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evaluating credibility meditation experiments

Evaluating Credibility of Meditation Experiments

How to evaluate the credibility of meditation experiments? What are the harms of meditation and complementary therapies?

This post suggests ways to evaluate for yourself the credibility of meditation experiments. I also present my thesis that meditators who also believe in subtle life energy (prana, chi or qi) are more likely to seek out and harm themselves by using Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) including acupuncture, special diets, guided imagery, tai chi, qigong, and any sort of energetic, psychic, or spiritual healing used for the treatment of specific medical conditions or disease symptoms.

Post Contents (click link to jump to section in this post)

Meditation as Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM)
How Common are Meditation and CAM Therapies?
CAM practiced in absence of evidence
For credible evidence CAM therapies must demonstrate
Biological mechanisms: subtle energy (prana, qi or chi)?
“Active Ingredient” in Meditation?
Placebo and Meditation or CAM
Six Points of Belief Affects Effectiveness
Magical-, Spiritual-Thinking: Gateway to Meditation and CAM
How to Evaluate the Research Yourself
Six Steps of Increasing Credibility of Experiments
Flaws with Meditation Experiments and RCTs
Harms of Meditation or CAM Treatments

Listen to this blog post: Evaluating Credibility of Meditation Experiments

Meditation as Complementary Alternative Medicine

Firstly, meditation used for medical or psychological treatment is, in the medical and scientific domain, considered CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). CAM are physical, mental, chemical, or psychic interventions such as acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathic, deep breathing, special diets, homeopathy, herbs, guided imagery, meditation, megavitamin therapy, massage, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, qigong, and any sort of energetic, psychic, or spiritual healing used for the treatment of specific medical conditions or disease symptoms.

How Common are Meditation and CAM Therapies?

The US National Institute of Health published a 2012 and the Centers for Disease Control published a 2007 report showing most common CAM therapies, which includes meditation. Meditation has significant increases for usage as a therapy. Note the two charts indicate there are commonalities between the other 9 most common therapies as they relate to underlying beliefs in subtle life energy, prana or chi/qi (which we discuss below).

CAM practiced in absence of evidence

CAM therapies are practiced in the absence of:

1) Scientific (credible) evidence proving their effectiveness, and;

2) A plausible biological explanation for why they should work.

Meditation interventions and CAM therapies have failed to meet their burden of proof as an effective treatment for medical and psychological intervention. Why?

For credible evidence CAM therapies must demonstrate:

1) A biological basis which is plausible and credible;

2) A provision the treatment could be proved to be ineffective. Also called falsifiability.

There is no plausible biological explanation that meditation techniques by themselves are more effective as a treatment than ordinary relaxation or placebo.

One explanation could be the patient’s belief is largely responsible for any benefits felt or experienced from meditation treatment. In other words, the placebo effect is what creates any significant felt results from the treatment. In other words, any effects from treatment result from the beliefs in the person’s mind or imagination. We will discuss placebo further below. First though, let’s return to whether there’s any plausible, credible biological basis for the effectiveness of meditation techniques.

Biological mechanisms: subtle energy (prana, qi or chi)?

Most meditation techniques are derived from Eastern Buddhist or Hindu traditions. These Eastern traditions posit there is some kind of subtle life energy (prana, qi, or chi) within and without the human body. Proponents of the subtle life energy (prana, qi, or chi) hypothesis say practice of meditation techniques can unblock or improve the flow of subtle life energy within the physical body. Thereby promoting health, healing both physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Supposedly there is a subtle (scientifically undetectable) network of energy centers (nadis or chakras) within the human body.

The biological basis for such a highly speculative invisible energy (prana, qi, or life force) and a subtle energy body is implausible, as yet undetectable, and has no credibility in modern medicine. Not only is there no biological mechanism or evidence of the energy but meditation techniques themselves don’t appear to be the “active ingredient”.

“Active Ingredient” in Meditation?

If the results of meditation or any CAM treatments were greater than a placebo the treatments would be accepted as medicine, that is evidence-based medicine. To-date, no one has come up with a credible placebo to demonstrate that meditation is the “active ingredient” which gives the results or benefits. Nor has anyone yet devised any credible, replicable experiments to demonstrate that meditation is more effective than ordinary relaxation, exercise, or cognitive psychotherapy.

Meditation studies presented in the mainstream media or news are often headlined as a viable or promising complementary alternative medical (CAM) or psychological treatment. Yet, the facts are meditation and CAM have not been demonstrated to be more effective than a sham treatments. Let’s now discuss the effects of placebo in meditation and CAM.

Placebo and Meditation or CAM

To reiterate, belief in and practices in meditation and CAM persists even after:

1) The scientific evidence shows no effectiveness (greater than a placebo or sham treatment) and

2) Their biological basis is not plausible and has been discredited. [1]

Our expectations that an intervention or treatment (such as meditation) can help sometimes gives us actual benefits. The placebo effect results when a fake treatment–an inactive substance like a sugar pill or meditation technique–can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation the treatment will be helpful.[2]

In Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, R. Barker Bausell, a former Research Director of the National Institute for Health-funded Complementary Medicine Program, points out that,

If a completely inactive pill, ointment, or procedure (in other words, a placebo), accompanied by the expectation of effectiveness, can result in pain relief, then surely any therapy–no matter how bizarre–that we consider credible enough to seek out (and pay for) can also result in pain relief [or give us feelings of control and well-being], compliments of the placebo effect.[3]

The benefits some people feel from meditation practice could largely depend on practitioner’s belief and may be temporary. What beliefs make it possible to feel psychological an physical benefits?

