The idea of spiritual commodification

Last night I was at  the book launch of the latest edited book by Anthony Molino and again this morning went to the talk he gave put on by The Analytic Network. I was struck by a word he used yesterday evening ‘commodification’. This links to the marketable quality of something and how whatever it is it can be turned into a commodity. Molino was speaking about the development of Buddhism in the West and how mindfulness that comes from Buddhist meditation has now become a commodity. It’s everywhere as a solution to this or that or the other… mindfulness as a way of managing anger or anxiety or sorrow… A bit like CBT it offers an economically ‘viable’ way out of contemporary angst. You can sort things in 6-8 week courses or even just focus for a moment on a piece of fruit or whatever is happening in the body or indeed the mind. The selling point is that with a bit of effort you can be up and fully functioning in the work place and in that way pulling your own economic weight. In other words use the commodity to increase your own life as a commodity and while you are about it get out there and keep shopping, especially for all those things you didn’t know you wanted.

And of course the Buddhist part has been dropped from the technique which is sold as a technique and nothing more. Mindfulness is a secular idea for secular ends. There’s a sort of connection with the Buddhist heads and statues that you can find in garden centres. The commodification in this example is something about leisure and resting. These are not objects for meditation or imbued with meaning and deep tradition.

But the deep meaning and practice of genuine religion is not commodifiable .. Christianity and Christ, contemplative prayer and all forms of meditation where they are linked to their source cannot be marketed. After all what’s for sale – becoming one with Christ, the experience of the no-self, emptying of the mind … no profit for the post capitalist economy in any of that.

There’s a similarity with psychoanalysis or analytic psychology. Why can’t that be marketed in the same way as CBT and mindfulness…  partly because it all takes time…two or three or more times a week for years and years. Both Christian contemplative prayer and Buddhist meditation, psychoanalysis and analytic psychology are genuine and transformative practices.