To explain the purpose of the London Radical Mindfulness project, we need to outline the wider context in which it arose, beginning with discussions on the left around ‘Acid Communism’. This was a term coined by cultural theorist Mark Fisher, who sadly died in early 2017. He had previously done popular work on the concept of capitalist realism, arguing that capitalism had come to be seen as so ubiquitous and inevitable that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’. This had occurred because the growth of neoliberalism since Margaret Thatcher had acted as a form of ‘consciousness deflation’, a destruction of the very idea that there were other political possibilities. Instead we became framed as only competitive individual subjects, in a world in which ‘There is No Alternative’. Acid Communism was his later proposal for how we counter this. In his talk All of This is Temporary he looks to various ‘consciousness raising‘ projects of the 1960s such as trade union class consciousness and feminist consciousness raising groups. These are frequently discussed topics on the left, but more unusual is how he places these alongside what he calls psychedelic consciousness. He argues that 60s counterculture, through its experiments with art, music, drugs and spirituality, had been successful in popularising the notion that reality was changeable, that the future was open, that experimentation and creativity were necessary. The fact that massively popular groups such as The Beatles were at the forefront of this psychedelic consciousness shows how widespread it had become. Acid Communism is the attempt to recapture this spirit of experimentation and its sense of a malleable future. This can’t simply be a repeat of 60s counterculture however, but must involve the creation of entirely new ideas and practices.
Following Mark’s death, Acid Communism came to prominence in late 2017 at The World Transformed festival, where it was playfully re-born as Acid Corbynism, for a discussion on how the current movement around the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn could play a role in such a consciousness raising project. Mark Fisher’s friend and collaborator Jeremy Gilbert — who had been instrumental in developing the acid communism concept — subsequently wrote a long piece for Open Democracy setting out his vision, significantly extending the role of spirituality. In particular, Gilbert argues that secular mindfulness could provide one potential avenue into a popular acid communist project. Contemplative practices such as mindfulness can provide a space in which we come together to analyse the nature of our consciousness and of reality, in order to change ourselves and the world. However, in its current neoliberal form as ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction’ — as pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn — it has been divorced from the ethical and metaphysical aspects found in Buddhism that could give it potential radical power, as well as being removed from any cohesive community (or ‘sangha’). Nonetheless, the growth in secular mindfulness in healthcare, education and the workplace presents an opportunity whereby an already popular and understood practice can be repurposed. The task is to bring secular mindfulness back into dialogue with metaphysical and ethical questions, as well as building the informal community and formal organisations that can provide regular group practice, emotional support and theoretical development.
This is where London Radical Mindfulness comes in. We are attempting to kickstart this effort, hoping both to grow into a larger organisation and community, and to inspire others to attempt similar projects. We do this by first looking to the Buddhist dharma — the corpus of teachings — to understand what has been removed in modern mindfulness. We bring back some formal elements from these teachings, such as the Three Marks of Existence and Four Noble Truths, in order to allow us to explore how these ideas are linked to particular meditative practices. However, we re-interpret the underlying theory through our own a framework. This framework draws on complex systems science, new materialist philosophies (particularly those influenced by Deleuze, Whitehead and Spinoza), and contemporary socialist political theory (such as ecological Marxism and social reproduction theory). Through this we hope to present a secular, scientific, and socialist framework which nonetheless facilitates embodied spiritual engagement.
Mixing it up
This might seem like quite an eclectic mix of things to bring together, but they do have a common thread. Our framework begins from the observation that each of these discourses frames reality as fundamentally about interconnection and change. We can demonstrate this through a series of quotations:
On complex systems science, here are Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi in their Systems View of Life explaining that:
On Marxist dialectical materialism, here is Engels highlighting interconnection and change in his Dialectics of Nature:
And on new materialist metaphysics, change and interconnection is foregrounded in the ‘process-relational philosophy’ of Alfred North Whitehead. From his Modes of Thought:
In Buddhism, it is the core concept of pratityasamutpada — usually translated as [inter-]dependent arising or dependent origination — that most neatly sums up interconnection and change. Oxford Bibliographies describes this as:
Thus by creating a framework that holds interconnection and change as its core concepts, we can bring these different discourses — complexity science, Marxism, process philosophy, and Buddhism — into contact, along with the particular metaphysical, ethical and practical insights of each. However, if it is to be used for a popular consciousness raising project, it also has to be made more accessible than much of the above theory allows for. Science and philosophy is often deeply inaccessible to non-academics, modern Marxism often preaches mainly to the converted, and the unfamiliarity of Buddhist culture can present difficulties to many people with a Western background. For this reason we have generally attempted to simplify our framework as much as possible, presenting it in commonly used language where we can.
Later essays will explain how the framework has been derived in detail with references to the relevant academic literature, but for an initial accessible presentation (work in progress!), see the Our Framework section.