A Meta-Critique of Mindfulness Critiques: From McMindfulness to Critical Mindfulness

  • Zack WalshEmail author
Part of the Mindfulness in Behavioral Health book series (MIBH)


Online magazines and blogs are attempting to translate mindfulness into the cultural mainstream, but online discussions often reproduce assumptions and patterns of thinking which are divisive, leading to an increasingly polarized debate. This chapter presents a discourse analysis of mindfulness critiques circulating in online media over the last few years in order to identify the fault lines that frame public debate on mindfulness. It combines critiques to present a coherent summary of critics’ concerns, and it outlines the conditions for renegotiating how mindfulness is framed. Overall, this chapter argues that neoliberalism has transformed mindfulness into a variety of depoliticized and commodified self-help techniques and that universal, asocial and ahistorical views of mindfulness should be replaced by critical, socially aware and engaged forms of mindfulness.


Commodification Corporate quietism Mcmindfulness Military mindfulness Neoliberalism Ideology Secular mindfulness Socially engaged Trojan horse Universalism 


  1. Ball, M. (2014, September). Congressman moonbeam: Can representative tim Ryan teach Washington to meditate? The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  2. Barratt, C. (2015, November 26). Mindfulness, social change and the ‘neoliberal self’ [blog post]. Retrieved from
  3. Bieber, M. (2014, March 3). Everyone comes to meditation practice for the wrong reason: A conversation with psychoanalyst barry magid [blog post]. Retrieved from
  4. Biswas-Diener, R., & Kashdan, T. B. (2015, September 16). Why mindfulness is overrated. Fast Company. Retrieved from
  5. Braun, E. (2013). The birth of insight: Meditation, modern buddhism, and the burmese monk ledi sayadaw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, C. G. (2015, February 4). Mindfulness meditation in public schools: Side-stepping supreme court religion rulings. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  7. Burkeman, O. (2015, April 7). Meditation sweeps corporate america, but it’s for their health. Not yours. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  8. Caulfield, T. (2015, May 4). Be mindful, not mindless. Policy Options. Retrieved from
  9. Confino, J. (2014, March 28). Thich nhat hanh: Is mindfulness being corrupted by business and finance? The Guardian. Retrieved from
  10. Cope, M. B., & Allison, D. B. (2010). White hat bias: Examples of its presence in obesity research and a call for renewed commitment to faithfulness in research reporting. International Journal of Obesity, 34, 84–88. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2009.239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Crouch, R. (2011, March 31). The myth of mindfulness [blog post]. Retrieved at
  12. Davis, E. (2013, May 3). Is yoga a religion? Evangelical Christians in California tried to ban yoga in schools. So where is the line between the body and the soul? Aeon. Retrieved from
  13. Dayton, G. (2011, April 12). Mindfulness—The most important trading psychology skill for traders. Daily FX. Retrieved from
  14. Delaney, B. (2015, October 18). If 2014 was the year of mindfulness, 2015 was the year of fruitlessly trying to debunk it. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  15. Drougge, P. (2016, March 4). Notes toward a coming backlash: Mindfulne$$ as an opiate of the middle class [blog post]. Retrieved from
  16. Duerr, M. (2015, May 16). Toward a socially responsible mindfulness [blog post]. Retrieved from
  17. Eaton, J. (2013, February 20). American buddhism: Beyond the search for inner peace. Religion Dispatches. Retrieved from
  18. Ehrenreich, B. (2015). Mind your own business. The Baffler, 27. Retrieved from
  19. Flores, N. (2015, September 11). Here’s why you need to question mindfulness in classrooms. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  20. Folk, K. (2013, July 1). Not a productivity tool [blog post]. Retrieved from
  21. Forbes, D. (2015, November 8). They want kids to be robots: Meet the new education craze designed to distract you from overtesting. Salon. Retrieved from
  22. Gates, B., & Senauke, A. (2014, Spring). Mental armor: An interview with neuroscientist amisha jha. Inquiring Mind. Retrieved from
  23. Gelles, D. (2015). Mindful work: How meditation is changing business from the inside out. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  24. Genju. (2015, May 18). Mindfulness, ethics & the baffling debate [blog post]. Retrieved from
