Stronger Than You Know By Dena BettiSep 02, 2019 11:53AM ● By Dena Betti
Stronger Than You Know
In the early 1990s, I walked into a Tao meditation center near San Francisco’s Central Park. I was searching for tools to help me better control the automatic thoughts and images that might have been sabotaging my amateur golf career. These early steps into the metaphysical realm would provide vital tools as I walked forward into the next chapters of my life. However, I quickly found that mindfulness was a slippery slope. If I wasn’t careful, I could have easily checked out of being an active participant in life and made my focus on honoring Buddha under the Bodhi tree.
Since then, mindfulness has also gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, meditation coaches, monks, and neuroscientists. There are certainly worthy dimensions to mindfulness meditation practice. It is promoted as a force that can help us cope better with life and find deeper levels of personal happiness. But, like I said, with its inward focus, many argue that mindful meditation may be the enemy of activism.
According to Kabat-Zinn, who is often labelled the father of modern mindfulness, the fundamental message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause of dissatisfaction and distress is in our heads. By failing to pay attention to what actually happens in each moment, we get lost in regrets about the past and fears for the future, which make us unhappy. Learning to focus turns down the volume on circular thought. Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis is that our “entire society is suffering from attention deficit disorder – big time.” Kabat-Zinn’s book Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulnesssays, “We all suffer a kind of ADD.”But a fundamental concern of becoming too introspective is that mindful meditation will make us too carefree and distanced from the real world, excusing us from all social responsibility. Luckily, I have found the exact opposite to be true for me.
I use mindfulness to respond responsibly to the world around me and to respond responsibly to my internal thoughts and emotions as well. I believe my own mindfulness practice has made me more proactive, not less. But full disclosure, I had to make a conscious decision to not just “be.” I did not want to become a mindfulness blob that could not function in the world around me...quite the contrary. I found that the more I was able to calm the chatter in my mind, the more awareness I had, both internally and externally.
Perhaps that’s the key point here. We can use mindfulness to settle our frenetic thoughts and gain more clarity. The catalyst must, therefore, be something more than celebrating self-centered “freedoms.” Mindfulness must focus both on our internal and external worlds. It must drive us to also pay attention to our social responsibilities and move us towards a collective consciousness that finds genuine freedom within a cooperative and responsible society.
Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has worked diligently at attempts to depoliticize stress. However, if we are unhappy about our political climate, violence in our schools, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful in a socially responsible way.
Let us use our mindfulness as a powerful tool and conscious driver to move us towards being the change we want to be in the world.
Dena Betti is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, on the board of #hersmile Nonprofit, and a certified life coach. For more information, email [email protected].