research shows that it's when we don't pay attention to adverts that they affect us the most. In other words, being mindful of adverts can help you understand and manage their impact on you.
Fear is everything
The advertising industry knows this best: fear is behind our greatest drive to purchase. Fear of missing out, fear of uncertainty, fear of not fitting in, fear of not being liked and loved by others.
That’s what keeps us running after more money to buy things that will appease our fears, doing jobs we hate (sorry for the over-used paraphrase of the movie 'Fight Club').
The irony that crowns it all is that you're probably seeing an advert right next to this paragraph. I still promise myself every day that I'll take them down as soon as the website pays for itself with other means.
Seriously, though, be mindful of your own life. Reflect.
Practice of being instead of having. No one at your funeral will say “she had great shoes and an expensive couch”. If this ever happens to you though, then I’m very sorry for your life and for the friends you have. #SorryNotSorry
Don’t come complaining in your 60s that you don’t know who you are or that you want to go to India to find yourself. It’s a bit late and you’ve wasted everyone’s time (if not lives) during your 40 years of adult life on earth.
- Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-Being: The Search for the 'Good Life' and the 'Body Perfect', by Helga Dittmar
- What does advertising do, by Art Markman, Ph.D
- The impact of advertisements featuring ultra-thin or average-size models on women with a history of eating disorders, by Emma Halliwell, Helga Dittmar and Jessica Howe
- The Dogma of Advertising and Consumerism, by Ziad Abu-Saud
- Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising, by Body Image and Advertising
- The Relationship between Anxiety and Positive and Negative Advertising Appeals, by John J. Wheatley and Sadaomi Oshikawa