  25. Gethin, R. (2015). Buddhist conceptualizations of mindfulness. In K. W. Brown, J. D. Creswell, & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), The handbook of mindfulness: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 9–41). New York: Guilford Publications.Google Scholar
  26. Goldberg, M. (2015a, April 18). The long marriage of mindfulness and money. The New Yorker. Retrieved from
  27. Goldberg, M. (2015b, November 23). ‘Where the whole world meets in a single nest:’ The history behind a misguided campus debate over yoga and ‘cultural appropriation.’ Slate. Retrieved from
  28. Gregoire, C. (2014, January 2). Why 2014 will be the year of mindful living. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  29. Gregoire, C. (2015, March 16). Why mindfulness will survive the backlash. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  30. Hart, A. (2015, October 24); Mindfulness backlash: Could meditation be bad for your health? The Telegraph. Retrieved from
  31. Heffernan, V. (2015, April 14). The muddied meaning of ‘mindfulness.’ New York Times. Retrieved from
  32. Heuman, L. (2014, October 1). Don’t believe the hype. Tricycle. Retrieved from
  33. Holloway, K. (2015, July 11). Mindfulness: Capitalism’s new favorite tool for maintaining the status quo. AlterNet. Retrieved from
  34. Honey, L. (2014). Self-help groups in post-soviet moscow: Neoliberal discourses of the self and their social critique. Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research, 1, 5–29. Retrieved from
  35. Horton, C. (2015, June 25). ‘Mindful work’: Drowning social ethics in a sea of neoliberal niceness [book review]. Retrieved from
  36. International Symposium for Contemplative Studies. (2014, November 2). Search inside and outside yourself: Challenging current conceptions of corporate mindfulness. Retrieved from
  37. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.Google Scholar
  38. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011, June 14). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12(1), 281–306. doi: 10.1080/14639947.2011.564844 Google Scholar
  39. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015, October 20). Mindfulness has huge health potential– but McMindfulness is no panacea. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  40. Knickelbine, M. (2013a, August 2). Mindfulness on the battlefield [blog post]. Retrieved from
  41. Knickelbine, M. (2013b, August 12). From both sides: Secular buddhism and the ‘mcmindfulness’ question [blog post]. Retrieved from
  42. Korda, J. (2015, November 20). The lost factor in the buddha’s path to happiness. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  43. Krupka, Z. (2015, September 22). How corporates co-opted the art of mindfulness to make us bear the unbearable. The Conversation. Retrieved from
  44. Lion’s Roar. (2015, May 5). Forum: What does mindfulness mean for buddhism? Retrieved from
  45. Manthorpe, R. (2015, December 10). Mind-wandering: The rise of an anti-mindfulness movement. The Long and Short. Retrieved from
  46. Marter, J. (2014, July 28). Mindfulness for mind-blowing sex: 5 practices. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  47. McGill’s Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry. (Producer). (2013, September 23). Mindfulness or mindlessness: Traditional and modern buddhist critiques ofbare awareness.’ [Video file]. Retrieved from
  48. McMahan, D. L. (2008). The making of buddhist modernism. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Miller, L. D. (2014, April 30). Recent meta-analysis finds varied efficacy of group meditation interventions [blog post]. Retrieved from
  50. Mind & Life Europe. (2015). Interview with prof. martijn van beek - esri 2015. Retrieved from
  51. Moore, S. (2014, August 6). Mindfulness is all about self-help. It does nothing to change an unjust world. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  52. Morford, M. (2015, September 22). Meditation jumps the shark: Headspace sells you nothingness [blog post]. Retrieved from
  53. Ng, E. (2014, December 11). Who gets buddhism ‘right’? Reflections of a postcolonial ‘western buddhist’ convert. ABC Religion and Ethics. Retrieved from
  54. Ng, E. (2015, March 12). Who gets mindfulness ‘right’? An engaged buddhist perspective. ABC Religion and Ethics. Retrieved from
  55. North, A. (2014, June 30). The mindfulness backlash. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  56. Olendzki, A. (2015, Spring). The mindfulness solution. Tricycle. Retrieved from
  57. Patterson, C. (2015, July 16). Mindfulness for mental health? Don’t hold your breath. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  58. Payne, R. K. (2014, February 18). Corporatist spirituality [blog post]. Retrieved from
  59. Payne, R. K. (2015, October 27). Sheep’s clothing? Marketing mindfulness as socially transforming [blog post]. Retrieved from
  60. Piacenza, J. (2014, March 31). Time’s beautiful, white, blonde, ‘mindfulness revolution.’ Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  61. Pickert, K. (2014, January 23). The mindful revolution. Time. Retrieved from
  62. Pinsker, J. (2015, March 10). Corporations’ newest productivity hack: Meditation. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  63. Pradhan, R. (2016, January 1). Mindfulness and growing pains [blog post]. Retrieved from
  64. Purser, R. (2014, Spring). The militarization of mindfulness. Inquiring Mind. Retrieved from
  65. Purser, R., & Cooper, A. (2014, December 6). Mindfulness’ ‘truthiness’ problem: Sam harris, science and the truth about buddhist tradition. Salon. Retrieved from
  66. Purser R., & Ng, E. (2015a, September 27). Corporate mindfulness is bullsh*t: Zen or no Zen, you’re working harder and being paid less. Salon. Retrieved
  67. Purser, R., & Ng, E. (2015b, October 2). White privilege and the mindfulness movement. Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Retrieved from
  68. Purser, R., & Loy, D. (July 1, 2013). Beyond mcmindfulness. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  69. Robb, A. (2015, December 31). How 2014 became the year of mindfulness. New Republic. Retrieved from
  70. Rowe, J. K. (2015, March 21). Zen and the art of social movement maintenance. Waging Nonviolence. Retrieved from
  71. Rubin, J. (2014, July 10). Meditation for strivers. The New Yorker. Retrieved from
  72. Salzberg, S. (2015, April 26). The challenges of seeing meditation only through a scientific lens. On Being. Retrieved from
  73. Scalora, S. (2015, March 20). Mindfulness-based stress reduction: An interview with jon kabat-zinn. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  74. Segall, S. (2013, December 19). In defense of mindfulness [blog post]. Retrieved from
  75. Segall, S. (2015, April 23). The politics of mindfulness [blog post].
  76. Sherwood, H. (2015, October 28). Mindfulness at risk of beingturned into a free market commodity.’ Retrieved from
  77. Stanley, E. A., & Schaldach, J. M. (2011). Mindfulness-based mind fitness training (MMFT.) Mind Fitness Training Institute.Google Scholar
  78. Stone, M. (2014, March 17). Abusing the buddha: How the u.s. army and google co-opt mindfulness. Salon. Retrieved from
  79. The Psychologist. (2015, May 18). ‘This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination.’ Retrieved from
  80. Titmuss, C. (2016, January 1). The buddha of mindfulness. The politics of mindfulness [blog post]. Retrieved from
  81. Vago, D. (n.d.) What is mindfulness? We are amidst the mindful revolution, but do we have a handle on what mindfulness even is? [blog post]. Retrieved from,
  82. Vega-Frey, J. M. (2015, November 7). The buddeoisie blues: The price and peril of genetically modified dharma. Medium. Retrieved from
  83. Vishvapani. (2014, February 20). Mindfulness is political [blog post]. Retrieved from
  84. Wallis, G. (2011, July 3). Elixir of mindfulness [blog post]. Retrieved from
  85. Walsh, Z. (2016). A critical theory-praxis for contemplative studies. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities, VII. Ayutthaya: Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University Press. Retrieved from
  86. Whitaker, J. (2013, December 21). Mindfulness: Critics and defenders [blog post]. Retrieved from
  87. Widdicombe, L. (2015, July 6). The higher life: A mindfulness guru for the tech set. The New Yorker. Retrieved from
  88. Wikholm, C. (2015, May 22). Seven common myths about meditation. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  89. Williams, J. M. G., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015). Mindfulness: Diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins and applications. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  90. Wilson, J. (2014). Mindful america: The mutual transformation of buddhist meditation and american culture. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wylie, M. S. (2015, January 29). How the mindfulness movement went mainstream—And the backlash that came with it. AlterNet. Retrieved from
  92. Žižek, S. (2001, Spring). From western Marxism to western Buddhism. Cabinet Magazine, 2. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Claremont School of TheologyClaremontUSA

Personalised recommendations