Culture House Daily

The mindlessness of mindfulness

14 July 2014

I was at the Way with Words literary festival in Devon last week, reading from my new book. Afterwards I was led to the authors’ tent to do signings. As I approached I was delighted to see a long queue snaking around the gardens, everyone clutching my book, eagerly waiting for me to sign them. As I bounded up to my assigned desk like an overexcited puppy, my face fell. The queue was for Linda Blair’s The Key to Calm: Your Path to Mindfulness – and Beyond, the latest tome on the self-indulgence and narcissism that is ‘mindfulness’.

Rudely ignoring the small group of dungaree-clad lesbians waiting for me to sign the paltry pile of books on my turf, I picked up a copy of The Key to Calm to see what all the fuss was about. ‘Linda Blair’s proven programme will teach you how to find the balance, purpose and tranquillity you seek and enable you to find calm,’ read the blurb. ‘In five simple and effective steps we learn to: Stop, Look and Listen; Take Care of Your Best Asset; Know Yourself; Simplify; and Reach Out.’ In other words, you’re taught nothing new at all – and there’s the usual assumption that those of us who are neurotic, hyperactive insomniacs who’ve succumbed to the whiskey and valium haven’t actually tried the above.

I am told ‘mindfulness’ is not a cult. But like EST and NLP, it will become one, eventually, just as its more privileged disciples tire of it, leaving only the hardcore spouting its virtues before they move on to the next craze.

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I tend to loathe the books that gain a cult-like status for no apparent reason except for the mindlessness of the middle-class liberal intelligentsia. The first I recall was A Suitable Boy, published in 1993, a love story set in a newly independent India. I remember going on holiday with a friend, who bought it at the airport, as were most other adults fitting her demographic (namely, Crouch End tosserati). When I complained about not hearing a peep out of her because her snout was shoved in its 1,349 pages all week, she told me it was ‘just a soap opera – like you watching Eastenders’. What tosh.

The following year the sheep were found baaa-ing around Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. When it was made into a film in 2001 beaches were thronged with people clutching the familiar blue jacket. They’d smile tweely to the person holding the same book on the sunbed nextdoor as though they were all part of a club that only the terribly artistic and sensitive could join.

Recently we reached peak book snobbery with Waterstones removing all of its political categories and replacing them with the pretentiously-named ‘Smart Thinking’ section, filled with philosophy and political science. My book is in there, as well as other gay and feminist titles of a certain kind. If a dog-rough, working-class feminist wrote a book entitled Kill Men Now, Ask Me How, I imagine they’d have to create a new category, something like ‘Scumbag Writing’, to accommodate it.

Julie Bindel is the author of Straight Expectations: What Does It Mean To Be Gay Today? (Guardian Books)

Follow Julie Bindel on Twitter @bindelj

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  • dalai guevara

    “Mindfulness” is the “sustainablity” and “legacy” style buzz word of the 2010s.
    I first came across it about three years ago and I was instantly compelled to believe that some kind of late-to-the-party Al Gore type will soon pick up on it and extract all the value for what it’s worth.

  • Al

    Bitchy but still manages to be boring- how do do it Julie?

  • JB_1966

    Those criticising Julie Bindel missed this paragraph: “In other words, you’re taught nothing new at all – and there’s the usual assumption that those of us who are neurotic, hyperactive insomniacs who’ve succumbed to the whiskey and valium haven’t actually tried the above.”

    She’s ripping into the selling of a fairly basic, established technique as a massive smart-arse fad. At least I think she is and so she should be.

  • bfreesun

    Bitter and jealous

  • Bob Wainess

    Buddhism is what, 3000 years old? In what way is that a fad?

  • Malcolm Stevas

    I hadn’t encountered “Mindfulness” but
    then, I live near Totnes, so I have permanent filtering enabled to stave off
    the Alternative Garbage Overload that could arise simply from walking along the
    High Street and reading all the healers’/therapists’ business cards stuck
    inside shop doorways… Totnes is charming, and thriving, but it’s still filled
    with oddly garbed self-indulgent wackos who spew sententious post-hippy twaddle
    at the drop of a hat. Inevitably some of this extends to Dartington next door –
    and to Ways With Words. We’re lucky to have a premier literary festival on our
    doorstep, and most of it is what it says on the tin: I was there on Saturday
    for three short presentations from authors of OUP monographs on Robotics,
    Relativity and Terrorism. Good stuff as usual, and not remotely
    “Alternative” – I didn’t see the “Mindfulness” crap in the
    brochure, probably that filter again…

  • Frank Marker

    That Linda Blair has come a long way since her head rotated furiously in The Exorcist.

  • fundamentallyflawed

    “self-indulgence and narcissism that is ‘mindfulness’.” Really? In what way? Mindfulness is a meditation technique that encourages people to calm their mind and focus on the present rather than past issue or anticipating future ones. It can help people to control mental health issues without the need for strong medication. Or are you one of those people who think the depressed should just pull themselves together?

    • Emma Thomas

      Agree. I can’t comment on the particular book being referred to – know nothing about it – but I can’t see any justification or evidence for equating mindfulness with self-indulgence and narcissism.

  • Michael H Kenyon

    Book not selling well, Rod?

    • juliebindel

      It is doing great actually. But I wanted ALL OF THAT QUEUE to buy mine!

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