Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Skeptic Meditates on Meditation

Meta-Meditation: A Skeptic Meditates on Meditation strikes me as a partly useful wake up call to meditation sycophants and quite a bit of a very biased sour grapes rant.

It's extremely common to hear a story that goes something like this: "one time I tried to meditate but I just couldn't do it."  Yep.  But it's like someone saying they picked up a musical instrument and because they weren't an instant virtuoso they gave up.  I mean, that would be silly, right?  The author sounds a bit more experienced, but I think something along those lines is taking place.

In terms of benefits, I think most people who meditate would be hard pressed to describe more than the very mildest benefits, namely that they are a little bit more aware and a little bit more relaxed, and that's about it.  To get more benefits means you would really need to get the thing done, get the mind trained.  You have to really learn to play that instrument, and I'm not sure a whole lot of people really master any instrument, much less one that they have unconsciously trained in another direction for say, 16 hours a day for their entire life.

Sure, there's hype and bad gurus, and like any somewhat speculative area, there is some weak research.  But knocking Matthieu Ricard with a cherry picked example?  Seriously?  That's delusional.  That's bad form.

Or this:
Meditation is the equivalent of telling yourself, over and over, “Be happy,” or, “Chill.” In other words, meditation, like psychotherapy, harnesses the placebo effect. In fact, you meditators out there can have this mantra, free of charge: “Chill.”
Certain meditations, maybe.  Actually, I think this is not such a bad idea.  I recommend, from time to time, using a custom mantra that you invent on the spot.  Need love?  Then that's your mantra, "Love."  Need awareness, peace, bliss, whatever, there you go.  That kind of thing can be useful if it gets you to stop grasping at other stuff.  But ultimately it's not about chasing some kind of perfect state, it's about being okay with what is.

I would agree that the having no goal problem is a problem.  I think a lot of teachers teach from the end stage, where we might say that there is nothing to do.  But realistically most people are going to require a lot of training to get the mind aware and present before they can really engage with that type of direction.

Arguing against the "niceness" of meditators again seems like cherry picking.  Overall, you get people more aware and relaxed, I'm pretty sure things will probably be a little bit better.  It's not going to be worse.  And if people take it far enough, they naturally become more compassionate simply because they're not quite as identified with the individual self.

I think part of the reason for this person's rant is that the consensus meditation community is not so great at teaching people how to really get it done.  Regardless of the style, people are generally left to their own devices and in many ways are encouraged to contemplate on the cushion, to relax and think.  Which if you're actually able to be detached from those thoughts while you're thinking them would be fine.  But I wouldn't bet on many people actually getting it done that way.

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