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From Being Mindful to Mindful Living

Is a diluted approach to mindfulness the only spiritual path in modern life?

Key points

  • A diluted form of mindfulness should not be the only publicly acceptable expression of spirituality.
  • The economic and political future of everyone hinges on cognitive modes which support doing.
  • Mindful living in the deepest sense motivates people to get out into the world, do more, and become agents of positive change.
Zsófia Fehér/Pexels
Zsófia Fehér/Pexels

As we look to infuse a greater sense of meaning in our day-to-day lives, there is an important question to consider. Is the prescriptive advice that we are to put our energies into being more mindful? Or is the actual challenge confronting us that of finding the energy and the willpower to do more things mindfully?

Differing Strategies

These questions are not mere semantics. There are some very crucial practical differences between these two approaches. For example, if our goal is the former, a state of being, then we may decide to spend as much time as possible alone in mindful meditation. But if what we are pursuing is the latter, if it's mindful living in the deepest sense, that should provide us with the motivation to get out into the world, do more, and become agents of positive change.

Exploring the differences between these two paradigms is not to lessen or demean one in the face of the other. Being mindful and present, in each and every moment, without judgment or agitation, is a very appealing cognitive strategy for coping with life’s frustrations. For some of us, the environmental factors we face make the act of simply being an aspirational reprieve.

Mindfulness meditation offers a path to pausing our thoughts when we feel overwhelmed. It is designed to mitigate the Buddhist truth of suffering, a view of life that many of us can sympathetically relate to. There is no disputing the fact that we’d all be better off if we incorporated mindful breathing into our toolkits for coping with the pressures of our disruptive times.

Where Are the Spiritual Spaces?

What is in dispute is whether our society is well served by the growing trend of advocating for a diluted approach to mindfulness as the only way to successfully bring the hunt for spiritual meaning to modern life. Passivity in the face of overwhelming chaos is one strategy. But it is not the only strategy.

For many in the West, spirituality has slowly, but noticeably, become increasingly absent from our social and working lives. There are, of course, demographic and behavioural factors that can explain this trend. Our society became less religious, while our culture institutionalized an incredibly unhealthy work/life balance. Consequently, companies that recognize the importance of spirituality in the workplace, with few exceptions, ended up embracing the paradigm of being spiritual through mindfulness and meditation.

Living Means Chasing Goals

This is a curious turn. Our society needs more mindful living. Our economic and political futures are contingent on folks adopting a cognitive mode that supports doing. Embracing mindfulness as a tool for meaning requires us to orient toward being and away from doing. The continued growth of the mindfulness industry, and its ability to successfully infiltrate the human resource department of economic powerhouses, seems to show that there is a very well-defined inverse relationship between adaptation and data around the effectiveness of these approaches.

Being mindful involves attending to the present without striving, whereas doing things mindfully involves cognitive operations that support the goal-oriented behaviour often driving modern life. On the long road of personal growth and spiritual development, the situation is never either/or. There is a role for both approaches, but we need to be mindful of when living demands more than just being.


Weitzner, D. 2021. Connected Capitalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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