OpenSit

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Photo by Moyan Brenn

Just a quick note — here’s a website devoted to meditators sharing their experiences and connecting. OpenSit.com

Here’s some text from their About page:

“This movement reflects a wider cultural change in our understanding of meditation. The practices and doctrines of hundreds of previously esoteric traditions are now available to us, and we are free to verify their practical aspects whilst taking apart the unhelpful myths, superstitions, dogmas and falsehoods that prevent the free discussion and dissemination of authentic meditation.

This shift towards transparency and honesty naturally emphasises practice over belief. Journalling your practice is a great way to reflect on your own journey, and sharing your notes is a great way to get support and feedback. OpenSit is firmly built around the practice journal, with an added social element so that you can follow other peoples journals.

The culture surrounding meditation is evolving. OpenSit is community exploring what modern meditation practice means to us, the ways we can support each other, and the effects of meditation itself, from equanimity, to energetics to enlightenment.”

The Mighty Avalanche of Hype (or Does Mindfulness Mean Anything?)

4514493182_b23f431199_zphoto by biblioteca general antonio machado (creative commons)

Really nice, succinct piece on the hype surrounding mindfulness on the 13.7 Cosmos and Culture section of the NPR website. It covers:

  • The issue of hype
  • the issue of non-objectivity (author is a meditator)
  • the problem of definition (which definition of mindfulness?)
  • the two kinds of critics, 1 – concern about the validity of research (at this point it’s really worth reading the article — there are some great, thoughtful, critical quotes about the science and the way it’s portrayed in the media)
  • the two kinds of critics, 2 – concern about authenticity of practice (more great quotes! Just go read the article, already!) and how Buddhist meditation has become watered down into “tepid self help”.
  • The uneasy compromise – it may not help in the way or to the depth that one would prefer, but some people find great benefit to mindful practice. So why not?

Solid piece of thoughtful, informed writing.

Definition of Terms

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photo by kate ter haar (creative commons)

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said… “It means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

— Through the Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).

 

Such a great quote. Apply it to a word like “mindfulness” or if you’re feeling a little daring “enlightenment”.  Stir and let sit over night. What do you come up with? Did you crack?

“Is Meditation Narcissistic?” A Juicy Ken Wilber Quote

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photo by balint foldesi (creative commons)

Here’s an extended excerpt from a Vancouver Sun article, Meditation: The darker side of a good thing. It answers the question, “Isn’t meditation narcissistic?” It also addresses a common misconception about “detachment”.

“Even though Wilber meditates himself, he laments how meditation in the U.S. and Canada is often accompanied by an attitude he calls “Boomeritis Buddhism.”

That is, Wilber believes many middle-aged baby-boomers who meditate bring to it an over-simplified commitment to pluralism and relativism and the notion that, “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

Meditation, Wilber said, does not necessarily help such individualistic people face their inner “Shadows,” the destructive aspects of their personalities.

Instead, Wilber says, when Eastern meditation teachers tell people to “kill their egos,” it runs the danger the students might “dis-identify” with their more unpleasant personality traits.

Meditation for many “becomes a process of transcend and deny … rather than transcend and include,” Wilber writes…

The Eastern teaching that people should have “no ego,” an idea espoused by Vancouver-based spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle and many others, encourages meditators to try to be “empty,” to have no viewpoint, says Wilber.

The trouble is many meditators believe that means having no viewpoints at all, even on important issues. As Wilber says, many meditators don’t believe in anything.

Although Wilber thinks people can through meditation reach elevated states of consciousness that can help them become more mature, he says there is no guarantee meditation will free men or women from their own narcissism.

I appreciate the way both Eigen and Wilber conclude that meditation can be beneficial, but that it’s only part of what’s necessary to reach maturity.

The true goal of meditation, and any spiritual discipline, is not only to “empty” oneself of negative feelings and thoughts, but to face one’s own inner demons. That leads, in a sense, to feeling “full” — in connection with yourself, others and transcendent values.

