In a recent Harvard Business Review piece, the executive coach David Brendel wrote, “Mindfulness is close to taking on cult status in the business world. But as with any rapidly growing movement—regardless of its potential benefits—there is good reason here for caution.” Brendel’s fear is that meditation might make executives too mellow and compassionate; he described one client who asked for assurance that she could embrace Buddhist meditation and still fire people. Brendel expressed hope that “mindfulness culture” will remain focussed on “optimizing work performance,” so that people can achieve “genuine happiness and fulfillment.”
Brendel needn’t worry. American capitalism has had a long and durable romance with Eastern spirituality, and the latter has hardly undermined the former. For well over a century, business-minded Americans have been transforming Hindu and Buddhist contemplative practices into an unlikely prosperity gospel.
A technique once meant to help monks grasp the unreality of the self became the inspiration for a new sort of self-help tool, and from there it was just a short leap to mindfulness becoming a business tool. By all accounts, mindfulness does help people feel more focussed and less frazzled, but it resembles New Thought far more than it does any Eastern religion.
“With business meditation, we have a practice that is extrapolated from Buddhism and secularized so that all of the theological underpinnings are swept away,” Catherine Albanese, the author of “A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion,” says. “So we have Buddhism stood on its head. Mindfulness meditation has been brought into the service of a totally different perspective and world view.” By now, that’s part of a venerable American tradition.
I may catch a hint of sarcasm in that last sentence.
Posted by Steve