Selfishness is overwhelmingly the norm of our culture. Yet at the same time, self-help practitioners and life coaches are promoting practices such as mindfulness and self-awareness into an age of selfishness, enabling that selfishness to become the emerging goal of mindfulness. I fear that maybe my mission of life coaching is partly to blame for this selfishness, even though my approach to life coaching is very different from most coaches.
As a life coach, speaker, and author on the topic of finding inner peace through mindfulness, I fear that maybe my life’s mission is to blame for this selfishness. Have I been leading people astray? Actually, no!
A close examination of my material and mindfulness itself eschews selfishness in all of its manifestations. So why the existential angst that I’m feeling? Our culture encourages individuality, no pain, no suffering, only encouragement, praise, and a “way to go” for every action performed. Individualism based on the absence of hardship inevitably leads one to believe themselves as the center of the world. For most people, the focus is on self, and on being happy.
Insert the practice of mindfulness and the various claims from life and wellness coaches that they will make you happy, healthy, and prosperous if only you practice mindfulness in their way, and BOOM, an industry is born from the selfish tendencies of our culture.
What makes me different from other life and wellness coaches is that I do not promise you your dreams. I work in leading you to find inner peace, resulting in self-love expressed in action. My goal is not to make you healthy, thin, successful, or wealthy. Honestly, I don’t care if you succeed or fail in aspects of your life. My goal is for you to find inner peace regardless of what is happening in your life. The key to finding this peace is spelled out in my PATH program with it’s focus on teaching you to shift your priorities and perception.
The issue of selfishness is not because of mindfulness, the problem is in the promises being made about success, health, and happiness. In a previous article, I wrote against this idea of seeking happiness as a life goal.
Historically, the arrival of mindfulness to the US is attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn. In 2013 Kabat-Zinn wrote this definition of mindfulness (bold mine): “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”
According to Robert Sharf, “the Buddhist term translated into English as ‘mindfulness’ originates in the Pali term sati and in its Sanskrit counterpart smṛti. Smṛti originally meant ‘to remember,’ ‘to recollect,’ ‘to bear in mind’. … [S]ati is an awareness of things in relation to things, and hence an awareness of their relative value. Sati is what causes the practitioner of yoga to ‘remember’ that any feeling he may experience exists in relation to a whole variety or world of feelings that may be skillful or unskillful, with faults or faultless, relatively inferior or refined, dark or pure.”
Where in this ancient or current definition of mindfulness does one find selfishness? One doesn’t, for what is written is quite the opposite of selfishness. Reflecting on the phrases, I placed in bold, we see that mindfulness is focused on one’s entire experience of life, not just the happy moments, thoughts, or emotions. As professor Thomas Joiner writes: “Accepting one’s thoughts as mere thoughts is very different from treasuring one’s thoughts; one may as well treasure one’s sweat or saliva. This is about recognizing that each thought is inconsequential and thus not worth getting depressed or anxious about.”
The goal of mindfulness is for us to slow down enough to fully experience life. Mindfulness is not a means to avoid negative aspects of life, but to fully live those experiences to learn how to cope with them healthily. Mindfulness asks us to be aware of all of our emotions, to feel everything, even the negativity. In so doing, we end up coping with what we at first wanted to avoid.
Mindfulness does not lead us away from reality into false or naive happiness; instead, it immerses us into our present reality. Mindfulness only talks about the self in the context of the necessary inward reflection. But to stay in the inward self is what makes one selfish. Selfishness does not and cannot lead to a sense of inner nor outer peace!
Why? Because the state of being at peace involves one’s actions becoming in sync with one’s values and morals. The ideology of morality exists in light of our interactions within a culture of other people. Separating oneself (selfishness) from society implies no need for a set of morals as there is no one upon whom you will transgress.
Therefore, finding inner peace directs one to seek an outer peace, and for that to happen, we need to work together for the common good; an anti-selfishness. Working together for the common good involves action, and action is as necessary as the practice of mindfulness itself. We aren’t utilizing mindfulness as a tool for merely learning about self for the sake of knowledge, but for that knowledge to help us understand our place in the broader community. Mindfulness guides me to be the best version of me, not for me to hold onto, but for me to share my best version of self with the community.
Living mindfully is a daily practice of noticing everything. The emphasis is on full awareness of our experience to avoid denial of reality. Mindfulness, when used as intended, will lead one to a deeper understanding of self and the experience of inner peace. But mindfulness does not result in selfishness or personal gains, save the personal benefit of more profound knowledge as to who you are. Mindfulness and inner peace lead us outside of ourselves to working with others in creating a just and peace-filled world, something selfishness knows nothing about.