Beware the solipsism effect

30.01.2020 | Phoebe McDowell

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Everyone is ‘mindful.' From titans of tech in their meditation pods, to the government and its national curriculum. Even your friend who doesn’t believe in ‘that kind of thing’ listens to rain on the Calm App. But herein lies the problem: society has diluted and distorted actual, authentic mindfulness to such an extent that anything qualifies. Be holistic and hedonistic - don’t have serviceable sex, have in-the-moment this-is-not-a-means-to-an-end sex. Don’t glug your wine, savour it as if each sip were a reunion with an old friend. If all else fails, simply identify (publicly) as ‘mindful’, because that’s a social superiority badge in itself.

Like any prescribed medication, so much navel-gazing in the name of mental health has its own side effects. We are so inward now, so self-seeking. The Buddhists might not have seen us coming, but Tom Wolfe did. He pretty much defined our ersatz interpretation in his 70s essay The ‘Me’ Decade (me being the operative word): it’s ‘changing one’s personality—remaking, remodelling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me, ME, ME!)’. Yes, our unflinching commitment to ourselves is nothing new - we’ve simply found a way to justify it. And commodify it, and fetishise it. Troublesome how? A near-constant inward gaze means we treat ourselves - and our perceived problems - like a spoiling aunt would; dispensing cuddles, treats, and niceties when we’ve been nothing but the adult equivalent of selfish brats. 

According to Psychological Therapist Massimo Stocchi, ‘this interpretation means people can only relate to themselves, and not the world around them’. By putting ourselves in the middle of the moment, we allow minor problems to take on ferocious and frightening significance. The catastrophising is catastrophic. Our minds are full, but they’re certainly not mindful. And our coffers? They’re drained, because capitalism is really into it, too.