1. The joke that we used to make about cross-fit is starting to apply to mindfulness: “How do you know if someone practices mindfulness? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” Which is not to suggest that loads of people aren’t finding mindfulness exercises to be helpful and good. Mindfulness was a topic of discussion at our Lancaster conference in June and many of the writers on this blog will testify to its usefulness in their faith and work. Rarely does one find an unkind word about the practice, but this article from Aeon by Sahanika Ratnayake was a helpful rejoinder.

Ratnayake is skeptical that the mindfulness of her Buddhist heritage can really be practiced apart from some deeper spiritual meaning. Her essay explores some of the political issues with mindfulness, including “cultural appropriation,” but the deeper insights come when she reflects on the ways that contemporary Western psychology and Buddhism remain in conflict.

Contrary to [Mindfulness advocate] Kabat-Zinn’s loftier claims to universalism, mindfulness is in fact ‘metaphysically loaded’: it relies on its practitioners signing up to positions they might not readily accept. In particular, mindfulness is grounded in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā, or the ‘no-self’. Anattā is a metaphysical denial of the self, defending the idea that there is nothing like a soul, spirit or any ongoing individual basis for identity. This view denies that each of us is an underlying subject of our own experience. By contrast, Western metaphysics typically holds that – in addition to the existence of any thoughts, emotions and physical sensations – there is some entity to whom all these experiences are happening, and that it makes sense to refer to this entity as ‘I’ or ‘me’. However, according to Buddhist philosophy, there is no ‘self’ or ‘me’ to which such phenomena belong.

It’s a little heady, so let’s boil it down. Ratnayake observes, in her own experience growing up with Buddhist meditation, that the doctrine of anattā is a key part of the mindfulness process. And while the West has co-opted aspects of Buddhism here, the doctrine of anattā has not been one of them. So while the Buddhist practice of mindfulness looks something like: “observe thoughts and feelings, recognize they they are ephemeral because we humans are ephemeral and all of this shall pass,” that’s significantly harder when your metaphysic doesn’t embrace the ephemeral self. Here’s why this is a big deal, according to Ratnayake:

Of course, it’s often pragmatically useful to step away from your own fraught ruminations and emotions. Seeing them as drifting leaves can help us gain a certain distance from the heat of our feelings, so as to discern patterns and identify triggers. But after a certain point, mindfulness doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for and analyse such feelings. It’s not much help in sifting through competing explanations for why you might be thinking or feeling a certain way. Nor can it clarify what these thoughts and feelings might reveal about your character. Mindfulness, grounded in anattā, can offer only the platitude: ‘I am not my feelings.’ Its conceptual toolbox doesn’t allow for more confronting statements, such as ‘I am feeling insecure,’ ‘These are my anxious feelings,’ or even ‘I might be a neurotic person.’ Without some ownership of one’s feelings and thoughts, it is difficult to take responsibility for them. The relationship between individuals and their mental phenomena is a weighty one, encompassing questions of personal responsibility and history. These matters shouldn’t be shunted so easily to one side.

In other words, peace of mind may not be as simple as letting our thoughts pass like clouds in the sky–what happens when you see the same “cloud” over and over again, and what does it say about your character? Emptying your thoughts (rather than critically reflecting on them) may provide temporary relief from psychic pressure, but a diagnostic tool is rarely the cure for an illness. One last blurb from Ratnayake:

In spite of a growing literature probing the root causes of mental-health issues, policymakers tend to rely on low-cost, supposedly all-encompassing solutions for a broad base of clients. The focus tends to be solely on the contents of an individual’s mind and the alleviation of their distress, rather than on interrogating the deeper socioeconomic and political conditions that give rise to the distress in the first place. Older people tend to suffer high rates of depression, for example, but that’s usually addressed via pharmaceutical or therapeutic means – instead of considering, say, social isolation or financial pressures. Mindfulness follows the trend for simplicity and individuation. Its embedded assumptions about the self make it particularly prone to neglecting broader considerations, since they allow for no notion of individuals as enmeshed in and affected by society at large.

See also last week’s find about student mental health at USC, in which mindfulness is listed alongside adult coloring books, therapy dogs, primal screams, drum circles, and AI assistants as the cure for student mental health as USC. It’s much easier to offer those programs and blame students for not using them than, heaven forbid, make college a little easier.

On the other hand: If there was a metaphysic that advocated the emptying of the self while also recognizing that the self was so valuable to God that He would die to save it, then perhaps Mindfulness could help someone live in serenity, even as the same clouds pass by time and again.

2. For our second different-but-related find, Taffy Brodesser-Akner shares an essay with RealSimple.com about the Highly Regimented Woman, the new cultural ideal of the yoga-practicing, mindfully meditating, planner-toting supermom. Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer with The New York Times Magazine, and she nails the little-l laws creeping up that are turning inefficiency into modern sins (and how she’s been among the accused).

The Highly Regimented Woman is today’s ideal. She does one thing at a time. She doesn’t stray from her routine. She practices mindfulness. She doesn’t miss the 8 a.m. Thursday Pilates class. She leaves her phone in the other room. She is who we are supposed to strive to be, even if some of us are so far away from this ideal that we hear about women like this and think people are kidding. Meaning, I know some Highly Regimented Women. They are killing it out there. They are happy and focused and getting it done. I imagine being one of them sometimes. I imagine being someone who doesn’t, say, forget it’s band practice day or that book club was tonight, no, wait, last night? Who doesn’t—of course, all this is theoretical—show up at a different movie theater from her husband despite being told several times and having it noted in the calendar that we were going to the one near the mall. Being a Highly Regimented Woman would mean I could rid myself of my ability to multitask. She would have me finish the phone call and then cook the dinner and then really be in the moment.

