As defined in the previous post, mindfulness is a derivative of Buddhist spirituality, encompassing meditation. Through meditation, we gain a sense of awareness for the here and now, which leads to acceptance and appreciation. When defining mindfulness at its root in Eastern culture, we must also examine some key doctrines of Eastern culture that are somewhat foreign to us, here in the U.S.A.; Collectivist versus Individualistic cultures. What do these terms mean? In the most simplistic presentation, Western individualism is the belief that individuals act independently (Biddle, 2014). Each choice, behavior, benefit, and consequences are in response to and affect the individual. We are each responsible for our own outcomes. For instance, the old "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality is very individualistic. "I work hard for my money, and deserve to use it how I see fit." In today's saturated political ideology, we know this as conservative ideology. Collectivism, on the other hand, is the idea that no one person is merely his or her own isolated entity. Each individual is part of the greater whole, or societal system. We act, not as an individual whose behaviors only impact self, but as one who is influenced by, impacts, and benefits from the others in society, and society itself. The idea that we are all responsible for and connected to each other in some way, is the theme to remember when trying to understand a collectivist perspective in Eastern culture. Again, these are over-simplified summarizations of sociological ideologies, which are not intended to be lessons on culture, just a way to help understand the perspectives from which Eastern and Western cultures view society.
Mindfulness in the East is based in the culture that believes and accepts that we are all connected. Perhaps a great way to conceptualize this in modern context is to consider the movie Avatar. The natives were interconnected and strived for a heightened sense of awareness and connection to others and environment. If we are all connected, then mindfulness means we understand the present in the context of how these connections are affecting us, and vice versa.
I would like to suggest that mindfulness in individualistic society/culture has a slightly different application. In the West, we have become fascinated with healthy lifestyle. Now, this is quite an interesting fascination from a country, when compared to other industrialized, modern cultures, consistently has the highest presence of adults and children with obesity and diabetes, highest consumption of sugar and processed food, significant presence of interpersonal violence and aggression. I pose the question, 'Has our society found a way to make mindfulness about the individualistic self? We seem to use mindfulness as an avenue for self-help, development and growth as an individual, and ways to improve our individual ways of living. Now, through the practice of mindfulness, we learn connection and presence, but I'm hearing that the motivation is for the individual, at least in the beginning. This interpretation of mindfulness is how we have indoctrinated a spiritual practice from a collectivist culture into our busy, capitalist, individualistic culture. "How can this practice benefit me?"
This question may not be as selfish as it initially seems when we take a deeper look. Let's go deeper.
What can I control?
How can I improve my life (feelings, behaviors, connection, perception)?
How does improve "me" benefit the greater good of my environment, society, country, world, etc.?
Many of us may have different answers to the above questions; however, how you answer those questions bring about consideration for enjoying your life in the present, and how that generalizes to impact those around you and your environment. What we see, hear, and feel are all influenced by our respective lenses through which we form interpretations and make choices. If we have a healthy, more present lens, we gain a healthier, more open outlook, which improves tolerance and acceptance for self and others. This idea also means we begin to find value in the here and now, which leads to increased care and buy-in to maintaining self, others, and environment.
Healthy diet, exercise, healthy relationship, recycling, participating in community service, conscious carbon footprint control, etc. are all connected and influence the presence of each other. Having one or some of the above encourage and improve the rest.
True to our need for proof or evidence, neuroscientists, psychologists, medical doctors, etc. are actively researching mindfulness: what it is, how it works, and how it is applied effectively. This post is certainly not based in scientific research, but merely intended to increase awareness and discussion of how mindfulness is perceived and applied in our Western culture. When we are open to interpretation and accepting of similarities among others, we find that many spiritual components across varying cultures, religions, and nations share a basic fundamental concept. Love each other, practice patience and acceptance, and do what is best for our fellow beings.
Comment with your interpretations and application of mindfulness.
Biddle, C. Individualism vs. collectivism: Our future, our choice. The objective standard, 7.