Critics of Modern Meditation: What Say Ye?

As much as I preach meditation in the workplace, I would be remiss to not address the criticism surrounding Modern Meditation. In a recent article, a long-time meditator and teacher offers the following insight (see quotes below) into what’s wrong with today’s Mindfulness and Meditation Movement (MAMM, let’s make it official):

“So many people seem to be moving narcissistically — conditioned by our culture, doubtless — into self-centered happiness-seeking and quietism, not to mention the use of mindfulness for mere effectiveness.”

For mere effectiveness? Like improved clarity, improved relaxation, improved focus, improved physical function (e.g., lowered heart rate, lowered blood pressure, lowered stress hormones). How are those not worthy goals? I get that many meditation teachers focus on peace and love. We all want that, too, but we also like the other benefits. What works for one…

“Mindful divorce, mindful parenting, mindful TV.” “Why not mindful sniping, poaching, or mindful waiting to find the opportunity to take advantage of and exploit someone when there’s a chink in their armor?”

Yikes. We can’t guard against possible negative effects from everything. People are going to do what they’re going to do. Enough on that. As for mindful parenting…isn’t that a good thing? I have three kids. And I am NOT mindful all the time; but when I am, it is good. I understand my kids needs more clearly, and I communicate with them with clarity—even if I’m frustrated or if they are. Mindful TV…what in the world is that?! I think that’s an oxymoron.

“ ‘Quiet your mind’ or ‘calm and clear your mind’ are instructions I hear way too much. Some teachers actually encourage people to try to stop thinking, when in fact meditative awareness means being mindful of thoughts and feelings, not simply trying to reduce, alter or white them out and achieve some kind of oblivion.”

I am one of those who actually encourages people to quiet their mind. Furthermore, I encourage people to figure out what works for them. Some people work well with a Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 meditation. Others prefer a more whatever-works-in-the-moment approach. Some may only be able to find calm during a walking meditation while others need to sit down and repeat a mantra. Having an intention to find calm in a sea of discontent is noble as far as I’m concerned.

“The anti-intellectual meditators, thought-swatters and imagination-suppressors have long ruled meditation-oriented circles in the West. But authentic meditative practices can enhance and even unleash the creativity and imagination.”

I understand the purist thinking. However, I think drawing a line in the sand, Team A: Authentic Practicers Team B: Non-Authentic Practicers, is detrimental. Let’s all just figure out what works best for ourselves. Isn’t that one of the cool things about life…that we’re all so different and we contribute individually to the whole.

[MAMM is] “the old New Age, self-growth, self-development, self-improvement emphasis — trying to use meditation to get away from it all. We need to erode the Grand Canyon-like gulf we see today between self and other, us and them, inner and outer, and even body and mind, body and soul, heaven and hell, liking and disliking, to realize the great equanimity of what is called in Tibetan Buddhism One Taste, and what others call unity vision, oneness, third-eye vision and the like.”

Whoa! This is heavy and not for everyone. Yes, some of us immerse ourselves in trying to figure out the universe and why things are the way they are; but many of us just want the comfort of concrete, day-to-day living. Coming from a public health background, I focus on what can work for the majority. We can’t insist that an age-old tradition be kept in its pristine divine dwelling for all of eternity. Things evolve. We evolve. Isn’t that the appeal…that we’re using this beautiful and effective practice to improve ourselves, our mental state, our emotional state? Wouldn’t that, in theory, benefit those around us, too? Wouldn’t it have a cumulative effect…we feel better, we do better, we benefit, others benefit. Oversimplified? Don’t think so.

And if my take on meditation makes me a narcissistic, feel-good-seeking calm-lover, then cuff me. This teacher may be steady and I may shake. He may be enlightened and I may be not. I may not transcend my body when I close my eyes, but I do feel better, I do find relief, I do feel calm. And I do respect every person who takes the time to find calm in whatever way works for them. I remain unwavering in my desire to offer a practice that best benefits the masses. You guys figure out how to make it work for you…or don’t. I won’t judge.

photo source: ambro/

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