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Mindfulness and well-being. You can fool some of the people some of the time…..

Posted on January 22, 2019

A corporatized email from my place of work pops up. I am encouraged to take a ‘mindfulness lunchtime walk’ in order to enhance my wellbeing at work.

I am fully aware that there are more things in the world to be aggravated about than someone telling me to get off backside and do some gentle exercise. Nonetheless, it is precisely this sort of flummery that makes me grumpily impatient and enhances my very real concern – well, knowledge really – that the world is passing me by. If anyone is taking this stuff seriously – and I think some must be – then I suppose it must be me that’s out of touch.

I note now that many of my workmates, acquaintances and even some of my nearest and dearest, wear a watch that tells them how many steps they’ve taken, how long they’ve stood up for, what their heart rate is, how long they’ve slept for and how many times they have passed wind that day. I made that last bit up. I think.

It is now imperative to ensure that one is hydrated at all times. Assembling a packed lunch is especially fraught. Ensuring that one passes the scrutiny of the workplace food police in terms of healthiness is serious business. In this, as in all things mindful and well, we are aided by jolly posters which badger us to sit up straight, make sure the screen’s not too bright, eat an apple not a chocolate bar and take frequent breaks. We, the company, care, care, care about you.

All of this institutionalised concern is nonsense. If employers genuinely wanted workers who were more relaxed – and probably more ‘productive’ as consequence – there are plenty of simple things on which they could insist. A shorter working day with proper, set breaks which are not snipped away.  In offices, a ban on sending emails outside working hours – or to the person ten metres away. A decent rate for the job along with genuine family-friendly attitudes. It would all help.

But none of the above would fit with the spirit of the age in the modern workplace. Targets, measurement, quotas and the ensuing reports on those targets, measurements and quotas are the very stuff of life. We must be in possession of good data. Targeted data so that we can see how well we’re doing. Are we efficient and productive; are we operating near to capacity? What does the data say? Cradle to grave data, all seasoned with the other curse of the modern era, feedback. We all need to be fit and well enough to generate this food of the gods.

Capitalism has plenty of crafty tricks up its sleeve, but it’s got one guaranteed showstopper: the ability to sell back to people what they already own. This is now so normalised that we accept that gas, oil, water and a whole host of other things that were once owned collectively are now up for sale to the highest bidder – who then sells it back to us. And now it’s pulling the trick of taking what your grandma knew – that a bit of fresh air, relaxation and exercise does you good – bundling it up into some old nonsense about wellbeing or mindfulness and selling it to us in every way it possibly can.

And as every social phenomenon is a reflection of the dominant ideology of the age, this interest in wellbeing mirrors the ubiquity of measurement, progress and data-collection. Enter the tech companies, the food industry, the sweatshop-based exercise apparel giants – all telling us to look after out mental health and our bodies and our welfare. Gee, thanks. And thanks to our bosses for their concern too. We really never knew you cared.

The modern worker, especially the young modern worker, lives a life that is often fractured, uneven and uncertain. The old consensus of working hard and trying your best and then being rewarded with recognition and stability is no longer sacred. The forming of basic relationships and, goodness me,  negotiating sex seem to this ancient outsider to be mine-ridden swamplands. In an attempt to make sense of this fragility, the selling of oneself as oneself is a concept that is now embedded – or forced into – collective consciousness. Against such a background, it is little wonder that the simple act of taking exercise has become an individualised action characterised as yet one more desirable personal attainment. To be measured, data-fied and then, of course, placed into the public domain to promote the image of oneself. The individual. The product. The commodity.

So, my profound gratitude to my bosses for looking out for me, but if you really think that toddling around a stretch of local scrubland is going to make me forget what you’re all about, then you’ve got a lot to learn.

One response to “Mindfulness and well-being. You can fool some of the people some of the time…..”

  1. Yes it is absolutely ghastly!

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