Meditation should lead to the development of wise beliefs, which Wilber says require a commitment to “compassion for all sentient things.” In turn, that requires developing a self (or ego) that is skilful enough to put compassion into practical action.”

Mindfulness 2.0 – The New Wave of Meditation Teachers

candlesphoto by Gabriel Garcia Marengo (creative commons)

There are a few common themes here. Firstly, none of these people are associated with the mainstream, baby boomer driven Vipassana movement (Mindfulness 1.0). If that’s a bunch of gobbledygook to you — perhaps a few names will help: Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Sylvia Boorstein, Jon Kabat-Zinn, etc. Without being too unkind, Mindfulness 2.0 has no association with the self-indulgence of the 1960s. No hippies. No fetishizing Asian culture.

Secondly, there is another critical difference. The first group generally won’t talk about progress or attainments in meditation practice. If you were taught meditation from a Mindfulness 1.0 affiliate — through MBSR, Spirit Rock, the Insight Meditation Society or one of their offshoots — then you sit down, you do various practices, your practices deepen — but there’s no talk of progress. In fact, the idea might sound quite odd to you. Progress?

There are some interesting historical reasons that progress or attainments are deliberately not talked about. There’s an argument for it. But Mindfulness 2.0 folk would argue it leaves a lot of people practicing aimlessly, in the dark about what some of their experiences may mean, or how they could be getting more out of their practice.

If this makes you curious, here are links to a few of those Mindfulness 2.0 practitioners.

  • Daniel Ingram. One of the founders of the Dharma Overground, which includes his book MCTB (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha).
  • Kenneth Folk Meditation instructor. Very pragmatic: I have attainments in meditation. Here’s how you do it.
  • Vincent Horn. Founder of the website Buddhist Geeks. Despite its name Buddhist Geeks is inclusive of other traditions. The site has its own particular techie flavor.
  • Willoughby Britton. Researcher at Duke University. Here’s an Atlantic profile about her Dark Night of the Soul project.
  • David Chapman. A very analytic and thoughtful critic. Some find him overly reductionistic, but often provocative. Here’s his piece on What Got Left Out of Meditation, which covers a kind of reformation and cultural editing that happened to Buddhism and meditation.
  • Jay Michaelson. LGBT activist and many other things. Author of Evolving Dharma. This book gives a terrific overview of Mindfulness 2.0, and the link is to a podcast discussion of the book on Buddhist Geeks.

 

Dan Ingram on the Progress of Insight

Daniel Ingram discusses how the expectations were set high at the beginning of his meditation practice. People were expected to make progress. Part 1 of a 3-part video. One of his conclusions? Hardcore commmitment does not sell.

I was lucky enough to be taught by some people who were very into hardcore real practice… Real states, real stages, real attainments… it was a small subset of people in which progress was expected rather than considered unusual or strange. Where meditation was discussed… [like anything else you would do]

It was interesting to see. Where I came from everybody was talking about it and they were doing it and they knew how to do it and they were telling each other how to do it… in comparison to what I found when I went out into the bigger wider dharma world and started noticing this thing. There was this massive dichotomy between people that were just doing it and talking about it and it was normalized and straightforward and relevant and essentially making progress of some kind — and this other world were doing something really different and they weren’t really getting anywhere from my point of view. Maybe they were doing something that felt useful for them…

Waiting for the Mail: Jay Michaelson’s Evolving Dharma

I came across a terrific scholar and speaker during an extended foray on the internet, Jay Michelson. I’m quite surprised I’ve not come across him before. He fits quite neatly into the “next generation” category of mindfulness practitioners — smart, pragmatic, aware of tradition but unfettered by it. I was quite impressed with his talk evolving dharma, so I sprung for the book.

