January 20, 2019

Welcome to the Museum of Mindfulness

“EARLY ONE NOVEMBER MORNING, I sat in the second row of the Museum of Modern Art’s Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, tucked away in a basement previously unknown to me. The lights were dim, Mark Rothko’s Untitled (1968) shone goldly on a projection screen, and 120 visitors murmured in reverence. Meditation teacher Manoj Dias, half-smiling like the Buddha himself, appeared enthroned on a plump little cushion and backlit by the Rothko. Terminally handsome and relaxed, Dias—a former marketing and finance professional—helps “people around the world trade mania for pause,” including the people at Lululemon and Mercedes Benz, according to his website. We were prepared to become mindful together.

Few spaces in American life today are exempt from the gentle-but-firm dictates of mindfulness. Your corporate employer schedules meditation trainings at the office. Your favorite celebrity promotes the practice as a means to assuage troubles ranging from social anxiety to body shame. The CEO of your second least favorite social media platform rhapsodizes about his Vipassana meditation retreat to Myanmar amid the Rohingya genocide. A “mindful meatitation” event pops up at your local Applebee’s, sizzling moistly. The practice has become a phenomenon of busy bourgeois life, one that’s long since oozed beyond its Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist origins.

Now it has found its way into the hallowed halls of the art museum. Once a month, MoMA invites visitors who hate sleeping to scan its galleries in contemplative silence at 7:30 a.m. Then a guide leads a sixty-minute group meditation. MoMA inaugurated this Quiet Mornings program in 2016, in partnership with Flavorpill, a company that promotes something extremely peaceful-sounding called “hyper-curated event recommendations and invites.” Other museums—from the Brooklyn Museum and the Rubin in New York, to the LACMA and the Hammer in Los Angeles, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia—offer their own mindfulness programs.”

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