“If you meditate, you're less of an asshole.”
November 17, 2018 2:02 PM   Subscribe

The growth of yoga and meditation in the US since 2012 is remarkable: The number of Americans who meditate has tripled. Yoga is up 55 percent. "Yoga and meditation, two ancient practices, are now officially the most popular alternative health approaches in the United States, each used by around 35 million adults. That’s the word from a report (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention out [last] Thursday, which looked at the changes in the use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors between 2012 and 2017." Mindfulness Is Going Mainstream Because of Science: Mindfulness has gone from hippie-dippie magical thinking to science-based health hack. What gives? ...
One of the biggest problems of the study of mindfulness as a field is the fact that there isn’t a uniform way by which people can describe mindfulness and meditation. There are many practices—from transcendental to more rudimentary “focus and breathe” practices—of varying intensities, practiced by a wide demographic of people. “Just like sports is a word that refers to many practices, so too it is with meditation; different kinds of meditation changes the brain in different ways,” Davidson said.

The tiny community of scientists who are attempting to understand how mindfulness affects the brain have had to be creative in their study design to make their experiments rigorous, believable, and above all, replicable. Davidson described his study design as one that is similar to drug studies: “One group is meditating, the other is doing something to improve wellbeing but not meditating,” he said. “We ask whether meditating caused these changes in the brain and in health. We have to make sure they’re not simply correlates. Using rigorous randomized trials, we can definitely ascertain that meditation is causing these changes and is not ancillary.”

That, in a nutshell, is the challenge scientists are grappling with—being able to prove that practicing attention and self-reflection in a very specific way can change the brain in measurable ways. Proving this used to be impossible, but in an age where magnetic resonance machines are widely available to peer into the brain’s electrical activity and where medical measurement of indicators is better than ever before, there's reason to believe that we are incredibly close to proving how mindfulness can alter the architecture of the mind—or not.
Harvard Gazette, Part 1: When science meets mindfulness: "Researchers study how it seems to change the brain in depressed patients."
Part 2: With mindfulness, life’s in the moment. "Those who learn its techniques often say they feel less stress, think clearer."

Meditation helps veterans with PTSD, Defense Dept. experiment finds. All sessions were once a week for 90 minutes.

How Meditation Changes Your Brain — and Your Life. When neuroscientists tested expert meditators, they discovered something surprising: The effect of Buddhist meditation isn’t just momentary; it can alter deep-seated traits in our brain patterns and character. Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson tell the story of this revolutionary breakthrough in our understanding of how meditation works.
The four experimenters in the control room team watched, transfixed, while the next meditation period was announced. As John Dunne translated the next instruction to meditate into Tibetan, the team studied the monitors in silence, glancing back and forth from the brain wave monitor to the video trained on Mingyur.

Instantly the same dramatic burst of electrical signal occurred. Again Mingyur was perfectly still, with no visible change in his body’s position from the rest to the meditation period. Yet the monitor still displayed that same brain wave surge. As this pattern repeated each time he was instructed to generate compassion, the team looked at one another in astonished silence, nearly jumping off their seats in excitement.
Meditation in the Time of Disruption: Mindfulness and meditation have become big business for tech-savvy entrepreneurs. But can you really unplug and reset while tied to an app on your phone? Companies like Headspace and Insight Timer say yes. But longtime practitioners, philosophers, and scientists aren’t so sure.
That meditation and mindfulness have entered the repertoire of global capitalism isn’t surprising: In the face of stagnant wages and an ever-deteriorating boundary between work and whatever we do outside it, why not shift the responsibility of finding peace to the individual? Put another way: Next time work makes you feel less than human, should you gently speak truth to power, or should you use mindfulness to self-regulate and maintain function in an oppressive system? And should you choose to self-regulate, are you tacitly thanking the oppressive system for giving you the tools of self-regulation to begin with? Furthermore, how much of this experience—this process of spelunking into my mind—should be comfortable and brightly colored? How much should feel good?

...

So, is it “working”? To invoke the refrain of Grecian skeptics, epokhe—I can’t say for sure what I should find convincing and what I shouldn’t. Music sounds better, and I think my timing has improved comedically, and I have come to see my wife and children as bulbs in a great chandelier: When one light dims, so dims the whole room.
The Magnificent, Mysterious, Wild, Connected and Interconnected Brain: Our brain is like a wild, raging electrical storm that wondrously enables us to make our way. Yet a lot of mindfulness literature makes it sound like a very simple machine. Two leading neuroscientists suggest better ways to think and talk about the brain and the mind.
A newsstand publication called Mindfulness Made Simple contains a two-page spread on “How Mindfulness Physically Changes Your Brain” that points to mindfulness causing growth in the presumed good parts of the brain and shrinkage in the bad parts. It takes some preliminary research out of all context and states it pretty much as fact. Any honest neuroscientist will tell you that we simply do not know this much about how the brain is affected by mindfulness, since we don’t even have a single definition of what mindfulness means. And what we feel we know today will be eclipsed by findings after our lifetime. Humbleness is the watchword when it comes to assertions about how the brain and the mind work.

A book from a major publisher sells itself as “Mind-Hacker’s Guide to Shifting into Brain 3.0.” It promises that you can use science to rewire your brain. Among its claims: You can “overcome PTSD without medication by strengthening neural circuits in Brain 3.0, making your emotional immune system stronger.”

Let’s be clear. This is not science. It is snake oil.

