The Neoliberal Meditator



A quick blog post before I start my next session...

One of the hallmarks of neoliberal spirituality is that each person is responsible for their own lives and should not look to governments or public institutions for answers. To put it into more libertarian terms, we are responsible for ourselves. Freedom is the ideal. We don't need want governments in our health care or schools because they run them inefficiently. Privatization has the answers. 

So what happens if you're having spiritual or mental health problems in this society? Well, like all things capitalism, the answers are in the free market. Take a look at your local bookstore and go to the self-help section. Business is booming. The free market can give you a wide range of gurus from misogynist Tony Robbins to the fraud that is Deepak Chopra.  Or if you're in the mood for a more wholesome figure, Oprah's Supersoul conversations are a great place to start. Here you can learn to be your best self and can live up to the demands of the competitive marketplace. All you have to do is meditate for peace of mind to be your best, productive self.

In this way, mindful meditation has become a tool of the neoliberal self, the one that is hard-working, productive and compliant. And if you're feeling anxious or depressed, well the answers are within yourself too. You only have yourself to blame if you're unhappy the implicit meaning seems to be. Just don't look outward and question anything. Yes, even meditation and spiritual are manufactured consent. 

You can guess what I think about all this. I am not here to judge how we use meditation in contemporary society (ok, maybe I am little). In fact, I teach meditation to people who are anxious all the time as a tool to help them cope with their lives. 

But I will say this: meditation grew out of a moral and spiritual tradition. It was used not only gain peace of mind but to connect deeply to one's true nature and let go of our most selfish instincts. It helps cultivate our compassion and spread it not only to ourselves but to all that suffer. 

And to use meditation as a tool to quell anxiety so you can become a more productive and compliant employee feels wrong to me. It tells me we as a society value competition and status and achievement instead of compassion. It tells me we are under the spell of capitalism, and that we must try to hold it together and remain compliant because we know that our institutions will oppress us instead of helping us and that in the end, all we have to rely on is ourselves. 

What's the antidote to all this? It may surprise you, but I think the answer starts with anger. Anger is clarifying and righteous. We should all be feeling angrier about what is going on in our society. I don't mean the kind of anger and bitterness that can eat up the soul. I mean the kind of anger that points toward injustice, the kind of anger that starts to ask questions. I mean, how can we all be happy living in the most powerful and richest country in the history of the world when so many suffer in it?