Stop meditating, instructs Fabrice Midal. In fact, don’t just stop it, f–k meditating.
While you’re at it, f–k trying to be calm, f–k obeying, f–k being wise.
It’s unusual advice coming from a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris who has practiced meditation for 25 years and taught it for 15 years.
But, Midal insists that all the directives in our lives have become about ‘bettering’ ourselves; they are performance or achievement-based and instead of liberating us, end up becoming constraints that simply serve to torment us.
“The groundwork for my practice is that meditation is unproductive, that it doesn’t make you more efficient, it doesn’t make you wiser, and that, deep down, it has no ‘purpose’ in the common sense of the term,” Midal says in his internationally best-selling book, The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
His book is the latest in a trend in ‘art of not giving a f–k’ philosophy.
“I think that people are tired of hearing all these injunctions all the time: ‘eat better’, ‘exercise more’, ‘talk nicely’, ‘take care of this and that’,” Midal says. “They suck so much energy out of us, and moreover most of the time, they are contradictory : ‘be calm’ but also ‘be more energetic’, ‘be yourself’ but also ‘consume like the others’, ‘be fun’ but also ‘be more productive’.
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“And the problem is that these injunctions are imposed on ourselves as much by society as by us! And that is causing a great deal of suffering, everywhere.”
He thinks the “not giving a f*ck” trend is a “very genuine and radical response to that” and a way to challenge all of the things we “should” be doing or belief that we’re not good enough.
“We need to draw a clear limit. ‘Stop!’ And while we tell this to ourselves, with a firm tenderness, we can simply come back to our sensations, to this very basic but profound experience of just being alive,” Midal says. “It is so powerful, and it works. And you can do it anywhere, anytime. Before a meeting, in your shower, during an interview or while making love, it’s a multi-terrain practice.”
It is an “art” because as instantaneously as we can decide to stop giving a f–k, it is a contextual practice, not to be conflated with complete apathy about life.
“After telling ourselves to not give a f–k, life goes on, but simply now we’re more attuned to it, we reconnected with our ground, and we can continue, but simply with less self-torture,” Midal says. “So it doesn’t mean we should not be giving a f–k all the time, just lying on our couch forever. It needs to be justly used, and that’s why it’s an art.”
In his book, Midal also advises against obeying, intellectualising and trying to understand everything. Instead, he suggests: “Discover the power of ignorance”.
Yet, this comes from someone who has spent many years studying and has a doctorate of philosophy. How can this be?
There are rules that restrain us and those that free us, he says.
“Without frames, there could be no paintings, everything would be kind of lost in space. And that is the same for us. For example, having a precise schedule for my daily meetings allows me to think about other things and not lose my time in practical matters,” Midal says.
“But there are some other rules that just stifle our creativity, our intuition, that forbids us to be really ourselves, to dare accomplish our true desires. And again, these rules can either be imposed by society, or most of the time, just by us.”
He recalls being a young boy and entering a sandcastle-making contest with his sister. While she set about building a giant ladybug in the sand which she decorated with strawberry jam, he remained frozen for the next hour as he tried to figure out the best way to abide by the rules. His sister won the competition.
“So, by not giving a f*ck about the rules and listening to what she really wanted to do, she had done a very personal, touching work, reminding us that sometimes, breaking free from the rules is necessary,” Midal says now.
It is the breaking free of our internal rules that meditation can provide but for many becomes another obligation and tool of internal torment.
“Most of us have to deal with an important problem: we want to do everything perfectly,” he says. “And this applies to meditation as well. You see, meditation is fundamentally about realising that we’re alive, right now, and just to be mindful of that, of our breath, of our body, of our sensations, of the world around us. So basically, there’s nothing to attain, nothing to succeed in. Because we already are here, right now, in our body. The thing is just to come back to that very simple state of being.”
Yet, the people who came to him to learn meditation were attempting to use meditation as a means to success a pathway to perceived perfection.
“So we’re torturing ourselves on the cushion like we are everywhere else,” Midal says. “And this cannot go on, as meditation is supposed to alleviate suffering, not bring more of it.
“So that’s how the idea of the book came. And now, whenever I present mindfulness meditation, I always start with a moment about the importance of not giving a f–k, and to just come back to this feeling of just being alive.”
What people misunderstand about mindfulness
“There are many ways meditation has been diverted from its origins. But to me, the main problem about its contemporary presentation is that it is taught as a technique to make us calmer. But that is such an error.
“First of all, the Buddha was definitely not calm, nor were all the masters that taught this practice after him, nor where any prophets or spiritual figure as a matter of facts! They were at peace with themselves, that’s for sure, but that is utterly different from being calm.
‘They were not blindly accepting things as they were, or retreating on their own in some mountains. No, they were part of their societies. They denounced the caste system in India, or revolted against the western colonial powers in Southeast Asia, or helped the resistance against the Chinese in Tibet. They were fully present in their world, not away from it.
“You see, when the sea is calm, it means that it’s flat, with no wind, preventing the ships to sail. I don’t want my life to be like that! And neither would anyone I think.
“On the contrary, being at peace means that we have enough room in our lives for winds and storms and big waves. That we have our flaws, our problems, our challenges to deal with, but that is what makes us alive, that is what makes us rich in the end ! So let’s stop trying to attain calm, and just be more alive.
How giving less of a f–k made a difference in Midal’s own life
“I think it gave me the right to love myself a bit more. To not be against who I am all the time, but on the contrary to see the beauty that lies in me as in every being. To see all the possibilities and particularities that constitute me. I learned to be fully myself.
“It is not a concept or a moral obligation, that we ought to love ourselves a bit more. No, it is actually an experience, a feeling, that we can all have, just right now. Let’s do it.
“Just take a moment to feel how it is simply good to be alive on this planet, and how it can be good to be friend with ourself.
“If you feel nothing, just have some kindness for that. No need to feel guilty.
“I think that knowing that this experience is possible and that we can practice it is really life-changing.
“There’s so much energy that we’re cutting ourselves from, and I hope that my book will show that there is another way to lead our lives.”