By Ana Lo Charlotta Ekelund
I was barely nineteen, sitting in a threadbare county financed armchair in a small room in the psychiatry office of my home town, eyes closed, drawing deep breaths of stale air, the smell of coffee, plastic shoe covers and soft soap. ”Deep breath in. Everything is alright” chanted the nurse from her matching armchair. ”Whatever you feel or think is alright. Try to think of absoloutley nothing. Let your thoughts pass like a stream of water; notice them, look at them indifferently and passivly. Deep breath out”. I left the office feeling calm but detached, not noticing the blue plastic covers still left on my shoes until the locker room at work.
Mindfulness has had immense vogue as treatment for a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders, from stress to stroke-rehabilitation. The core idea is acceptance, comparable to the first line of the famous Serenity Prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr; “O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.”Unlike the positive thinking ideology, we recognize that the glass is in fact half-empty, instead attempting to come to terms with the destitution. We ask of the world, and ourself, not courage, hope, nor patience, but contentment. The idea of less effort as the key to improved life experience is appealing to say the least, and echoes on in our modern secular world in countless encouraging instagram posts, wall décor and water bottles, presenting us with one simple task: “Breathe”.
Still, contentment is a comfortable yet dangerous temper to catagorically strive for. What your water bottle, psychiatric nurse or reassuring politician is advicing you to do, is not reach contentment by taking action ehich may later on lead to a satisfactory situation, but to passivly let contentment be the means itself, as we are afraid the first option is unavailable to us.
With the unresolved issues of 2017 piled up like the dirty dishes of New Year’s Eve, and the issues ahead like a new-bought gym membership, expecting, accusing, we are at risk of defering to a sort of political contentment. We settle for The Doha Ammendment rates of a 20 percent emission reduction, because we consider a more restrictive demand to lie within that disheartening realm of what cannot be changed, into which we seem to have thrown other high hopes, such as the idea of global pacifism, or an equal global wealth distrubution.
Because acceptance of unacceptabilites does not lead to serenity. It brings about grief and a feeling of powerlessness, and consequently a state of apathy labled “zen”. This hollow feeling of horrible failure leads us to seek fulfillment of our less altrouistic desires, on a political level it means giving our votes to those who promise national wealth, military security and international status, on a personal level, material satisfaction. We advance in our carreer, get a raise, buy a yoga mat telling us to breathe. In this trade-off between importance and effort, we are constantly expected to make our demands within the conventional range, any suggestions of radical changes to the existing system consistently brushed off as naïve or overly idealistic. COP23 came and passed, still without provding any penal system for non-compliance with the Paris agreement, while several freetrade agreements have been put in place which act instead as counterclimate regulatory systems. Accelerating consumption is enabled through systematic exploatation of human and natural resources. All this we accept.
It is another unrealistic hope – as are all those high enough – that the political landscape of 2018 will be defined by our modified serenity prayer; That we will be content with that which we need not bother with, discontent with that which matters, and have the courage and decisiveness to act out the difference.