photo 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.
Interesting interview of Leigh Brasington by Willoughby Britton. They chat about what happens when emotional issues come to the fore. Often people come to meditation to relax or relieve anxiety — so it can be a nasty surprise when disturbing unresolved issues boil to the surface. Working with an experienced teacher is invaluable in such situations.
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.
An allusion to the previous post — the Messy Truth about Meditation. Here’s another Britton quote, where she describes what some meditators have in store for them, and have no idea it’s coming:
Britton says, meditation has a shadow side, familiar to experienced meditation teachers but almost never mentioned in the popular media—that is, the not uncommon tendency of some people when they begin practicing in earnest to freak out (lose ego boundaries, hallucinate, relive old wounds and traumas, experience intense fear, and even have psychotic breaks, as well as exhibit strange physical symptoms, like spasms, involuntary movements, hot flashes, burning sensations, and hypersensitivity). These effects are well documented in Buddhist texts as stages along the long, hard path to inner wisdom, but they haven’t been studied in the West and aren’t featured in mindfulness/meditation brochures. Britton is one of the first to begin researching these phenomena seriously…” According to Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown.
I could quote Willoughby Britton all day, because she’s a fresh voice in a sea of hype. I think there’s fairly strong support for benefits in practicing meditation — but this lecture given at the 2012 Buddhist Geeks Conference, presents some very down-to-earth insight. The inteview is so pithy and remarkable — if you like the excerpt I strongly suggest you check out the whole thing. Here’s some of her speech:
And they say as a whole firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in health care cannot be drawn based on the available evidence. Basically, there’s no effect in meditation. The central problem: confusion over what constitutes meditation. So how can this be the case? I think for a lot of people we think that there’s so much proof that science is proving that meditation works and all these things. That’s way over hyped compared to the actual reality of the situation.
So how could this have happened. And I think that it’s not all our fault as scientists. I think there’s a deeper cultural phenomenon going on which I’m going to try to illustrate with what I call the Blobology effect. The Blobology effect very simply said is that when you show people….when people see colorful blobs on a brain scan, they can be convinced of anything. They can be convinced of anything even if what you’re saying makes no sense or if it’s absolutly preposterous. And even further people will believe brain scans over their own experience.
If you do check it out, you might as well check out the Buddhist Geeks website, it’s a treasure trove.
That’s the title of a little interview with Willoughby Britton found on Mindful.org. Here’s their brief bio:
Willoughby Britton is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School. She has also been a committed mindfulness practitioner for 20 years.
She talks about the often untalked about experience that many people will experience meditating — unpleasant emotional material can resurface with a surprising force. In other words, for some people some caution should be exercised while embarking on the meditative path.