The problem, scientists and science educators point out, is not that people are being coached and coaxed to “use their brains better.” The problem is using pseudo-science as evidence for the effectiveness ofa practice or to present outmoded models of the brain and mental experience. These models are often taught to children in school, who go home and tell mommy and daddy that the amygdala is bad and the prefrontal cortex is good. Is it fair to reduce something so wondrous as the brain to a couple of parts—even if this mythology helps children to notice their reactivity and calm down?
Related post: MettāFilter
posted by homunculus (81 comments total) 100 users marked this as a favorite
 
But I thought "Yoga Opens You to Satanic Possession!"

Seriously, nice post.
posted by Marky at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Apparent bunk science of "mindfulness" aside, yoga is good. Even doing it at home with a YouTube guide can make you feel a lot better.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:44 PM on November 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


There is no special reason to think that meditation will work for everyone. I meditate happily and productively, but am a complete fucking space cadet. It is perfectly possible that for me meditation is no more than a brief rest from the continual effort not to get lost looking at dust motes or wondering what the dunder that is in dunderheads' heads is exactly. It may serve some other purpose for other people and no purpose for some.
posted by ckridge at 2:47 PM on November 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


I’ve tried numerous times to learn meditation and it just rolls off me like water on a duck’s back. I just can’t find a way in. It frustrates me sometimes. And don’t get me started about mindfulness...
posted by Thorzdad at 3:24 PM on November 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


A lot of mindfulness-advice-as-written does not help me much, and yet bits and pieces of it applied in the ways they turned out to work for me have done a lot. I don't think meditation should be treated as magic, but I do think people need to get used to the idea that some kind of practice to help with emotional regulation is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. Like, I have no interest in being in the moment on an ongoing basis. A lot of my moments are way suckier than the stuff in my head and a lot of the usual advice about this has little bearing to me. (I'm not missing my nonexistent children growing up, here.)

But sometimes the stuff in my head is rabid brain weasels, so practicing pulling back out of that and diverting onto something better has still been very helpful. Nothing worries me more than a person who thinks they don't need to manage their brain in some fashion.
posted by Sequence at 3:28 PM on November 17, 2018 [40 favorites]


Great post, thanks. I tried off and on for years (some decades) to meditate, because I belong to a recovery program that includes it in its suggestions. I'm extremely ADHD and was never successful for more than a couple of days. For a while running was my substitute, followed by a different sport I practice, which wasn't exactly meditation. But then I got an app on my phone that gives me guided meditations, and I've been doing it every day for two years. It has been useful, if not tremendously life-transforming. At the very least I get to pay attention to how I feel and what the inside of my mind is like, and I get some good advice out of some of the meditations. Also, some of them are great for going to sleep.

I like being a little more present, honestly. That's the best thing I got out of it.
posted by Peach at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


There is no special reason to think that meditation will work for everyone.

And some people have negative experiences: The Trauma Dharma: The First Do No Harm training program aims to make meditation safer, in part by recognizing its pitfalls.
Meditation can lead people to some dark places, triggering trauma or leaving people feeling disoriented, according to Dr. Willoughby Britton, who has studied the adverse effects of contemplative practices for more than a decade. In May 2017, she and her research partner and husband, Dr. Jared Lindahl, released a study that identified 59 different kinds of negative meditation experiences. Their research has also shown that these distressing experiences are not limited to people who have a history of mental illness.
posted by homunculus at 3:37 PM on November 17, 2018 [21 favorites]


But then I got an app on my phone that gives me guided meditations, and I've been doing it every day for two years.

Is it one of the ones described in the Ringer article (10% Happier, Headspace or Insight Timer)?
posted by homunculus at 3:37 PM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have a brain that won’t shut up, and am trying to tame it with meditation. My attempts are sporadic & halting, but when I do manage to get a session in long enough to quiet down the background noise, it really helps. Sometimes I sit & just try to be quiet, but I have better success with guided meditations, usually breathing ones. Having a calm recorded voice periodically steer my meditation back onto the rails really helps keep my brain from taking off into past & future-land. Being here now is hard!
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:40 PM on November 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


homunculus - yes, Insight Timer. I enjoyed Dan Harris's book and tried the free course on Headspace, but Insight Timer has brought me the most value. I subscribe so that I can save some of the meditations to my phone, for long plane flights.
posted by Peach at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


There's a good, if a bit dry, book written by a Neuroscientist, James Austin, on what changes happen in the brain through the practice of meditation.

Zen and the Brain (MIT Press)

It's a dense and long book, but if this stuff interests you, it's worth a shot.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 3:54 PM on November 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


When I was in school and used to hand-ink my presentation drawings, I found that to be quite meditative. I've experienced a similar phenomenon sometimes while ironing a giant stack of clothes or washing dishes. I'm not sure that meditation necessarily has to be about sitting.
posted by LionIndex at 4:10 PM on November 17, 2018 [20 favorites]


I occasionally use Insight Timer when I want a guided meditation - fishing around on an iPhone for a relaxing meditation strikes me as humerosly at odds with the concept, but it works pretty well. Other times, I just hit the timer, & once a month I attend a men’s group that an offshoot of my local clubhouse & we start the meeting off with 12 minutes of group meditation. That’s always a great meeting because it puts everyone in a mood to talk calmly and thoughtfully.

Also, headphones & immersive music.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:16 PM on November 17, 2018


I am as sick of people telling me to meditate as I am of any religious member telling me I need to find Jesus or some bro telling me to watch Rick and Morty.

I have tried meditation. Several times and several different ways. It stresses me out and makes me hate myself, and I generally like myself.

