6 moronic ideas about meditation

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I’ve come by a article about the rise of meditation in Silicon Valley and how it’s used as a tool to improve engineers’ and marketing teams’ performance at work.

That’s the kind of news that makes me want to swallow my laptop and spit the keys one by one at Larry Page’s face. It’s amazing how greed turns everything into crap. Now it’s meditation’s turn apparently, I assume it’ll be raped by an army of ambitious idiots until everyone forgets what this practice was for in the first place.

I don’t care to sound like a fanatic Hippie: meditation was not meant to increase productivity, using a spiritual tradition to build better software engineers is like buying a dog and train it for combat: it’s pathetic.

Anyway, the point of this article is not to whine about the tech industry misusing spirituality, but to share 6 common ideas about meditation that are plain wrong…according to my experience.

Meditation will silence your mind

No. It won’t silence squat, as a matter of fact, you’ll become more aware of the giant cacophony going on 24/7 in your head, at least in the beginning. Some meditators report moments of calm, but they’re unevenly distributed and more often than not, what everyone meets is (unordered list):

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Boredom
  • Drowsiness
  • A serious need to satisfy biological imperatives
  • Other totally anecdotal thoughts that normally cross your mind without you noticing

On the bright side, you’ll be less and less affected by your own chaos. That sounds less dramatic than “inner peace”, but that’s actually what it amounts to :)

Meditation will improve your performance

Depends on what is meant by performance. If we’re talking about getting more done in less time: NO. I’ve seen enough highly skilled meditators drag themselves mindfully from one couch to the next doing next to nothing (and ending the day completely exhausted).

What might happen though is an increased capacity to focus and therefore a better use of your brain, but you don’t really need meditation for that, plain focus is enough.

Meditation’s like a therapy without the awkwardness of “seeing a shrink”

Sure!

There are armies of Buddhists running away from medical attention by practicing mindfulness, we’re all somewhat afraid of confessing that our psychology might need some fixing, aren’t we?

The problem is that meditation is neither a placebo nor a therapy and even if it makes things easier for introspective work, it’s no substitute for professional guidance. It really isn’t, sometimes it even worsens serious pathologies. I’ve had to drive some people to the mental hospital after they lost control during Buddhist courses.

If you feel mature enough to face your inner mess and take serious care of your mind, a great approach is meditation AND therapy, at least that’s what I witnessed.

Meditation’s a way to escape reality

That misconception is more common among nay-sayers, those who have no experience whatsoever in meditation. However dumb their prejudice is, I have to concede that it contains an element of truth: the term meditation is so vague that it covers some serious New Age bullshit (visualisations with unicorns galloping in limitless fields of sunlight and whatnot).

Practicing the regular “concentrative meditation” however is not going to make you see rainbows or aliens speaking in tongue. On the contrary it’ll ground you right here and now, which is somewhat more impressive than any known psychedelic.

Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditation makes you an emotionally stronger person

I wish it did, but I’ve never cried that much since I’ve started practicing it.

I’m not gonna ruin the show, though, let me present things differently, what if meditation made you not care about being a stronger person? What if, after a while, it didn’t matter to be tough because you realize how fragile all humans are and that you’re just one of them?

Would you still want to protect yourself if there was no way to protect anything, and nothing to protect in the first place?

That might sound like a lot of spiritual hogwash, but really, it’s all I can say about it, strength finds you when you stop trying to be a badass.

Meditation’s a great tool against depression

Yet another very popular way to sell meditation with fallacies. I can only give my personal take on it: meditation didn’t do anything to help me with depression. Meditation and Prozac did (I used it for a year and a half) along with a whole bunch of self-help and therapy.

I don’t deny the fact that it might be a winning formula, I’m sure some meditators found relief leveraging mindfulness to fight the black dog but I mostly know people who failed at that.

So, let me summarize what I tried to say in the above list: meditation is packed with benefits, but they’re generally not what you think and they largely depend on how you set your expectations.

In short, meditation is a tool to reach enlightenment, nothing less than that.

The current trend is to sell meditation for what it’s not and ignore its real purpose. The benefits of practicing mindfulness go wayyyyyyyyyy beyond the Google management’s craziest dreams, and if you’re willing to push the door and try it for yourself, you’ll experience all that.

The people who meditate consistently seem to become more human, more compassionate, kinder with themselves and with others. And also smarter about handling relationships. They listen more than they talk, and they like to help others around them. They’re OK with saying that they screwed up and that they’re sorry, they’re able to let others win and take the blame.

But they get depressed sometimes, because that seems to be part of the human experience, and meditation doesn’t save you that.

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  • http://speculationsimpressed.wordpress.com/ Glynis Jolly

    Terrific post, Gael.

    From what I learned from the psychologist who taught me his form of meditation and from what my own experience has been: meditation will calm you but it takes time and effort; it will assist in helping you focus but, again, it takes a while; and although it doesn’t make you emotionally stronger, it can help you realize your emotions more deeply — after spending some time doing the exercise every day. Although visions through meditation can be achieved according to the Native American culture, they aren’t as common as we may be led to believe.

    • Gaël Blanchemain

      Glynis,
      I can relate to your experience, my point was mainly to say that you if you start meditating with expectations on relaxation, great experiences and other blissful states it usually ruins the process. I said it using offensive language, once more, maybe it was a mistake, but I meant well.

      Thanks for being around :)

  • Pingback: The Mindfulness Revolution: Saviour or Sell-Out? | Random Musings()

  • Foreign Girl

    Expectations, yes…

    Thing is, you can’t enter a house that hasn’t a door or at least a window.

    So which is better:
    1) people starting meditation (or whatever other practices around – yoga or learning about buddhism or whatever) for one goal and then realize throughout their practice that there is wayyyyy more to it

    or
    2) they don’t start at all?

    “Meditation will silence your mind” is a door to enter, “Meditation will improve your performance” is another.

    Once the people entering from there are in the house they’ll start seeing it wasn’t just the door they were dealing with but many many other doors and rooms and stairs … the whole house!

    (Only “Meditation is a way to escape reality” sound a bit like a door into an airing cupboard, one may get stuck there so I’d rather see this one having a warning sign attached to it)

    • Gaël Blanchemain

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, Foreign girl,
      I don’t think we should be so protective of people’s expectations, they’re adults and they can very well be told what not to hope for. That’s what happened to me when I started practicing and it didn’t make me quit.
      I was given a stark version of the actual long term benefits of meditation. It was not exactly what I expected, but I gave it a serious try, and I kept doing it. The results quickly spoke for themselves.

      There’s no need to bait people with misleading sales pitch about the supposed benefits of meditation, the organizations that do that are often ill-motivated.

      Humans have the ability to grow beyond their initial frame of references and I think that’s what should be leveraged when we try to inspire them.

      But you might call me an idealistic person, and I’ll agree with you.

      • Foreign Girl

        Idealist! :D

        Yes, it’s an age old debate.

        On one hand, in legends and some sutras Buddha is said to have taught by what is translated in English as ‘skillful means’ which is essentially talking to each person in the ‘language’ suitable to their own level/ personality/ interests etc. (At least so say mahayana buddhists in far east and I am referring to Lotus Sutra)
        I’d put “Meditation is great for your brain” into the ‘skillful means in modern world’ category.

        On other hand, indeed, I avoided any studies in buddhism for a long time because it was too popular around the circles I was in and often for wrong reasons. I still dislike all the mystified New Age stuff.

        • Gaël Blanchemain

          I agree, white lies are probably a necessary means to a beneficial ends.