A Compass Webinar, in association with Living Maps Pausing for Thought: Mindful Perspectives
on a Multiple Crisis.
Wednesday, June 17th 18:30 – 20:00
First there was Brexit. Then the Labour Party goes down to a historic defeat with its most radical Social Democratic agenda since 1945. Then widespread floods across the country presage an environmental apocalypse to come unless climate change is properly addressed. And now we have the advent of a pandemic on the epic scale of Spanish Flu after the First world war, to be almost certainly followed by a global economic recession.
It is easy to join up these very large dots into an overwhelming picture of doom and gloom, or alternatively to re-imagine them as the birth pangs of a new culture and society liberated from the toxic impact of consumerism and racism. A new culture that is making Black Lives Matter, re-valuing the labour of care, and building on the moral economy of mutual aid which has emerged so suddenly from ‘left field’.
The electrifying response of BAME communities and their supporters to the pan-endemic racism revealed by the public health crisis is certainly a cause for optimism. But as Gramsci well knew, optimism of the will, left to its own devices can lead to the wishful thinking which characterises the Exiteers and our present muddled transition from lockdown. Equally unalloyed pessimism of the intellect, which sections of the Left are also very good at, leads to the kind of armchair utopianism which has no real skin in the game and offers purely academic consolation for political defeats.
The pace of recent events has left us all breathless. This conversation, and the publications linked to it, offer a pause for thought, a chance to get our breath back and avoid reaching for the panic button while addressing the enormous challenges we face. One way of describing that mind set is political mindfulness.
Mindfulness is best known as a form of do-it your-self therapy, a mash-up of Buddhist meditation with Western cognitive and behaviour science. Whatever its origins, and its often dubious commercial applications, mindfulness as a technique for reducing anxiety and stress has added an important element to the psychological survival kit of those key workers, many from BAME communities, who find themselves on the front lines of the pandemic as well as those who are still locked down in its backyards.
The aim of these publications, and of this conversation, is not so much to find definitive answers – that would be entirely presumptuous under present circumstances – but to explore an approach to mindfulness which is appropriate for implementing Compass’ 45° model for political change.
Phil Cohen is the Research Director of the Livingmaps Network and author of Waypoints: towards an ecology of political mindfulness (eyeglass books 2019)
Ruth Lister is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on mindfulness. She has written widely on poverty, inequality and feminist issues.
Michael Rustin is Professor of Sociology at the University of East London, Visiting Professor at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Clinic and author of The Good Society and the Inner World