I would like for it to work. I would like to be able to shut my brain down for a bit, just as I'd like to find comfort in some sort of higher being or afterlife. I am open to both, and I'm happy that it seems to work for a lot of people, but so far it doesn't work for me.
posted by bondcliff at 4:20 PM on November 17, 2018 [15 favorites]


Headspace - really great app that works for me.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:23 PM on November 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


What is Monkey Mind?

Want.
posted by homunculus at 4:25 PM on November 17, 2018


I practiced Zen meditation for close to a decade, seriously enough to get lay-ordained. If anyone has any ideas about long term mediators just being "good" at it, I spent 10 years hating every second I was on the cushion. I don't regret it at all.

I've lapsed equally seriously (having a kid and a job that is not flexible really does not mesh well with white American Zen Centers where everyone is like 60 and a professor or self-employed) but one of the most notable and unexpected long-term effects that I hadn't really foreseen back in my less woke 20s and 30s is deep training in shutting the fuck up and feeling uncomfortable feelings without requiring anyone else's emotional labor.

I'm really reluctant to ascribe any kind of "accomplishment" or point to zazen because that's pretty contrary to what I was taught, but in the hellscape that is the year 2018 I have a lot of gratitude for the practice even if I'm not doing it right now.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:34 PM on November 17, 2018 [43 favorites]


“If you meditate, you're less of an asshole.”

Obviously hasn't been to Burning Man.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2018 [13 favorites]


I've been meditating for about 4 years now. I got my start with Headspace, which I liked for the clear instructions and flexible timer. You'd think that paying attention to the breath wouldn't be so darned difficult, but the Headspace app took me through the process step by step, supported me as a beginner, and allowed for different length meditations as I became more comfortable.

I eventually moved to the Insight Timer (subscription fees, ouch!). I mostly use it for the custom timer feature and the ability to have light sound to block out background noise. I also like the community piece - when I finish a session, it's nice to show gratitude to some of the connections I've made and humbling to realize how many people are doing the practice at the same time as I am. I've started exploring some of the guided meditations there too, and I like that I can support a teacher directly. Keeping track of the number of days in a row I manage to sit is motivating for me; it's silly, but I like getting another star after 10 days.

All of this gave me the courage to attend a local vipassana sangha occasionally, which has helped me grow a little more. The practice also fits well with therapies like Internal Family Systems. Sessions can be like mini-IFS therapy as I sit with my more difficult parts. Sometimes we all sit together, and it can be quite moving.

I still spend some (not insignificant) portion of my sessions with the mind wandering all over the place, but I don't plan to stop. Whether the benefits are scientifically quantifiable or not, I still feel them.

I can very much understand the frustrations with starting and keeping it going. I'd definitely encourage you to try again if you're interested. "Fall down seven times, get up eight"
posted by Otherwise at 4:58 PM on November 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


"I'm not sure that meditation necessarily has to be about sitting."

At a zendo I attended they said that walking while attending to the feeling of your feet on the ground was not less or other than sitting and attending to your breathing.
posted by ckridge at 4:58 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Almost all of you appear to be doing it wrong. :)
posted by bukvich at 5:04 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Yoga is wonderful. Yoga culture, not so much......
posted by thelonius at 5:06 PM on November 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


An alternative perspective from Cornell's Evidence-Based Living blog:
The concept of mindfulness is in the media constantly. We’ve written about it several times on the Evidence-Based Living blog. Many people see meditation as a magic bullet that can reduce pain, relieve depression, and sharpen our focus.

But in fact, the evidence on meditation is flawed; researchers don’t really know how meditation affects the mind and brain. A new sweeping review published in the journal Perspectives in Psychological Science takes a careful look at what we know about meditation, based on the body of data in hundreds of studies...

The take-home message: Don’t take claims about mindfulness and meditation at face value. There is some evidence that regular practice can help alleviate depression, anxiety, and pain, and it may reduce your stress levels or improve your quality of life. But more compelling data is needed to make sweeping claims about the benefits of mindfulness.
I tend to be skeptical of claims about mindfulness. Some people clearly like the idea that there are health benefits to 'living in the moment' (as though an alternative as possible) -- and are willing to fund science proving such claims. For example, 26% of the budget of UW-Madison's "Center for Healthy Minds" comes from gifts. When there's money willing to pay for studies showing that X is true, somebody will found a center to discover that X is indeed true.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:15 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Obviously hasn't been to Burning Man.

Dharma on the Playa: Buddhism at Burning Man
posted by homunculus at 5:33 PM on November 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


One of my (autistic) problems with being told by and "trained" in mindfulness bt at least 3 psychologists, is that it appears to be a version of "just ignore it, and then your problems don't exist". Even if I am mindful, I still feel like alien (sonetimes even more of one), disconnected from the inexplicable and occassionally damaging behaviour of neurotypicals. Like at school, when bullied - "just ignore them and they'll stop teasing". While it can reduce my anxiety levels sometimes, I feel unbelieved in my daily experience.

I am lucky to have very flexible and interesting work, but it's casual with multiple clients. I work to their deadlines and spread my acceptances of jobs to fit, but often they miss the date they promised to get the work to me and my due date doesn't change. So I end up working 10-12 hour days afraid of losing a repeat client and then I get sick. Depression & anxiety become intolerable and I have to stop working for weeks while I recover enough to leave my house.

And that's when I feel that it's the world making me sick - not my lack of mindfulness. But I have to earn a living, so the damn vicious circle happpens again and again. I'm currently in one of these downturns, back on anti-depressants, living off my life savings while I try to become well enough for the next battle. I can't imagine (even) anything to look forward to (a hallmark of depression, I know) but I'm hoping ti become numb enough that I can be a good robot, without those driving urges to (literally) step out in front of traffic. I have adult kids who are doing it tough and I feel obliged not to make it worse for them, but it's really difficult.

