“Vos podés”: how not to fall into magical voluntarism

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Won’t it be a lot, amid so much uncertainty and pain, to call change as one more obligation ?, asks the psychologist and mindfulness instructor Martín Reynoso.

In times of pandemic, the prescription for personal achievement, empowerment circulates through thousands of offers: from meditation, physical exercise, yoga, cognitive stimulation and much more. “It is time to make a paradigm shift in ourselves”, “this is a message from the universe imploring us an internal transformation” and, even worse, “we get sick to heal ourselves”, are some of the ideas that circulate

It is true that difficult, violent and even distressing times can also allow us to stop our march and have a exploratory look into. It is true that for many people this period of confinement meant developing / encountering dormant or forgotten capacities. But won’t it be a lot, amid so much uncertainty and pain, to call change as one more obligation to the ten obligations that we have?

Lorena is a health professional and works six hours in a private clinic every day. To all the care and activities that she develops in her work, she adds the attention of her three children since her husband is also an essential worker and works 10 hours of continuous work. Almost out of breath, she often hears that “she should meditate, do yoga, chat more often with her friends and take the boys to the square daily.” That way she would feel complete, full. This makes her feel more guilty still. Fullness is something different than that, think.

For my colleague Angeles Queipo, a clinical psychologist, this may be related to David Smail’s “magical voluntarism”, “that dominant belief that makes us believe that the possibility of being whatever one wants is in the power of each individual”.

And he adds: “We know that the narratives that circulate, naive as they may seem, tend to mask implicit prescriptions for certain groups. What is being asked of us? Is empowerment the new and invisible corset?”

It is not that it is wrong to try to improve, develop our skills and even “train our brain”. In fact, that is a path for personal growth. But when it becomes a blaming domestic lawsuit, a task that presses us and produces discomfort, we are doing something wrong.

In the 80s and 90s the American concept of empowerment from the field of social policies and quickly moved to health. But what is empowerment? And, Ángeles, tells us that “the most classic meaning is the acquisition of power and independence by a disadvantaged social group to improve their situation. But is power really within us?”

Then he continues: “In our performance society, in Byulg-Chan’s words, you live with anguish don’t always do all that can be and if it is not successful, the fault is individual. The empowerment prescription not only does not dismantle a structure of power relations, but blames people (and especially women) if they feel things that they shouldn’t feel. An external executioner is no longer necessary, disciplinary power has been internalized. The circulation of these speeches, supposedly emancipatory, only returns women to the corset of can not. Now we not only have to be able, but we have to feel guilty for not being able. Speaking empowered may not have a correlation with concrete practices, and even less with feeling (oneself) in that way. The new corset moved from the domestic to the mental space. “

So, what to do? Meditative practice would tell us that the path may be to practice a deep kindness and compassion with what we cannot change, with what immobilizes us and even distresses us.

Then, starting to move towards something that we believe is valuable by cultivating as little or as much as we can. But be careful, never losing sight of the fact that many changes sometimes occur by activating something other than our individuality; activating a system or a social network for example. It is evident that a social change associated with a political decision, for example, is very powerful and has a greater multiplier effect than many “strategies of invitation to individual change”.

A good practitioner of meditation is a person who tries to keep his eyes and senses open, the heart present and an openness to the world very permeable. For this reason, he also learns to discern the external commands assimilated by his own mind as delusions and illusions that can cause him pain and frustration. You walk, you strive, but with a compassionate center that grows to remind you, every minute, that He’s just a human, too human.

*Martin Reynoso is a psychologist, director of Train Your Brain Argentina and author of “Mindfulness, scientific meditation”.

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