With the beginning of the New Year, many of us resolve to make changes for the better. We evaluate our past, consider what we ought to change, and then resolve to undertake new and positive behaviors. 

In an age of ever increasing distractions, seeking to increase one’s capacity for “mindfulness” – the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance – may seem like an excellent resolution for the New Year. I couldn’t agree more.

As a person of faith, I have found the practice of mindfulness, while difficult, to be an important and integral pathway to increasing my capacity for empathy and becoming a more complete human being. Of course, few things in the human experience are straight-forward; everything, it seems, is prone to going sideways. And while there are masters of mindfulness who are almost one with the rest of us, I find myself dwelling somewhere between being completely enthralled with the present moment, to a person who sometimes has trouble seeing his own feet, let alone his neighbor or the world around him.

As business leaders and practitioners, we would be well served to seek a more mindful existence. Being mindful, and in the present moment will help us see more clearly the extent of the looming existential crisis called climate change and what it will mean for our community. It will lead us to make those difficult decisions in ways that include our community – our co-workers, our suppliers and our customers. By the same token, doing these things is not easy. We live in a culture that commodifies all things, and seeks profit at every turn. Being mindful needs to be connected to, and aware of this reality and the sorts of things it portends.

The self-help world is filled with those who make a handsome living selling guidance on how to become a more mindful person. And while many of these folks may be well-meaning, what results from all of this advice is far less than what ought to be expected. Let’s face it, for all the wisdom available on how to live a peaceful existence, isn’t odd that we seem to be at each other’s throats more so now than ever before?

In his most recent book, McMindfulness, Ron Purser of San Francisco State University warns that a mindfulness co-opted by the corporate state and unhinged from an ethical framework can cause more harm than good.

Many large corporations have “mindfulness gurus” on staff who help employees find ways to relieve stress by becoming more aware of their thoughts and how to effectively deal with them. Yet, as Purser argues, if mindfulness is disconnected from an awareness of the injustices in the world around us, and simply applied to rendering more “effective employees”, it can become a tool for co-opting people to do little more than serve profit.

There are many “internal contradictions” with which we must deal. As persons who believe business is more than maximizing shareholder value, being mindful of the contradictions – the social and environmental injustices within our community – is essential to finding ways of working together for the common good. Mindfulness is an important pathway to our becoming what we’re meant to be. But unhinged from a sense of ethics – a sense of what justice looks like – mindfulness can become nothing more than navel gazing that leads to hyper-individualization and egotism. 

The looming crises that confront us – the wicked problems of our day – call for mindfulness. But this mindfulness must be formed within a framework that’s defined by our relationships: those that we have with each other – our neighbors, the folks who live, breath and have their existence right here in Detroit and the region – and the Earth system itself. If we’re mindful, we’re mindful together.