So yeah, mm, mindfulness sometimes helps but after you get CBT down pat, it seems to be the last resort for mental health professionals. That said, I can't imagine any other solutions (except having a life where there are less demands on me, and I don't know how to make that happen and not become homeless).
posted by b33j at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Yoga is wonderful. Yoga culture, not so much......

I suppose I should pre-emptively clarify that I'm talking about American glib New Agey or competitive fitness studio style or Instagram narcicissm style culture
posted by thelonius at 6:07 PM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]



darkstar's old comment pertains: 'And while we're at it, here's one of my favorite koans:


One afternoon a student said "Roshi, I don't really understand what's going on. I mean, we sit in zazen and we gassho to each other and everything, and Felicia got enlightened when the bottom fell out of her water-bucket, and Todd got enlightened when you popped him one with your staff, and people work on koans and get enlightened, but I've been doing this for two years now, and the koans don't make any sense, and I don't feel enlightened at all! Can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well you see," Roshi replied, "for most people, and especially for most educated people like you and I, what we perceive and experience is heavily mediated, through language and concepts that are deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking and feeling. Our objective here is to induce in ourselves and in each other a psychological state that involves the unmediated experience of the world, because we believe that that state has certain desirable properties. It's impossible in general to reach that state through any particular form or method, since forms and methods are themselves examples of the mediators that we are trying to avoid. So we employ a variety of ad hoc means, some linguistic like koans and some non-linguistic like zazen, in hopes that for any given student one or more of our methods will, in whatever way, engender the condition of non-mediated experience that is our goal. And since even thinking in terms of mediators and goals tends to reinforce our undesirable dependency on concepts, we actively discourage exactly this kind of analytical discourse."

And the student was enlightened.
posted by lalochezia at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2018 [79 favorites]


Shrooms can help with that, too.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:31 PM on November 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


Less flippantly: great post.

And for anyone who might find it interesting or useful: Why Can’t I Meditate?
posted by schadenfrau at 6:33 PM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


i've enjoyed both meditation and yoga for ~10 years. being suitcase words(they contain many meanings) they can lead to a lot of frustration when discussing or researching them.
for myself, both are mostly distilled down to the practice of accepting reality as it is. going to the edge of your comfort zone(physical comfort in terms of yoga, and mental comfort in terms of meditation) and hanging out there for a while, trying to achieve equanimity.
the main misunderstanding i see is they often are prescribed as ways to "manage" the experience of being alive but the heart of the practice for me now is to not manage, but accept. so not trying to quiet the mind while meditating but accepting all parts of the mind without judgement. so if the mind is chatty, let it chat. in yoga if my joints aren't flexible, let them be not flexible. just breathe and try to remain accepting. not labeling as good. not labeling as bad. really just committing to spending 30 or 60 minutes in that practice space.
in terms of apps, i do like the sound of the bell in the insight timer. and generally i like the egg-timer style of organization and container making throughout the day, for yoga, meditation, work tasks, cleaning, etc...
posted by danjo at 6:34 PM on November 17, 2018 [13 favorites]


Have been wondering if the term 'mindfulness' has been imposed by the academic community due to the separation of church&state and 'meditation' generally implies some form of religious practice. Can't do that in school, and hoo boi is there a major mindfulness industry, seminars for teachers, clinicians, nurses, every variety of psychology discipline at hotels and meeting rooms multiple times a week. Massive publishing output. Apps. Big money in mindfulness.

I've done some "pillow" time, pretty flexible but can tell when the timer will chime from the toe tingles. Sure is not a fast acting therapy, I'd pitch going for a calm yet brisk walk everyday for that same 20 minuets.
posted by sammyo at 7:03 PM on November 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


> I'm not sure that meditation necessarily has to be about sitting.

IMO the Alexander Technique (previously) is just as good a method of training in mindfulness as sitting meditation, and they complement each other beautifully.
posted by homunculus at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Have been wondering if the term 'mindfulness' has been imposed by the academic community due to the separation of church&state and 'meditation' generally implies some form of religious practice.

Maybe, but I was under the impression that mindfulness meditation is a particular kind of meditation- like, mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation are different things with different goals.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I definitely notice when I've been mindful about things. It's just ... an effort so I'm not necessarily good at it. But, you know, I try to trust the process and all that -- Bucky Fuller's 'trim tab', and small changes making incremental change. I love that there's science backing this stuff up, too. At my last physical, I talked to my doctor about the placebo effect being real and we agreed that at some level, the brain is weird and we have no idea what the heck is going on sometimes.

In a grumpier mood, though... While mindfulness is awesome, yoga is good, and things that help people find calmness in their life are good for body and soul... I have no fear that the American health insurance industry (and American culture in general) will find ways to use it to blame people for their own physical ills. Oh, you're depressed or having issues? You're JUST NOT BEING MINDFUL ENOUGH.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


A not insignificant number of the people I know who claim to be really into mindfulness are... mindful of themselves, but less so of others. It's interesting to see empirical data (or lack thereof) beyond the small sample size of people I know personally, though.
posted by eviemath at 8:31 PM on November 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Have been wondering if the term 'mindfulness' has been imposed by the academic community due to the separation of church&state and 'meditation' generally implies some form of religious practice.

Maybe, but I was under the impression that mindfulness meditation is a particular kind of meditation- like, mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation are different things with different goals.


yeah, the harvard gazette link gets to this. eventually. but the unwillingness of most of these meditation and/or mindfulness proponents/apps to offer a definition of either of the things they're recommending, alongside headspace's open smiling admission that they use "science" as a branding tool, drives away plenty of people to whom it would never even occur that they might somehow 'do it wrong' or be religiously barred from giving it a shot. whatever it may be. skipping over the whole question of "what is it" and instead going straight into lamenting the difficulty of describing a thing with a lot of variation in it is... you don't have to describe the Mona Lisa in a way that applies just as well to a Mondrian in order to tell someone what a painting is.

if you google "what is meditation" the top result is a headspace faq that beckons thusly:
"Understanding meditation can be challenging for newbies. We get it.
they really do not "get it." go to the page and you get some sentences on what meditation is not about, and then one on what it is about. but not what it is.

meditation is obviously not a cult practice, and I don't think there are large numbers of modern people who suspect that it is, either. but this total blank-wall smiling refusal to answer a simple question (their own!) is a cult tactic. it is bizarre and it's a good thing these app marketers have tried to decouple themselves from religion, because the religion they got these practices from doesn't deserve it. the whole thing is like if a christian-curious person asked Hey what's communion? and there was a communion app faq that said Understanding can be challenging for newbies. We get it. Communion's not about cannibalism or blind following of authority. It's about connecting to the divine and to each other! and the once-curious person says, ok, great, now I know what it's about and what it's not about, but what the fuck is it? and nobody, but nobody, will just fuckin say Communion's when a priest gives you a wafer, or maybe some bread, and some wine, or maybe it's grape juice, and it literally turns into the body of god, or else it's a metaphor. or whatever. this inarticulate coyness is presumably supposed to be intriguing. it is not.

anyway, if you believe the headspace semi-definitions, such as they aren't, meditation is the opposite of mindfulness: to meditate is to remove yourself from your own perceptions and feelings to a sufficient distance that you can observe them with a kind of double consciousness, and maybe even further. while to be mindful is to be single-minded, emotions back in mind, mind back in body, both fully present in the moment: i.e. not meditating. or in marketing terms, meditation creates the problem for which mindfulness is the cure. are these the standard definitions? probably not, because they make good sense, but then all the other articles equating mindfulness and meditation or talking about "mindfulness meditation" don't.

and I have come to see my wife and children as bulbs in a great chandelier: When one light dims, so dims the whole room.


horrifying but as long as his wife doesn't mind, ok.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:33 PM on November 17, 2018 [13 favorites]


Some of these meditation freaks have been practicing for days and weeks and month and years on end. They are experts.

But as a relatively casual meditator, I can say that after three or four decades of practice, I can enter into a state of profound equanimity and bliss in a minute or two. Not bragging. Most people can get there more quickly. But like practicing piano (another thing I do), even brief daily practice pays off if you keep it up.
posted by kozad at 8:40 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Let us not start talking about what meditation really is and is not. I see no reason to suppose that Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist meditation have any more to do with each other than with the Jesuit spiritual exercises or Marcus Aurelius's Meditations.
posted by ckridge at 9:15 PM on November 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


My last bout of therapy we did a lot of mindfulness training. It was less meditation, and more trying to notice and accept things going on with me. I found it to be pretty helpful. One of my biggest issues is that I often have no idea how I'm feeling, and then out of seemingly nowhere, I'd be at like level 10 rage and not know why. I know that can sound weird to some folks, but it's just how it is for me, yadda yadda childhood issues. Anyway, the mindfulness training my therapist had me doing was more like, checking in with myself often during the day, and trying to assess how I'm feeling. She also had me do breathing techniques on the regular. I also have, let's just say issues accepting things sometimes - things about myself and the world. She had me do body scans as a kind of meditation to get me in the practice of noticing things about myself, and just accepting that they are the way they are, and to try to have no judgment. I don't know if all this stuff is actively changing or helping my brain or whatever. I just think of it as additional tools in my toolbox to help me deal with myself and the reality of everyday life.
posted by FireFountain at 9:36 PM on November 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


If all goes reasonably well in the next few weeks, this will be the first year since 2015 that I haven’t spent some time in a mental health partial hospital program that is very, very big on mindfulness and meditation. Every year my therapist (it was the same one each time), strongly, strongly encouraged me to go to the daily optional meditation session to help with my anxiety. It always made me kinda edgy but I dutifully went because I wanted to get better.

This year, at the age of 39, I was diagnosed with ADHD.

Sitting quietly with my thoughts makes me more anxious. Sitting still makes me want to crawl out of my skin.
posted by Ruki at 5:01 AM on November 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


When I was in college about 20 years ago, meditation started to spread across campus. I took a workshop and had a lot of trouble because I couldn't get the whole empty your mind thing. I'd ask how, what does it look like when you close your eyes, how is it supposed to feel? No one could give me a clear answer, and I was a huge failure at it.

Then a friend was like try focus meditation, and set a candle in front of me. My overactive pattern recognition kicked in and I spent the whole time seeing shapes form.

Couple days later the same friend caught me out rocking from foot-to-foot and purposefully disassociating which I've done since being a kid when I felt stressed. Apparently I'd been meditating the whole time and didn't realize it because it didn't "look" right.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 5:22 AM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The head priest at my Zen community, a former Nebraska hog farmer, was quite blunt (as Zen teachers tend to be) about her feelings on sitting without the guidance of a trained, experience teacher and community of other students. At first I was pretty taken aback and it's easy to be like "well of course you would say that, given your line of work" but I gotta say, doing these practices alone, especially decomposed from any kind of religious, spiritual or philosophical tradition is often not the best idea.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:41 AM on November 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


> At a zendo I attended they said that walking while attending to the feeling of your feet on the ground was not less or other than sitting and attending to your breathing.