She would make my life great. So why does just the idea of her fill me with dread?…

I understand why this happened. I am even happy it happened, so now the people who suffer from overwhelm can have tools to calm themselves and a language to communicate in. But it didn’t happen just to the people who needed it. When the regimented life went mainstream, it somehow became insurrectionist to have a mind like mine: one that’s always running, one that doesn’t relent, one that races and commands my hands to do a million things at once. Somehow it has become objectionable to be someone who is winging it. It’s become subversive to be scattered.

In my head, I run until I fly. In my head, the words are made out of colors and while I am flying, the sentences allow me to land gently. This is how I became a writer. The page is simply an organized manifestation of my head. I am lauded for my pages. Despite this, I still am criticized for my head. But come at it from the other side just for a minute. Consider that the thinking is what the whole enterprise is built on—that a body is a thing that holds up a brain, that all this exists so that the thoughts can come whenever and however they like.

There is a price I pay for living this way. Lest I sound too confident, lest I sound like I have found a magic formula, here it is, in the interest of full disclosure: My life is a mess. My mind is a mess. But nobody has been able to convince me that the value of a mind that isn’t a mess is greater.

See also this week’s Onion headline: “Researchers Confirm Meditation Can Reduce Stress But Totally Get It If You Were Just Venting And Don’t Actually Want Advice

3. Sadly, you don’t get more regimented than Olympian Kelly Catlin, whose suicide was profiled in WaPo this week. It’s truly the worst case scenario, a crushing mix of perfectionism, mental illness, high achievement, and #seculosity. God help her and God help us all. The essay is worth your consideration, and so is the short video listed below. This grace stuff saves lives folks, literally and figuratively.

4. In humor this week, our Instagram followers saw the gem below already, and it was too good not to share here too. Also, The New Yorker gave us a guide to Surviving a Conversation at WeWork.

5. It’s becoming a trend to give our #Seculosity finds their own section in the weekender these days, and there’s no shortage this week. Over at Quillette, Jungian Psychologist Lisa Marchiano brings together a number of familiar personas and introduces the danger of what Jung called “possession” and the ancients called “inflation.” The article alone is full of examples where heavenly significance is placed on earthly values. Come for the #rhymeswithvelocity, stay for one of the best reflections you’ll read on Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary Grizzly Man.

Ideologies and isms make for easy objects of worship, substituting handily for religions of old. “Our fearsome gods have only changed their names,” Jung wrote. “They now rhyme with -ism.” Political or social ideologies are appealing because they tend to confer de facto special status upon adherents, and offer a clear path to transformation. They therefore set us upon a quest toward a better life or a better society, and so provide compelling structures that dictate meaning and purpose.

“Anyone who falls down from the roof or ceiling of the Christian cathedral falls into himself,” Jung wrote. By this, Jung meant that, when conventional structures of meaning and value cease to have validity, one is thrown back on oneself to form such judgments. These days, falling into ourselves often means falling into the internet, which is proving to be a powerful tool for the dissemination of ideologies.

The “Every Day Carry” community gets a profile in Vox this week, a community of folks who find “enoughness” in perfecting the tools and totems that allow them to be prepared for life’s uncertainties.

Since these EDC hubs began to sprout up all over the web, from the popular Reddit community /r/EDC to the lifestyle blog EverydayCarry.com, the meaning of the acronym has shifted from what people do carry to what they should carry, with a focus on “readiness” — often at a fairly steep price point. While proponents of the EDC lifestyle stress that personal carry is ultimately dependent on your needs and personality, there’s a strain of perfectibility that runs just under the surface; a creeping sense that the next piece of gear you buy will be the one that finally makes it into your idea.

And one more for the road: The Business of the Body from the Economist.

IN A. DICKSON WRIGHT’S “Quacks Through the Ages”, a study published in 1957, the “outstanding quack of all times” was James Graham, an 18th-century Scottish doctor who conceived mystical cures for all sorts of ailments using fiery electric lamps, magnets and perfumes of the Orient. The centrepiece of his Temple of Health in London was a celestial bed that he claimed could combat sterility and produce perfect babies by pouring out waves of magnetism. High society flocked to his events, which had an air of eroticism and culminated in the scantily clad appearance of the Goddess of Health—none other than the future Lady Hamilton. He may have been an impostor, but Graham deserves special reverence at The Economist. His magnetic love bed lay adjacent to the site of our current headquarters overlooking the Thames.

Once again miracle cures are all the rage, not just in London but all around the world. Electric currents are out of fashion, replaced by yoga boot camps, meditation and veganism. To immerse himself, Schumpeter hauled his flabby body to Taryn Toomey’s The Class in New York, which invites its sometimes A-list, mostly female clientele to “witness their resistance to discomfort” by leaping around on a mat to thumping music. He threw his shoulders, sweat, spit and howls of agony and ecstasy about with the best of them, and felt quite brilliant afterwards. Ms Toomey’s mix of Dionysian priestess and soothing guru helped. So, no doubt, did the underfloor crystals.

Welcome to the cult of wellness, a phenomenon of mind-and-body worship that is moving beyond the boutique to shake up industries from health, food and beauty to insurance and property.

6. We’re a little late to this track by David Ramirez, but the lyrics will knock your socks off. So much so, we’ll give it the last word. Happy weeks everyone!

Strays: