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Mindfulness and the Moral Imperative for the Self to Improve the Self

Part of the Mindfulness in Behavioral Health book series (MIBH)

Abstract

One of the primary vehicles for the propagation of mindfulness is American self-improvement culture—even in medical or educational institutions. Adapted into the self-improvement culture, the ethos of that culture both structures the external forms of mindfulness training and provides the values, presumptions, and understandings of the self that inform mindfulness training. The driving ethic of that culture is the moral imperative to improve oneself, rooted in Puritan theology. Those theological conceptions were adapted to the needs of capitalist society in the second half of the nineteenth century, when industrialization required workers impose standards of behavior on themselves so as to meet the demands of timeliness and productivity set by employers. Early twentieth century spiritual movements further spread the ethic of self-improvement into the diffuse ideology of American popular religious culture. There it is matched with an ideology of individualism. Many strains of American popular religious culture offer a negative view of individualism as isolating and detrimental. Individualism is, however, hegemonic, and links neoliberal social theory with self-improvement culture. The moral imperative to self-improvement is a foundational social value generally and thus serves as a central motivating force wherever mindfulness is promoted as self-improvement. Further, the moral imperative to self-improvement is driven by perfectionism and its anxieties. One can always improve oneself even further, creating a demand that cannot be fulfilled but is constantly renewed. The moral imperative to self-improvement is widely and unreflectively presumed and motivates consumption. It is, therefore, foundational to marketing self-improvement of any kind, including mindfulness.

Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Self-improvement
  • Moral imperative
  • Self-help
  • Puritanism
  • Self-fashioning
  • Asceticism

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Correspondence to Richard K. Payne .

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Payne, R.K. (2016). Mindfulness and the Moral Imperative for the Self to Improve the Self. In: Purser, R., Forbes, D., Burke, A. (eds) Handbook of Mindfulness. Mindfulness in Behavioral Health. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-44019-4_9

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