This morning I read an op-ed piece from the New York Times by Judith Warner called Being and Mindfulness. I heard about the article yesterday while acquainting myself with Twitter. I'm a very late adopter of the service and only found a reason to use it a week ago when I launched cycle one of the 108 days [the Remix] blog. So I was searching for recent tweets on meditation, mindfulness, buddhist blogs and the like and I took note of the following:
A glowing endorsement. A news source I often find engaging. Okay... I'll bite.
As I read, I wondered if Ms. Warner really understands what mindfulness is all about. She seemed to be talking more about a New Age spirituality than anything else. She complained of her mindfulness-leaning friends appearing to be replaced by pod people. She championed the importance of the edge... a personality that understands the art and science of sarcasm, is skilled in flippant remarks and dark humor and is not afraid to yell. She expressed concern about the loneliness and disenfranchisement she has felt being on the receiving end of a friend's foray into mindfulness, and she wondered if mindfulness (while it is supposed to bring people together) only loosens the bonds between people and pushes them further apart which she summed up in the following statement:
I have no doubt that this meta-connectedness feels real, and indeed is real, in the abstract at least. But in real-life encounters, I’ve come lately to wonder whether meaningful bonds are well forged by the extreme solipsism that mindfulness practice often turns out to be.
Solipsism is a term that is common in circles of academic philosophy but arguably lesser known outside those circles. While the NYT's dictionary pop-up feature does provide a brief definition of the term:
sol·ip·sism (sŏl'ĭp-sĭz'əm, sō'lĭp-)
- The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
- The theory or view that the self is the only reality.
[Latin sōlus, alone + Latin ipse, self +
A dictionary of philosophy will provide definitions with more context and breadth:
solipsism, epistemological (from Latin, solus, alone, single, sole + ipse, self)
1. the theory that one's consciousness (self, mind) cannot know anything other than its own content, see egocentric predicament. 2. one's consciousness alone is the underlying justification for, and cause of, any knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of anything at all. Contrasted with OBJECTIVISM (EPISTEMOLOGY).
soliphsism, metaphysical literally, "I myself only exist"; the theory that no reality exists other than one's self. The self (mind, consciousness) constitutes the totality of existence. All things are creations of one's consciousness at the moment one is conscious of them. Other things do not have any independent existence, they are states of, and are reducible to, one's consciousness.
[...from The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Edition]
I would've preferred the use of another term, like say self-centeredness or egocentricity in place of soliphsism in this article. I think the inherent error that the premise of this article expounds can be summed up by the use of the word as much as by the content of the article itself. Just because one can use the word solphisism in a sentence does not mean they are stating a well thought or reasonable premise. That is just the type of egocentricity that Warner appears to be trying to warn us against.
Mindfulness is not a pink practice. There are too many Buddhist teachers in the world who are skilled in mindfulness to point to who are edgy and funny and sharp and biting... whose personalities are still intact while their teachings are sincere and true to life. MIndfulness practice doesn't lead us away from who we are, it turns us in on who we are... not because we need to be the sugary embodiment of a new age affirmation, but because we can't touch connectedness or concern for the world if we are out of touch with what is truly going on right now in the moment in our own lives.