Has Meditation Gotten Too Easy?
A reader with a longtime practice feels meditation is being watered down
When people are meditating so they can perform better at work, we have to ask: Is that really the point?
Q: I’ve been meditating for decades as part of my spiritual practice. But today, it seems like meditation is treated more like a lifehack, a way to calm down and focus so that you can get more work done. It annoys me. Am I being harsh?
Kathryn: My first thought when reading your question was, “Is meditation being taught differently than it was in the past?” So I asked Matthew Sockolov, the founding teacher of One Mind Dharma (oneminddharma.com) and the author of Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations.
“I do think it’s being taught differently,” he says. “My experience is that it has a lot to do with how it has encountered Western culture. As mindfulness travels to different lands and cultures, it changes, just as any religion or tradition would change,” says Sockolov. “It’s almost like evolution in a way.” The qualities that are most useful to a human or to a community tend to be what sticks.
“I do think it’s a little bit of a problem,” he says. “Mindfulness comes from Buddhism; it may have been taught by other traditions, but that is how meditation has come to the West. I myself went through a Buddhist teacher-training program. It was very in depth, and I see people go through a five- or eight-week mindfulness course and it can feel like it undermines the bigger path.” Some people, for example, are quick to choose what they like about Buddhism, such as the meditation, without adopting other practices, such as abstaining from alcohol. There are 227 rules of conduct for fully ordained Buddhist monks, many of which wouldn’t appeal to a contemporary American. (No tickling?! No playing in water? And don’t get anyone started on how often to bathe.)
That said, meditation is incredibly helpful to people, aiding them to be better employees or spouses or parents, or to deal with addiction. Also, separating religion from meditation means it can be taught in places like schools or workplaces. “Mindfulness can transcend religions, reaching people who are turned off by organized religion or who have another set of religious beliefs,” Sockolov says. At his meditation center, “We have quite a few people who are practicing Catholics, who don’t want to jeopardize their other beliefs. You can be practicing compassion and be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Catholic.”
Now, about this “harsh” part you mentioned in your question. Consider your reason for that sensation, suggests Buddhist teacher Susan Piver. She is the author of The Four Noble Truths of Love and founder of mindfulness community Open Heart Project. “Are you annoyed because people are not approaching the topic with the appropriate reverence? Or because you feel they are missing out on the true transformational benefits, and you feel a little sad?” Maybe you feel like the practice is being cheapened.
We are not in a monastic culture, Piver observes. “Some people say if you teach meditation and charge for it, you’re doing something wrong. Well, if someone was giving me housing and food, like they do with monks, I wouldn’t charge, but that isn’t how it is. That doesn’t mean we can’t maintain integrity of meditation, nor does it mean we are exploiting it.”
“However someone gets turned on to mediation, great. Everyone will find a way to use it for their own benefit,” says Piver. “One of the fruits of meditation practice is nonjudgment,” she reminds us. So, use your feeling of annoyance as a tool, an opportunity for further reflection, and dig a little deeper into why you’re feeling that way.
What do YOU think? Join the discussion here and let us know your experiences with mediation.