Some meditation retreat centers alternate between sitting and walking meditation. My first 10-day meditation retreat was at Wat Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand. When I was there the practice alternated between seated anapanasati meditation (not vipassana) and walking meditation, which I found much more agreeable than the all-sitting approach many places use. Spirit Rock in NorCal also includes walking meditation.

I've also done retreats which were all sitting, and they make me very tense. I spent all my free time walking around the paths around the property, trying to walk off the tension and settle into walking meditation (my experience was similar to Wonderhussy's (NSFW, previously) except that the center I went to wasn't in quick driving distance to any hot springs to soak and decompress at afterwards. All meditation centers should be near hot springs, imo. Next time I'll go to the NorCal center and then go to either Orr or Wilbur hot springs for a day afterwards.)
posted by homunculus at 8:49 AM on November 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I think yoga and meditation are all great, but hoo boy: come to Boulder and you can get into a traffic accident with all the "Buddhas" you see on the road.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2018


but one of the most notable and unexpected long-term effects that I hadn't really foreseen back in my less woke 20s and 30s is deep training in shutting the fuck up and feeling uncomfortable feelings without requiring anyone else's emotional labor.

I love that. I do a lot of things that cause low levels of pain for long periods of time (like, in a recreational, Type 2 kinda way). When people are describing how terrible meditation is to them, it just sounds like recreational suffering. Maybe that's what it is? I have this quote on hand for such times in my life:


Bear and endure: This sorrow will one day prove to be for your good.

–Ovid
posted by alex_skazat at 9:55 AM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm deeply skeptical of mindfulness and meditation and yoga, though I can't quite articulate why. Part of it is the pseudoscientific "health benefits," part of it is the appropriation of a specific religious cultural tradition by a bunch of skinny white chicks who look like Gwyneth Paltrow. But there's something else underlying my visceral disgust -- maybe the way "mindfulness" is just assumed to be the right answer to all your problems, and if you can't get into it, you just haven't found the right app yet.
posted by basalganglia at 10:00 AM on November 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


I attended a talk by the Dalai Llama a long time ago. I remember he said: "Maybe Buddhism not for everybody....that's OK.....maybe Buddhism not for you...."
posted by thelonius at 10:02 AM on November 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


Didn't get through all of the articles, but.....

Part of the reasons why I fell out of American Secular Buddhism and Mindfulness(tm) (let's call it ASBaM for this post) was the realization that the by-your-own-bootstraps bias felt a fair bit like victim blaming and abilism, even though that's often not intentional. There really wasn't much there for being too angry and miserable to meditate effectively, and it's your fault if you continue to be angry and miserable through practice. To be clear, that's specifically a feature of ASBaM, which I think inherits a lot of its by-the-bootstraps thinking from commercialized Christian self-improvement such as Kellogg, and a strain of American exceptionalism which runs counter to the Four Truths. Personal or cultural utopia has always been one good tug on the bootstraps away according to the American mythology. I can't really see anything in non-secular Buddhism that promises liberation now, next year, or even in the current life.

That's not to say that ASBaM doesn't ever work. But at least for me, probably a secular parable for my beliefs is Holmes on Elementary. Recovery sucks, it's always going to suck, sometimes it will suck more, the work involved isn't always going to be fun or satisfying, and taking refuge can help through the worst parts.

I agree with one of the pull quotes that my employer isn't necessarily pushing ASBaM (along with secular yoga) for the benefit of my fellow employees, but as part of a program of expanded medical surveillance. That's something I've been increasingly reluctant to participate in.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:15 AM on November 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


One of our local universities just did a study of mindfulness apps.

The study involved 208 university students aged 18–49 who were randomly assigned to use one of three apps – Headspace, Smiling Mind, or Evernote, a non-mindfulness app that acted as the control.

Participants were asked to use their assigned app for 10 minutes each day for 10 days. They then received 30 days access to continue practicing after the trial.

Participants reported improvements to mental wellness after the 10-day period, as well as after the 30-day continued access period. App use was higher during the first 10 days, but dropped markedly for the following 30 days when use was optional.

The study reported this highlighted a need to investigate factors that relate to sustained app usage.

The results provided "preliminary evidence" that use of mobile mindfulness apps could improve some mental health outcomes in a non-clinical population. Further investigation of any longer-term effects would be needed.

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:02 AM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]




>doing these practices alone, especially decomposed from any kind of religious, spiritual or philosophical tradition is often not the best idea<

I do fifteen minutes a day, every day. It is really hard to hurt yourself in fifteen minutes a day, even after years of practice. I think many serious Zen practitioners would say "Safe, not meditation," which is in some sense true. My practice stands in relation to theirs that fifteen minutes daily of brisk walking stands to a track athlete's training. The difference in quantity is so great as to be a difference in kind. However, fifteen minutes daily of brisk walking is not valueless.
posted by ckridge at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


> I'm deeply skeptical of mindfulness and meditation and yoga, though I can't quite articulate why. Part of it is the pseudoscientific "health benefits," part of it is the appropriation of a specific religious cultural tradition by a bunch of skinny white chicks who look like Gwyneth Paltrow. But there's something else underlying my visceral disgust -- maybe the way "mindfulness" is just assumed to be the right answer to all your problems, and if you can't get into it, you just haven't found the right app yet.