While I’m waiting for it to show up, I might reread Stephen Batchelor’s Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. Batchelor and Michaelson share a pragmatic, critical approach. Here’s an excerpt from a brief review of Batchelor’s book I wrote a while back:

One aspect of his writing that I find so refreshing is that he does not fetishize Asian practices or culture. He examines and evaluates based on what he finds useful. His struggle to reconcile his own beliefs with his practice of Tibetan Buddhism (which in the end fails) are well worth the read. In the end, he decides that the belief in karma is not far from the belief in god — in that, from his perspective, both reflect a denial of death. From that snippet alone, you see that many questions are raised. To Batchelor’s credit, he investigates quite thoroughly and writes convincingly of his experience with these issues. He explores European existential writers in order to answer some of the questions his Buddhist practice seems to leave unanswered. That constitutes the first section of the book, his life as a monk.

Mindfulness: Worse than a Smug Middle-Class Trend

A shot across the bow! Fighting words!

From the Spectator (UK), “separating meditation from faith is a dubious business.” Here’s the conclusion of the article, which raises some good points:

This brings me to what really annoys me about being mindful, which is that as far as I can gather, it’s Mostly About Me. Sitting concentrating on your breathing is a good way to chill out and de-stress, but it’s not a particularly good end in itself. Radiating compassion is fine, but it doesn’t obviously translate into action. Where’s the bit about feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, all the virtues that Christianity extols? Where in fact is your neighbour in this practice of self-obsession? Given a toss up between going to church, where you rub shoulders with the old, the lonely, the poor, and anyone who cares to pitch up, and a mindfulness session where, for about 25 quid a pop, you can mingle silently with congenial souls in flight from stress, I know which seems more good and human to me. Mindfulness may be the new religion — but it’s no substitute for the old one.

Mindfulness and Mental Ilness: Enlightenment’s Evil Twin

This snippet from Mindfulness Therapy Comes at a High Price at the Guardian.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm for mindfulness-based therapies and they are very powerful interventions,” Ruths said. “But they can also have side-effects. Mindfulness is delivered to potentially vulnerable people with mental illness, including depression and anxiety, so it needs to be taught by people who know the basics about those illnesses, and when to refer people for specialist help.” His inquiry follows the “dark night” project at Brown University in the US, which has catalogued how some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories. Problems recorded by Professor Willoughby Britton, the lead psychiatrist, include “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations”, changes in their sense of self and impairment in social relationships. One Buddhist monk, Shinzen Young, has described the “dark night” phenomenon as an “irreversible insight into emptiness” and “enlightenment’s evil twin”.

And here’s a little more. The description of what can happen in meditation is not unlike what can happen in psychotherapy. It can get worse before it gets better:

Lokhadi, a mindfulness meditation teacher in London for the past nine years, has regular experience of some of the difficulties mindfulness meditation can throw up. “While mindfulness meditation doesn’t change people’s experience, things can feel worse before they feel better,” she said. “As awareness increases, your sensitivity to experiences increases. If someone is feeling vulnerable or is not well supported, it can be quite daunting. It can bring up grief and all kinds of emotions, which need to be capably held by an experienced and suitably trained teacher.

How the Mindfulness Movement Went Mainstream and the Backlash That Came with It

That’s the title of an impressively sweeping history of the mindfulness movement by Mary Sykes Wylie, found on Alternet. If you’ve got half an hour (depending on attention span) it’s really worth digging into. If not, why not break it into small chunks?

The article covers the rise of Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR),  and his successful (though scant) early research. The adoption by therapeutic, and commercial self help movements. It criss crosses historically, touching on the influence of TM and the Benson’s “Relaxation Response”,  the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Prize in 1989. Then circles up to the “McMindfulness” article at the Huffington Post in 2013 (read, concerned Buddhists).

It also touches on corporate mindfuleness (read, Google, but many others) and the lack of real, conclusive evidence in the science (largely due to the subjective nature of much of what’s going on).

The article concludes, essentially, “no harm, no foul”, but really if you’ve read *this* far, you should read the article.