Mindfulness is the new approved therapy on the NHS. It has been reported in The Guardian that "Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may be as good as pills at stopping people relapsing after recovering from major bouts of depression". In a recent article, here, on Blasting News, I wrote about mindfulness and experiencing nature. The connection between mindfulness and experiencing #Nature is fairly overt, since a practice of mindfulness is to experience the world simply by being there, and practising experiencing nature mindfully.
However, the link between existentialism and nature is much less obvious. I have previously written about mindfulness as part of an existential critique, for instance "Can Mindfulness respond to Existenial angst?".Therefore, it seems timely to see how nature would be experienced existentially.
Mindfulness and existentialism appear to be polar opposites in the manner in which they approach the experiencing of nature. Rather simply, mindfulness asks the person experiencing nature to simply "be there in the moment". In other words, one does not produce judgements on what one observes or experiences. So, for instance, you may notice a scent on the wind. A mindful approach does not involve engaging with the scent, and considering it to be the nice smell of roses or the unpleasant smell of rubbish. Instead, mindfulness is about just accepting the scent. Another mindful practice would be to look at an object in minutia, or to note the detail; for example, a mindful practice would be to count the number of trees in a line of trees.
An existential approach to experiencing nature seems to be more realistic and human. Existentialism places the human at the centre of the world. Thus, the world is experienced from a distinctly human perspective. In terms of experiencing nature, the existentialist does not demand the suspension of judgement in the experience of nature. So, for instance, if I detect a scent on the wind, I experience it with human judgement: I like the smell of roses and dislike the smell of rubbish.
This labelling of good and bad is central to the human condition. Nietzsche recognised this and argued that the desire to pronounce "good" and "evil" is a central part of living. The humanness of existentialism means that we do not merely experience nature by being there, but by asking questions of it. Thus, an existential would see no point in the mindful practice of counting the trees in a line of trees. Instead, a question would be asked about this line of trees, such as why did the landscape garden wish to construct an avenue of trees.
In Nietzsche, it is clear that there is a critique, of what today would be called mindfulness (described by Nietzsche as stoicism). Nietzsche proclaims that the stoics desire to live by nature and with indifference, is to not live at all, since to live means making value judgements; he asks "Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different?" So, to experience nature simply by being there in the moment is to not live at all, since it requires giving up on experiencing the world in a humane way, and the making of judgements and constructing of values.
It is important that mindfulness is understood in context to other approaches, since it is now receiving substantial investment from the NHS. Given that mindfulness runs counter to natural human tendencies, it could be that mindfulness proves to be the NHS' biggest waste of money.