You might enjoy Wonderhussy's account of her first vipassana retreat (NSFW: nudity) which I linked above. She has similar grievances.
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Brad Warner: Why I Avoid Using the Word “Mindfulness”

Mindfulness and “Religion”

Via BW: Corporate mindfulness is bullsh*t: Zen or no Zen, you’re working harder and being paid less. Mindfulness matters, but make no mistake: Corporations are co-opting the idea to disguise the ways they kill us

Brad Warner previously: I blow up the dharma like what

Working link: ARJ Barker | Sickest Buddhist

I can't find Warner's SA+0RI PR0N article anywhere (it doesn't seem to be on the Suicide Girls website anymore). The closest I got was this interview with Buddhist Geeks where they ask about the article: Pop Buddhism & Satori Porn

His SG interview with Nina Hartley is quite interesting (page sfw but the rest of the site is NSFW.)
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]




> Part of the reasons why I fell out of American Secular Buddhism and Mindfulness(tm) (let's call it ASBaM for this post)

Researchers like Davidson could be said to be part of the American Scientific Secular Buddhism and Mindfulness (ASSBaM) community.

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da, ASSBaM!
posted by homunculus at 3:12 PM on November 18, 2018



Brad Warner's rebuttal: It’s the Journey, Not the Trip: Psychedelics aren’t a shortcut for Buddhist practice, because practice involves every moment of life—especially the boring ones.


This type of argument from "Buddhists" is so irritating because... no one is saying psychedelics are the same as mediation or the practice of Buddhism. But psychedelics can, beyond any doubt, open a person up to the some of the experiences that are in line with Buddhism. They not the same but they can work well together. Obviously one's more tenable than the other in the long term.

Like Terence McKenna said: Psychedelics are not a replacement for a spiritual life, and a spiritual life is not a replacement for Psychedelics.
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:37 PM on November 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


This type of argument from "Buddhists" is so irritating because... no one is saying psychedelics are the same as mediation or the practice of Buddhism.

Actually that's what he says some are saying: "I was talking about people who advocate the use of large doses of extraordinarily powerful drugs to a wide audience as a form of Buddhist practice." That quote is from Warner's response to this Lion's Roar article:

The New Wave of Psychedelics in Buddhist Practice: Matteo Pistono takes a close look at how some Buddhist teachers are not only turning toward psychedelics in their practice, but also making it a part of their teaching.

Obviously this debate doesn't apply to a lay or secular meditator who hasn't taken the 5 precepts, or only observes them for the duration of a retreat.

But psychedelics can, beyond any doubt, open a person up to the some of the experiences that are in line with Buddhism.

Agreed. And there are plenty of people for whom it was experience with psychedelics which led them to becoming interested in trying meditation in the first place.
posted by homunculus at 6:57 PM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Meditation has eliminated a significant amount of stress from my life. I'd estimate somewhere north of 70% of the stress I used to experience is simply not a part of my life if I keep up with my daily practice.

I don't really talk about it unless I walk into an existing conversation about it or somebody specifically asks me about it.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:47 PM on November 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Obviously this debate doesn't apply to a lay or secular meditator who hasn't taken the 5 precepts, or only observes them for the duration of a retreat.

Er, regular retreats that is. A psychedelically enhanced retreat would still present the dilemma of whether or not taking a mind-altering drug violates the 5th precept. Of course in retreats you generally agree to follow the guidance of the teacher, so I'd probably be willing to try it, but it's not something I would make a regular practice of.
posted by homunculus at 5:08 AM on November 19, 2018


Reminiscing about the retreat I did in Thailand all those years ago still makes me chuckle. The retreats are designed for 'farangs' (foreigners,) and Westerners in Thailand tend to be in a state of perpetual gastrointestinal excitement, so when noble silence started so did the voluminous flatulence. Not the occasional fart, but a continuous, dissonant symphony accompanied by irresistible giggling. After the first day or two the giggling stopped, and I think the farts became less frequent, but that was the musical accompaniment for the duration of the retreat. Silent retreats are never completely silent.
posted by homunculus at 5:19 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I hit my quota for comment on this thread some time back, but every time I see that headline, I reflect that meditation makes you a less anxious asshole. Insofar as less anxiety means fewer tantrums, this is an improvement. Insofar as it makes one less anxious about acting like an asshole, it is not. Overall, it is probably a wash, and one winds up a slightly different sort of asshole.
posted by ckridge at 5:32 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


> Shrooms can help with that, too.

New shroom thread: FDA grants breakthrough therapy designation to psilocybin
posted by homunculus at 4:30 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Can meditation apps snag skeptics? A review of the meditation apps Clam and 10% Happier.
posted by homunculus at 2:03 AM on November 20, 2018


5 Best VR Meditation Apps for 2018
posted by homunculus at 2:12 AM on November 20, 2018


Clam Calm.

Heh.
posted by homunculus at 2:12 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


whatever it may be. skipping over the whole question of "what is it" and instead going straight into lamenting the difficulty of describing a thing with a lot of variation in it is...

The fact that it's hard to do shouldn't make it hard to describe.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Clam

Ivar Haglund's Patented Seafood Relaxation App: Keep Clam and Enjoy Your Meal
posted by BungaDunga at 7:40 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


For example, 26% of the budget of UW-Madison's "Center for Healthy Minds" comes from gifts. When there's money willing to pay for studies showing that X is true, somebody will found a center to discover that X is indeed true.

