What's Wrong With Mindful Mayo? New York Times Reporter David Gelles Brings a Critical Eye to 'Mindfulness Inc.'

New York Times reporter David Gelles brings a critical eye to "Mindfulness Inc."

ByABC News
March 30, 2016, 1:56 PM

— -- If you're a busy person looking for a little bit of mindfulness these days, you can buy books, subscribe to apps, or reserve a seat at one of the so-called "mindful dry-bars" that are opening up around the country. You can also buy mindful tea, mindful mints, mindful meats, or a dairy-free mayonnaise substitute called Mindful Mayo.

So is this a sign that our society is progressing toward a calmer, saner headspace? Or is an ancient technique being co-opted by craven capitalists?

This is the question that has gripped David Gelles, a New York Times reporter and the author of the book, “Mindful Work."

“This is a billion dollar market now,” he said during the ABC News livestream podcast show, “10% Happier with Dan Harris.”

Gelles, a self-described “sporadic mediator,” wrote an op-ed for the New York Times Sunday Review earlier this month called “The Hidden Price of Mindfulness Inc.,” in which he talked about the “mindfulness economy” and the hundreds of products out there, from T-shirts to cleaning products.

“With so many cashing in on the meditation craze, it’s hard not to wonder whether something essential is being lost,” Gelles wrote. “If mindfulness can be bought as easily as a pair of Lululemon yoga pants, can it truly be a transformative practice that eases the troubled mind?”

One of the points he wanted to make in his op-ed, Gelles said, was “to show the proliferation of mindful products and services in the marketplace today.”

“Which I frankly find kind of comical,” he continued. “If in mindfulness meditation we’re simply supposed to observe things as they unfold, we must be honest with ourselves that we are witnessing a great unfolding of ridiculous mindfulness products.”

In the end, Gelles concludes, the great proliferation of mindfulness products is probably innocuous, as long as people recognize that they can't achieve mindfulness simply by buying mayo; they actually have to practice it.

For his book, Gelles spent a year traveling the country visiting companies that are incorporating meditation, mindfulness and yoga into the workflow. (And yes, he acknowledges that his own book falls firmly into the category of Mindfulness Inc.)

He said many companies have “home-grown” meditation practices, where it started with one employee or a small group who were interested in finding time to meditate, and then it gradually gained company support.

It’s “secular mindfulness” he said, that use themes from Buddhist teachings but not all of its lingo or metaphysics -- which, Gelles says, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“What we’ve seen evolve over the last three decades ... is the evolution of a new kind of secular mindfulness where the initial and the primary benefits that we can talk about and measure and quantify have more to do with stress reduction, perhaps some degree of focus, perhaps a more accepting mindset that can create better relations with one’s self and others, and has less to do with being a tool on the path towards liberation and enlightenment,” he said.

Gelles said he first started meditating when he was 19 years old and has practiced mindfulness meditation, including going to India for retreats, for more than 15 years. Now with a full-time job and kids at home, he said he tries to find quiet moments in his day to meditate, whether it’s early in the morning, late at night after his kids are in bed or even at his desk at work.

During the day, Gelles said he uses so-called “meditation hacks,” such as waiting a beat or two before picking up a ringing phone or practicing walking meditation around the office at work.

“It’s a moment to check in with my body,” he said. “It’s one more reminder to try to get into the habit of being mindful.”