Sunday 15 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Is Confucianism the new mindfulness?'

Having read half 'a dumbed-down book about Chinese philosophy', Brendan O'Connor thinks it could be the perfect antidote to the current era of selfie-ness
Having read half 'a dumbed-down book about Chinese philosophy', Brendan O'Connor thinks it could be the perfect antidote to the current era of selfie-ness
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

In this game you're always looking for the next thing. Journalists, in general, are a bit sociopathic. It's all, as Nora Ephron's parents told her, copy. Sometimes, when you are having an experience, good or bad, you disgust yourself by stepping back from it for a moment and thinking, "I'll get a piece out of this."

Trends and ideas and thoughts and observations are all currency in our trade. Some proper writers I know don't seem to really live life at all. They just view it as a thing you have to do in between writing in order to gather fresh material.

So anyway, I think I might have found one next thing. Right now I wonder if we are perhaps coming to the end of the era of mindfulness in the West - and if we are not going to swing from a Buddhist worldview to a more Confucian one.

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I should stress at this point that I am neither Chinese, nor Buddhist, nor Confucian nor a philosopher, nor any kind of expert. I'm just a guy looking for the next thing. And having read half a dumbed-down book about Chinese philosophy, I think it could be the perfect antidote to the current era of selfie-ness.

If you think about it, mindfulness is kind of self-obsessed. It is metaphorically sticking your head up your own backside, mining for your true inner self.

Confucius, as I understand it, from a vague reading of another guy's understanding of it, would argue that there is no authentic self. All we are is a collection of emotions brought on by the various encounters that make up our days.

While mindfulness is technically supposed to be about how you relate to other people, the starting point is definitely within. The Confucians, in my half-assed skimming of the situation third-hand, seem to be more about rebuilding from the outside in.

It is not the voice within that actually guides you and makes you who you are, who you are is actually expressed most clearly in how you interact with others. So the Chinese developed rituals around interactions so that they are not all slaves to emotions and spirits.

I really want to stress here that if there are any proper scholars of Confucius reading this, because I know this is what Confucians like to do on a Sunday - and if this is all wrong, please do not write in to argue with me.

Because I have nothing to back this up except one half book half read, so I will just collapse in the face of such well-balanced and informed argument.

Anyway, if indeed all of the above is true about the Chinese, then I definitely think we should consider moving in this direction. Because we are due a new worldview now. The mindfulness trend is peaking. As the man said, when the shoeshine boy is going on silent retreats for a week, it's time to get out of mindfulness.

I'm not suggesting we ditch mindfulness completely for the Chinese way, whatever it may be. The people who wrote the book I'm reading are quite down on mindfulness, but I would see a way where East and Far East could exist in harmony, where we look in and out.

I have six months left on the meditation app, so I'm not writing off the mindfulness yet. But I think I might start blending it with more of a relationship/interactional/transactional outlook also, where I pay a bit more attention to other people's backsides rather than just staring up my own.

It's a yin and yang approach, if you will.

I know all things Chinese are not exactly fashionable in some quarters at the moment, but perhaps it is time, in a world that has gone super-casual, emotionally incontinent and self-obsessed, to bring back a bit of propriety.

So, with that, I'll bid you good day, in an excessively formal way.

And please remember, if all this comes to pass, where did you hear it first? Dao and Zen, you might actually get some useful information from this column.

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