I want to gently push back on this. It's really normal for research institutes and universities to rely on gifts in addition to grant funding. This doesn't mean that they are using gifts instead of peer-reviewed grant funding, or that they aren't going through the standard peer-reviewed channels to publish their work. For example, the Center for Healthy Minds recently received gifts to support a new facility and new faculty members. The same donors support other UW research programs.
posted by esker at 8:39 AM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Warner again: What to Think About During Zazen
posted by homunculus at 11:16 AM on November 21, 2018


Well well, Wilbur Hot Springs is for sale. Anyone have $10,000,000 I can borrow? Actually I'll need more if I'm going to build a Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics retreat center on the property (which would include Alexander Technique and Yoga instruction.) And of course at the end of each retreat, use of the hot springs and massages for all those aching backs.
posted by homunculus at 3:06 PM on November 25, 2018




> if you believe the headspace semi-definitions, such as they aren't, meditation is the opposite of mindfulness: to meditate is to remove yourself from your own perceptions and feelings to a sufficient distance that you can observe them with a kind of double consciousness, and maybe even further. while to be mindful is to be single-minded, emotions back in mind, mind back in body, both fully present in the moment: i.e. not meditating.

In Buddhist meditation there's a distinction between insight and absorption. What you're calling meditation falls into the later category, and involves a series of mental states called the jhanas. They're not practiced widely anymore, but they're still around. Here are some links:

The Jhanas: Perfect States of Concentration
At the heart of the Buddha’s teaching there are doctrines and strategies that dharma students must learn, and internalize, in order to understand his map to liberation. But few strategies are as central to the Buddhist path, and as little known to Westerners, as those called the jhanas. Jhana is the Pali word for mental or meditative absorption, and refers to a set of states of deep and subtle concentration focused on a single object. In the Pali suttas, the Buddha described four jhanas, each a more profound and refined state of consciousness than the preceding one, and each building on the preceding one. The fourth jhana, in turn, can be refined even further into four more states of ever deepening concentration. These latter jhanas are called the nonmaterial jhanas because perception of the material world fades and disappears. In order to enter the first jhana, meditators must establish a base of mental tranquility known as “access concentration” (because the jhanas are accessed from that state).
Jhana: The Spice Your Meditation Has Been Missing. Meditation teacher Jay Michaelson explains how jhana meditation is a transformative and vital part of the eightfold path.
“Meditation” is a vague term.

Even in English it has two opposing meanings: thinking and not-thinking. But unsurprisingly, since the word meditation is derived from Latin, the term can be even more confusing when it comes to Buddhist meditation and its recent offshoot, secular mindfulness.

In the Pali canon, there’s no single word for meditation. Mindfulness (sati) is part of vipassana bhavana, or the cultivation of insight. It’s also part of the eightfold path—though the Pali word “sati” may or may not correspond to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s helpful definition of nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment noticing.

But sati is only one of the meditative elements of the eightfold path—the other major one is samadhi, or concentration. And here’s where things get interesting. In most of the Pali canon’s discussion of samadhi, it’s described not simply as one-pointed concentration in general, but as the ability to enter the four jhanas—distinct, concentrated mind states—in particular.

Eventually, dhyana, the Sanskrit for jhana, became chan in Chinese, and later zen in Japanese. These words became roughly synonymous with meditation itself and later identified with various specific meditation practices such as zazen.

But a funny thing happened to the jhanas within Theravadan traditions, particularly in the “dry insight” Burmese lineages that evolved into Western insight meditation and from there into secular mindfulness: jhana practically disappeared.
posted by homunculus at 5:46 AM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


More on the jhanas: A Mind Pure, Concentrated, and Bright: An interview with meditation teacher Leigh Brasington
Do you find yourself at odds with the Vipassana tradition?

Not at all. I find that what’s being taught at {places such as Insight Meditation Society and at Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, California} is very helpful, very profound—yet could be turbocharged by adding jhana practice as a preliminary. It’s not that I feel at odds with Vipassana teachers; it’s just that I feel jhana practice could be a useful addition—especially for students who are stumbling into these states.

I hear people talking about hitting a ceiling in their Vipassana practice. Do you think the jhanas could figure in there?

They are certainly one way to cut through the ceiling. I have had a number of people come on retreat and tell me they felt their practice has stagnated. And suddenly here was something that opened it up. Part of what they’re experiencing is some rapture and joy that makes their dry practice a lot more lively, but even if it’s just more lively and they’re more into it, that’s going to be of benefit. In the long run, the ability to concentrate at increasingly deeper levels skillfully enhances the mind for Vipassana practice. The understood experience has the potential to become much more profound.
posted by homunculus at 7:49 AM on December 9, 2018




The Science of Mindfulness and Beyond: An Interview with Prof. Richard J. Davidson, PhD

Davidson is the lead scientist who worked with Mingyur in the Lion's Roar piece linked above.
posted by homunculus at 9:11 PM on December 12, 2018




esker: "It's really normal for research institutes and universities to rely on gifts in addition to grant funding. This doesn't mean that they are using gifts instead of peer-reviewed grant funding, or that they aren't going through the standard peer-reviewed channels to publish their work. For example, the Center for Healthy Minds recently received gifts to support a new facility and new faculty members. The same donors support other UW research programs."

Donor-sponsored research institutes may be an accepted practice in today's corporate university, but I don't think that means it's a good thing. Surely in many cases the gifts lead to research that supports the donors' points of view. It's not as though these new faculty members at the Center for Healthy Minds are going to be opposed to mindfulness, are they?
posted by crazy with stars at 5:11 AM on December 16, 2018


@joerogan: "Nature gives ZERO FUCKS about your mindfulness: Leopard kills meditating monk in India."
posted by homunculus at 9:08 AM on December 17, 2018








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