More Mindfulness, Less Meditation?

There was an article by Tony Schwartz (in a business section!) of the New York Times a few weeks ago entitled, “More Mindfulness, Less Meditation.”

What do you all think of this?  I know…I’m in a phase lately of writing responses to articles, and making a big deal out of other people’s opinions.  There’s definitely an element of this to it all:


And, I wouldn’t even presume to say these authors are wrong – we all share what we know based on our own experiences. However, it does help me to clarify my own thinking when I rub up against something that challenges my views.  And, this is the New York Times.  It is interesting, to say the least, to watch the public beginning to grapple with practices like meditation as they start to become part of mainstream culture.

This article begins by listing several famous and/or successful people who have been known to meditate – Steve Jobs, 50 Cent, and Rupert Murdoch.  After describing his own history with meditation, he states, “But the more time I spent meditating, the less value I derived from it…Meditation – in the right doses — is also valuable as a means to relax the body, quiet the emotions and refresh one’s energy. There is growing evidence that meditation has some health benefits. What I haven’t seen is much evidence that meditating leads people to behave better, improves their relationships or makes them happier.”  So, he concludes by recommending that you might want to dabble in meditation for 2 minutes at a time throughout the day, or just be mindful during daily life.  (I won’t even get into whether the individuals above are the best examples of the potential of meditation.)

carnegie-hallHis suggestions are all well and good, and I certainly support the idea that we should start with what we can do.  But, isn’t it a bit like telling a young piano student to spend less practicing scales, and more time performing at Carnegie Hall?

Mindfulness is a natural state, and anyone can do it. But, the capacity to actually be mindful throughout the day with any kind of consistency or continuity, and especially in demanding situations – that requires practice. Only consistency and repetition can create new habits.

For every example he gives of a meditator that did not become a better or happier person, we could easily produce many more who have seen positive changes as a result of practicing. Most meditators I know are pretty enthusiastic about that!

In fact, getting attached to those wonderful results can become its own obstacle in meditation (or yoga, or music, for that matter).  Here’s the thing: meditation is a process-oriented activity, rather than a product-oriented activity.  It’s worth doing because sitting with ourselves is inherently worthwhile. Process-oriented activities can be rather mysterious – you don’t think you’re getting anywhere, and then a huge insight arrives, seemingly out of nowhere. But it’s not out of nowhere – it was percolating all of that time when you thought your practice was stuck in neutral.

Recently, one of my dedicated yoga students asked out loud (jokingly) during class, “When are my hamstrings ever going to get more flexible?”  I said (jokingly), “April 23rd.”  Because no one knows!  It’s a process.  We may have things we’d like to have happen, good intentions, and aspirations, but getting hung up on them is a distraction that creates doubt and frustration, which can impede progress.

A product-oriented mindset needs to see results. That is fine for many activities, and can help us be successful in life. However, it doesn’t always apply well to the work we want to do with our body/mind.

I recently listened to a talk by the well-known meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who explained that the word that we translate as “meditation” is “bhavana” in Pali (the language of the early Buddhist writings).  Bhavana means “cultivation,” and was a deliberate reference to sowing seeds and waiting for them to grow that would have been meaningful in the agrarian society of the time. Notice the difference between “cultivation” and “acquisition.” Most of us modern urbanites go out and purchase our food and essential items, acquiring what we need by using the funds we acquired from the ATM, where we deposited the money we acquired from our employer for the work they acquired from us.  So, no wonder asking us to slowly cultivate something is a tall order – it’s a little foreign to our time and place.

Still, we all do have the capacity to experience mindfulness and savor our moments. Countless practitioners before us have found that we can be a lot happier if we learn to enjoy the process and take a break from the pressures of delivering a good ROI (Return On Investment)…at least when it comes to time spent in meditation.


One response to “More Mindfulness, Less Meditation?

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