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Mindfulness: a Postmodern Form of Procrastination by John Latham

There is a consensus that procrastination is negative. We live in an era where productivity is celebrated. When grand metanarratives like Marxism are widely scorned, the idea is that workers should put in long shifts. The call for work-life balance is seldom heeded as the British economy continues to underperform.

Nonetheless, the trouble caused by overwork has not escaped the attention of the state. People are often diagnosed with stress or related mental health issues. What’s left of the National Health Service is having to pick up the pieces. Furthermore, the DWP is obliged to deal with lots of people who have been unable to keep up with the excessive demands of their employers. Unfortunately, there has been insufficient emphasis on helping people to recover. The pressure to get people back to work is often perceived as intense by those struggling near the breadline.

While talking therapies may help some individuals to discover a healthy equilibrium, many doctors feel that antidepressants are a useful tool when patients have found the stresses of postmodern life too much to bear. However, medication does not always address the underlying issues which led to crises in the first instance. It is in this context that some people view mindfulness as a way out of the mire.

Mindfulness has many advocates. They suggest that awareness can help individuals to escape negative thought patterns. Paying attention to the now is meant to prevent anxiety from dominating the mind of the individual. We have all seen colouring books which purport to help adults to relax. Many of us have read newspaper articles asking us to live in the moment. But as mindfulness courses are rolled out across our local towns and cities, mindfulness does begin to seem to be an industry like any other. Vulnerable people may fly from pharmaceutical solutions to their problems, but their destination may not be a sunny one. Considerable sums of money may change hands.

When all the concepts are stripped back, everyone agrees that taking a break is healthy. It is wonderful to look out of the window or go for a stroll in the country. Breathing cleaner air makes anyone feel better. However, it does seem to me that if people were encouraged to procrastinate in the first instance then they might not need to be prodded to be mindful in the present.

Procrastination is not bad and it does not hurt. If something can be done tomorrow instead of today, it is worth taking a little time out. If something is best done slowly, rushing at it makes no sense whatsoever. The complex problems of life cannot always be sorted out at a gallop. Procrastination can be viewed as being mindful in advance. Mindfulness is too prescriptive for everyone to appreciate its techniques, while procrastination is easier to implement.

There may well be people who gain a lot from mindfulness courses. But we should treat evidence of this with some caution. Any course can contribute to wellbeing. Self-esteem can always be boosted via the issuing of certificates. Moreover, attending a course can lead to the development of friendships. Hence a course in mindfulness may have a positive impact regardless of its content. Furthermore, an inspirational teacher can make a class look at the world anew. The subject being taught is not always as important as the way in which something is taught.

Of course, if mindfulness leads to contentment for many people it might be wrong to persuade them to be discontented. However, an unquestioned life is not much of a life. This means that the interrogation of mindfulness is as valuable as the public questioning of any other behaviour which is sanctioned by authority. If mindfulness does produce happiness in a healthy way then those who believe in it will not care if there are sceptics who voice some courteous concerns.

Questioning things is often viewed as part of critical theory. However, it is not always necessary to read up on the great works of the Frankfurt School. Asking a question is simpler than that. It does not always get an answer, and it is rarely profitable. But it enables the person who asks the question to look outside themselves. Mindfulness may or may not be a form of procrastination, but asking questions certainly is.

With or without procrastination, time will pass. Nevertheless, there does seem to be pleasure in putting things off. Mindfulness may be another way of heightening one’s appreciation of life, but it doesn’t have the rebellious content which true procrastination has. Mindfulness risks turning someone into a contented pudding, while undiluted procrastination seems to carry a genuine risk of being left behind. The fact that procrastination is frowned upon means that it must threaten something. Perhaps procrastination is like a fried breakfast, while mindfulness is muesli. Call me old-fashioned, but there is something amazing about the sizzling of eggs as noon approaches.



Older than he cares to admit, John spends his time feeling even older than he is. He produces content, while seeking quiet contentment. He supports Liverpool FC and Jeremy Corbyn, and likes the colour red. His blog Cheepcheepcopy is a scrapbook of political economy, with book reviews. Comments are always welcome.


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