What does mindfulness mean for society?

Sometimes writing feels like a weird thing to do, especially on the internet. After all, this is the first post on a brand new website, which means that almost nobody is going to read it for months or even years. It’s like sending a time capsule into the future in the hopes that all of this eventually means something.

So let me start at the beginning. I’m writing this on June 15th 2020, which if you remember, was a pretty rough time. After making us hunker down for over three months because of the coronavirus pandemic, our governments have decided that it’s fine for us to go back to work (even though we have exactly as many vaccines and antibody tests as we did when all of this started). So we’ve emerged from our homes, squinting as our eyes readjust to the light of the sun, just in time to witness yet another man being needlessly killed on camera by the police. Oh, and Donald Trump is the leader of the free world.

I’m hoping that things are better whenever you are dear reader, but I’m less optimistic than I’d like to be. It feels like the world is slowly coming to an end, which in turn makes this feel like a strange time to be starting something new. Beginnings are difficult at the best of times after all.

Still, at times like these, I hear that it’s helpful to remind yourself of why you’re beginning, so I’ll try that. If I had to express it simply I’d say; I believe that we need a more mindful society. I’ve chosen the word “mindful” here because I happen to practice meditation, but you might prefer the word reasonable. Go with whichever one works best for you.

I realise that “I believe that we need a more mindful society” is more of a what than a why, so in case my reasons aren’t obvious I’ll go further. In fact, I hope that they’re not obvious, because if you’re still reading this despite the fact that you didn’t immediately agree with what I’m saying, you’re likely exactly the type of person I was hoping would read this. Maybe in the future, that’s not a big deal, but in 2020, it feels like this kind of behaviour is on the endangered list. 

This is what I mean by a more mindful society. A society where we’re willing to hear each other out. Where we respect facts more than we respect opinions, where we listen harder when we don’t understand, and where the truth is more important than our emotions, especially when we’re scared or angry or hurt. 

As for why we need any of that stuff, well, it’s because the times when we’re scared angry or hurt (which for a significant proportion of our population seems to be all the time) are the times when we’re easiest to take advantage of, when we’re most likely to make mistakes. And frankly, we’re getting closer and closer to a point where we can’t afford to keep messing things up. 

So where does mindfulness come into all of this? Well, there’s a been huge surge in interest in mindfulness over the last few years, whether it be through apps, articles, or websites like this one. No doubt this is partially because there’s also been a huge surge in levels of anxiety and depression over the last few years, and meditation is one of the best-researched ways to help with these ailments, but I think there’s something else happening too.

You see, it’s easy to miss the significance of what’s happening when someone decides to sit down to meditate. True, on a superficial level the reason will be different for each person. Some people just want to control their anxiety, or feel less depressed. Others want to achieve enlightenment or at least to come close enough that they can feel superior to other people. 

But underneath all that, there’s a single idea that unites all of them; they all want to change. Sitting down to meditate is a recognition that we aren’t as good as we could be, and the expression of a desire to do something about it. What’s more, sitting down to meditate alone, as people usually do, points to the fact that the responsibility for change lies with no-one but ourselves. 

The choice to write this is more or less the same thing. It stands on the belief that somewhere beneath the surface, we all recognise the need for change, and will be looking for guidance on how to do it. This website is intended more as a portal to that guidance than a source of it, but I also hope it will function as a place to discover different and worthwhile perspectives that can help shape our understanding of the world, each other and ourselves.

The dream of a better world won’t happen by itself. Nor is it something that we can hope for somebody else to create. This is work that we all need to do. Practising listening, really listening, especially to those we disagree with. Trusting that we aren’t so different from each other that we’re incapable of understanding each other’s points of view. And most importantly, getting to know ourselves. Having the courage to recognise our weaknesses, our prejudices, and our fears. 

This feels particularly urgent right now, and it will be for as long as we look outside of ourselves for something to blame for or fix our problems. If we don’t sincerely ask ourselves how we are contributing to the difficulties our society faces, if we don’t each take a little bit of that responsibility upon ourselves, we have no hope of solving them.

The aim of this website is not simply to promote mindfulness. It’s to promote the examination of perspectives and ideas other than our own, so that we can better understand the issues our society faces. As Leo Tolstoy famously said: Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no-one thinks of changing themselves. 

It’s long past time we do both.