The aim of many meditation practices (within the system of Eastern enlightenment) is to quiet the mind, still the thoughts, transcend human consciousness, and to pierce the nature of super “reality”. Implicit in that aim is ordinary thoughts, feelings, and sensations are devalued–made inferior, lower, or egoic. What is valued–made superior or “spiritual”–are the prescribed thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the teacher, tradition, or group. Practitioners will repress or push down their own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions to mold themselves to the “spiritual” system of the external authority, teacher, or group.
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Sometimes meditation practice can be valuable. But many meditation techniques are bundled within a manipulative authoritarian system. The practitioner is told what most to value (e.g. stilling thought), what to least value (e.g. thinking), what to expect (e.g. “spiritual” perceptions), and how to interpret experiences. Of course, these values and experiences are prescribed– a prepackaged worldview–and supposed to take the practitioner “higher” (e.g. superior) in spiritual evolution in this or a future life.
The practitioner’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences are bound within an authoritarian system. Meditation practice often operates within a system of a double bind.
What is the double bind?
The double bind is a no-win kind of communication, according to U.S. anthropologist Gregory Bateson, designed to keep you obeying the authority figure. The double bind, i.e., two irreconcilable demands, often traps meditation practitioners. Here’s some examples of double bind messages implied with meditation practice:
You are asleep or ignorant. Meditation is the path to awakening or knowledge of God. You are asleep or ignorant, so keep meditating.
You are ego/self-centered. Meditation is the path to transcend ego or self. If you are not yet egoless or selfless, keep meditating.
You are bound by earthly desires. Meditation is the path to filling or transcending all human desires. If you are not yet desireless, keep meditating.1
These examples show the underlying premises for practicing meditation give responsibility to an external authority. These false premises form the basis for getting and keeping students to practice meditation.2 Further, the premises within the double bind blame the student–not the techniques or authorities–when students fail to attain the promised results. Worse yet, practitioners blame themselves when they experience negative side-effects from meditation. These underlying premises with their double bind make meditation-based worldviews corrupt.
Corruption in meditation-based worldview
Neither meditation nor authority is the real problem. The problem is when disciple’s hand over responsibility to the authority. Disciples assume the authority, teacher, and techniques are perfect and have all the answers. Likewise the guru or teacher depends on disciple-followers for adulation and validation. Without student-disciples, the guru-teacher loses their identity and power. Consciously or unconsciously the master or guru cannot but be too invested in appearing perfect, all-knowing, and imparting superior techniques. Both master and student are corrupted within these double binds. Students give up (renounce) self-trust and hand over responsibility to external authority.
Renounce self to find Self?
The double bind of meditation practice requires renouncing one’s self to supposedly find one’s self. The practitioner’s worldview is validated only through complying with external authority. It matters not that the meditation practice is supposed to be be validated by internal perception or experience. The corruption occurs before the experience and creates the experiences and its interpretations. The double bind of meditation practice is dictated and accepted by students.
The external authority dictates for students what to value (stilling thought), what to devalue (thinking), what to expect (experiences, e.g. thoughtlessness), what to practice (techniques), and how to interpret personal experiences (e.g. validate or invalidate feelings and perceptions). This worldview, with its double bind, corrupts student’s trust in self, corrupts thinking and feeling. Student’s self-trust is devalued while trust in the external authority is valued, made superior.
Seeing bind is half the battle
Noticing that we are trapped in a double bind is half the battle. The other half is taking back responsibility. As discussed above, the double bind and its underlying premises form the basis for handing over responsibility to an external authority. The double bind of meditation practice keeps us trapped in a meditation-based, authoritarian worldview. It keeps us giving adulation and seeking validation from the teacher, teaching, or group. When we see that we are trapped in the double bind we can then begin our journey to finding self, whatever that is or isn’t.
It may take months or years to build self-trust versus defer trust to an external authority. In an ironic twist, taking back trust in self–in trusting one’s feelings and abilities to think critically–can take us naturally to a state of being “enlightened”, free, and intellectually and emotionally mature.
What do you think of the double bind of meditation practice?
Special thanks to Scott D. Jacobsen, Editor at Conatus News, and Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing for his editorial assistance and comments prior to publication of this post.
Featured image by jocelynyan1, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
1,2 Read Duped by Meditation?, my post discussing the underlying premises of meditation practices.