Sometimes “mindfulness” and “productivity” seem like twin memes. The best illustration of this is that it’s equally natural to pair another meme, “Zen,” with either one. The demands of the high-tech Western world have colonized its spirituality so thoroughly that a desk or an email inbox can produce “Zen” feelings, while sitting and doing nothing can produce terrible suffering.
Much has been made of the way “mindfulness” as a meme, particularly on the West Coast of America, has really arisen as a form of compliant concentration to increase productivity. All the best-selling apps and competitive health-tracking metrics for meditation and yoga certainly contribute to that appearance. All the giant, profit-driven corporations providing mindfulness time for their employees must at least hope it will increase returns for shareholders.
It makes some sense, actually. It could be argued that the fundamental benefit of mindfulness is to integrate into the world as it is. One practices mindfulness because one believes there’s less suffering in facing reality than in struggling pointlessly against it. If your reality is relentless productivity, why not incorporate mindfulness into that reality? In the best case, you can hope for everyone’s gradual awakening to the fact that, hey, we might be more productive in the long run if we chilled out a little bit.
But this productivity mentality goes down to a very personal, moment-by-moment level. I spent most of my sit this morning resisting meditation because it felt spiritually healthier to get up and start planning my work day. The sense of getting things done has become emotionally important to me, and it does feel like part of my mindfulness practice. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. But I do know that any strength built in meditation comes from not giving up, and that strength of will benefits both “mindfulness” and “productivity.” So even though productivity seemed like a good reason to get up, I sat with it anyway.