Dr Ashley Frawley on Happiness & the Present


In a society that has no future, the present gains exponentially in importance.”

In the time of Corona, what are we to do with happiness? Today’s guest is an expert on the subject and the well-being industry. Dr Ashley Frawley studies the relationship between the ideology of self-care, technologies of the self and wider social policy and practice. In her book, The Semiotics of Happiness, she explores the roots of happiness and its inclusion as a goal of wider society. We discuss Mindfulness, its rise, and possible wane, and the ideas that underpin the culture of self-development, as well as what might come after the Mindfulness fad. We talk about the current pandemic and the impact if might have on the obsession with the self.

If your purpose in life is emotional well-being then any upset is an attack on your whole purpose in life.”

Topics covered include;

  • Is happiness increasing or decreasing after decades of experimentation with practices such as self-esteem, self-development, and Mindfulness?
  • What happens to a society that has no future, or no real collective future goals?
  • Mindfulness as the acceptance that we cannot change the world, or resolve social problems: a commitment to passivity.
  • Is mindfulness on the wane? If so, what magic bullet comes next?
  • Spiritual narratives and the one cure to save them all; how technologies of the self escape critique.
  • Mindfulness promoted as a magical bullet
  • Have we given up on solving social problems in meaningful ways?
  • The role of tradition and our commitment to something greater than ourselves vs freedom to apparently do whatever you want.
  • Self-obsession and centering happiness within yourself leads to misery
  • Our search for meaning and truth have turned inwards; as there are no external projects for meaning making people seeking meaning from self-help books, rules for life, quick cures.
  • Humans need collective, future orientated projects, where we have agency and can act on the world
  • Misanthropy as a consequence of the focus in on the self; profound distrust in humans

Continue reading “Dr Ashley Frawley on Happiness & the Present”

Thinking and feeling alongside the Corona Virus


It rarely passes a day, after almost a month in quarantine, that I don’t feel driven to tears: a quiet moment of grief, a rupture in normalcy, a break in my emotional status quo. I’m moved by a lot of things at the moment; the death of another doctor or nurse fighting to save lives, the passing of an artist or writer killed off by the virus, the simple humanity of those going that extra mile to care for their community, help those in need, and find ways round the seemingly impossible situation in which we live. It’s not impossible for all of us, of course. We are not all doctors, or supermarket clerks risking contamination. We are many of us fortunate to have enough money in the bank to pay bills, buy food, and order trivial distractions to make quarantine more comfortable, knowing that it will pass at some point, and a relative state of normal awaits us. For others, the dead will accompany them into a longer phase of grief, some will be jobless, others wondering what happened to their year of studies, projects began and destroyed by an invisible companion, enemy, rogue, wake up call, or other label given to this thing labelled COVID-19.


It’s easy to forget the normal that we have left behind in the deeper phases of quarantine, which for many will seem like an odd, extended, and even unexpected holiday. Yet we must remember what was before, because the desire to return to normal in order to feed the economic beast that was seemingly inevitable, and forever demanding to be fed by our money, our blood, sweat, tears, our thoughts, feelings, desires, and life force, will be strong, very strong indeed. If we were all honest for a moment, we would recognise it for what it is; a psychopathic, jealous demigod with flesh made of hyper-capitalism, bones crafted form hyper-globalisation, skin built from hyper-social media connection and its distracting pull, and ligaments crafted from hyper-individualism, and its companion, hyper-alienation; alienation from the world, from ourselves, from nature, from slower, simpler tides. This toxic beast had led to an all-too-normal state of inhumanity that we had all begrudgingly accepted as normal as we struggled on in order to keep up with hyper-normal, which seemed to be accelerating at ever faster speed, and increasing our inhumanity as it did. Sacrifice it screamed out, sacrifice whatever you must, for I must live on.


We live in an age in which the need to distinguish between what is real, and what is fantasy is paramount. Perceiving the veil of the imaginary in times of great intensity can be tough. The need to glance and gaze for sustained periods at what is real is true in all spheres of human practice and imagination, from politics to religion, from philosophy to entertainment, as well as in education, human relationships, family dynamics, sexual relations. And it is true of the hyper-frenetic world that has been put on pause for a moment, by that tiny little virus from Wuhan. An invisible, apparently unconscious creature of pure desire that was passed on from a bat, or a Pangolin, or some other innocent little beast wandering around in its own little world before ending up in some filthy market, under the gaze of a desirous consumer, who should have known better.


As many of us as possible need to remember what came before, and imagine a non-utopian and non-dystopian after where alternatives are actually possible, and preferably our collective human right. Crises change the rules at the macro level. We can live in a connected world in which the systems we are part of work for the benefit of the many, and not just the few; but we must be insistent, and we must imagine it as possible. We can be connected globally, but not robbed of our commitment to the local, regional and national levels of being and becoming.  We can have work-life balance that is not a luxury, or just a lucky possibility for some, but a norm of healthy societies that know how to function. But we have to think it, feel it, imagine it, and start to call it forth into our lives, and into our world in this hyper-world on pause; through our imagination, and through our actions. To do so, we have to see quarantine, and this odd and quite incredible moment in our lives, as a call to remember, experience, and imagine, and not forget, just how dysfunctional that world which we put on pause was.


66. IBP: Facing the Coronavirus: the practising life in a time of crisis


The Practising Life in many ways starts when there is a crisis. Our capacity to walk the talk, make our practice more than a mere means for survival, or for managing the banality of our existence is tested. Buddhism has many resources for facing crisis, but there is another tradition that is just as good, if not better; Stoicism. And some of its proponents lived through their own pandemics, and faced them head on. Albert Camus makes an appearance too. In this short, improvised episode of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast, I provide a dispatch from Italy and life at the start of a third week under quarantine. I also provide thoughts, suggestions and ideas on the practising life in a time of crisis. There are also a number of predications on the sort of future we might face at the end.
This is my small act of kindness, a theme that is fundamental in making sure that we live this crisis rather than merely survive it, and I hope you find something of value in this topical episode and live well the days, weeks, and months to come.

Feel free to get in touch if you’d like support and coaching in facing this crisis.

The Imperfect Buddha site: imperfectbuddha.com/
O’Connell Coaching: imperfectbuddha.com/authors-notes/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/imperfectbuddha
Twitter: twitter.com/Imperfectbuddha



In solidarity…

Speculative Non-Buddhism

In solidarity with everyone in need of inspiring interaction in this time of the COVID-19 crisis, Incite Seminars is making all seminars and groups online and FREE.

Please visit our site for information.

Our upcoming schedule:


March 21: “Why the Debt Strike is Not Impossible
with Joshua Ramey

March 28: “How We Remained Human
with Alexander Wilson

March 30: (Non)Buddhist Practice Posse

Keep an eye on our calendar.
And please join us!


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The Ideological Turn; new podcast episode challenges Buddhists

Ideology word cloud

This is…The Ideological Turn

On your marks, get Set, Go! Yes, yes, a new turn has been churned out of the creative imagination of yours truly in accordance with the tradition of The Great Feast. Three diners sit around this turn’s table and it’s a rather European affair.

Two Frenchmen and an Italian hold centre stage providing us with an intimate exploration of ideology and its central role in identity, practice and subjectivity. As an often ignored plain of human practice, it is required learning for the more mature practitioner, and the more intelligent newcomer to the practising life.

A creative moment or two emerge once again in this turn and as it’s an extended monologue, so I think that it is entirely appropriate, but feel free to disagree, to insert some playfulness and musical mayhem. To help you along your way, I shall also provide an overview of the content covered. Each thinker’s thought is brought back to Buddhism and the practising life, so if it sometimes feels overtly pedagogical, be patient, meaningful and relevant links are made but the background really is essential for the bigger picture to become clearer: Don’t be tempted to slip back into anti-intellectualism now!


The basic narrative arc starts with an introduction to the themes that ideology confronts us with, meets a key Italian figure in the development of our understanding of ideology, which he developed whilst unjustly imprisoned by the Fascists of his time, goes back in time to France to meet the word’s maker, comes forward in time to bump into a rather paranoid Frenchman, who takes everything further, and then finishes off with practice tips and a remake of the Bodhisattva vow.

Practise tips are actually present throughout, however, and the more discerning listener will see just how much gold dust and nuggets can be sifted from this enduring topic.

If it’s all too much, you might want to listen in more than one sitting and ponder the goods served up by these great thinkers and my own humble attempt to make their ideas as relevant and contemporary as possible to practitioners like you and why not wash it all down with a nice cup of Ted Meissner tea.

Menu of the Day: Great Feast Specials

  1. Overview of the themes that ideology forces us to confront.
  2. Antonio Gramsci; ideas that capture populations and Buddhist groups, cultural hegemony…interdependence of the underappreciated kind.
  3. Antoine Destutt de Tracy: coining ideology, the science of ideas, the sensual nature of ideas, ideaophobes…feelings are wrapped in ideology (who would’ve thought it).
  4. Louis Althusser: identification, capture, the naturalness of it all…how ideology is in your subjective experience and on your meditation cushion.
  5. Practise tips: entering the Great Feast, the bodhisattva vow…committing to the world beyond our dreams and fantasies.

Background music is provided by some wonderful local musicians from Trieste; Riccardo Morpurgo Trio, a jazz ensemble, and Amorth, a music producer and electronic music artist. Along with these two dynamos, we have a fantastic Trip Hop artist still going strong from the UK, Funki Porcini.

This episode’s brief introduction was crafted by my wonderful 12 year old son.

As always, feedback is gently recommended. Exchange is the price we pay. Donations are welcomed at the Imperfect Buddha site, however small. Give something back for a change and screw neo-liberalism and its excesses.