Six Points of Belief Affects Effectiveness

There was a time when I fully believed that meditation techniques, as well as many CAM treatments, helped me relieve pain or gain mental or spiritual control. Why? Because I:

  1. Wanted to believe;
  2. Needed to believe;
  3. Was certain these beliefs fit my worldview and religious principles;
  4. Had many acquaintances who also shared these beliefs;
  5. Knew persons I respected who advocated these beliefs;
  6. Interpreted personal experiences as evidence for the effectiveness of these beliefs.[4]

These six points fit neatly into a worldview I adopted about Eastern mysticism, yoga philosophy, and magical- aka “spiritual”-thinking.

Magical-, Spiritual-Thinking: Gateway to Meditation and CAM

What I discovered was my beliefs in yoga meditation–containing implausible, subtle energies such as prana, qi, and chakras–linked directly to why I sought out and paid for CAM: my acupuncture treatment helped me because the needles are stuck in supposed energy meridians in the body. In reflexology (massaging of feet or hands) the tender spots on my feet mapped to energy blockages in the body. Same with psychic healing, mind over matter, and positive affirmations. All these ‘treatments” were rooted in the same magical-, spiritual-thinking that lead me to believe in the effectiveness in yoga meditation practice.

How to Evaluate the Research Yourself

Why take someone else’s word on these research studies into meditation or CAM? You could evaluate the evidence yourself. Granted that you also are open to learning from experts, like Bausell and his excellent book Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. When evaluating scientific papers Bausell recommends focusing on:

Methods and procedure section.

Where items such as blinding, randomization, sample size, and dropout/attrition are discussed. We discuss these items further below.

Results section.

Where the authors mention what was or was not statistically significant.
Researchers who conduct systematic reviews or meta-studies (studies of numerous studies) disregard investigator conclusions, writes Bausell in Snake Oil Science, which is one reason why systematic reviews are considered more effective and reliable than individual studies.

Bausell recommends ignoring the investigators’ discussions and conclusions sections because this is where authors may try to put a positive spin on their findings. An interpretation of one experiment is not enough. Researchers want to review the body of evidence (as in systematic review noted above) in high-quality studies to see if the findings have been independently validated and replicated.[5]

Six Steps of Increasing Credibility of Experiments

To evaluate the credibility of experiments it is necessary to understand the methods and procedures are more important than the conclusion[6]. In Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Bausell gives six steps for evaluating the credibility of CAM experiments (which includes meditation treatments).

In order of increasing credibility the six steps for evaluating experiments are:

  1. Randomized[7] controlled trials (RCTs) are more credible than nonrandomized trials.
  2. Large trials, with at least 50 patients per group (preferably more than 100) are more credible than small trials.
  3. Large, double-blinded[8] RCTs using placebo groups are more credible than RCTs not using placebos.
  4. Large double-blinded randomized, placebo-controlled trials with 20% or less drop-out rates are more credible than those with higher attrition rates (patients who drop-out of the trial before it is finished).
  5. Large double-blinded randomized, placebo-controlled trials with 20% or less drop-out rates published in high-quality journals are more credible.
  6. Large double-blinded randomized, placebo-controlled trials with 20% or less drop-out rates published in high-quality journals that have been independently validated and replicated by other investigators are more credible.

The gold standard for clinical studies or medical experiments are RCTs. To conduct RCTs you’d select a group of individuals from a wide population and randomly assign them to either a meditation or a control group.[10]

Flaws with Meditation Experiments and RCTs

Although RCTs are considered the gold standard for clinical studies, including meditation experiments, they may be flawed by:

Bias to believe – Often participants (patients) in the experiment are particularly interested in meditation. They join the study because of their interest in mediation. They join due to their belief that meditation can benefit them–which enhances the placebo effect.

Controls – The biggest problem with meditation studies is finding the right kind of activity for the control group. That is the placebo-controlled group that you will compare with meditation treatment group. Most researchers say you can’t and instead of placebo use active control groups. Participants in active control groups partake (instead of meditation treatment) in controlled relaxation, cognitive therapy, or exercise.[9]

Blinding – What can be done to “blind” participants as to which group, meditation or (placebo) control, they are in? The challenge is that researchers also are not blinded and know which group they are treating. When researchers and participants don’t know which group they are in the study is higher quality and is said to be double-blinded (when both study subjects and clinicians are ignorant which group they are working with). High quality studies “blind” both researchers and participants.

Harms of Meditation or CAM Treatments

The harm of using meditation or CAM to treat physical or psychological problems is the delay of credible diagnosis and treatment. Earlier diagnosis and treatment could have saved many people from further harm. Meditators often also believe in energetic, psychic, or spiritual healing, which are often a component of belief in CAM treatments (as we noted above with the 10 Most Common CAM therapies in the NIH and CDC charts above).

When belief or disbelief is the “active ingredient” in a treatment then we should not claim that a therapy itself is effective. It’s the belief that is effective, not the treatment. Unfortunately, people who meditate as treatment probably also believe in or use CAM therapies. Use of CAM or meditation therapies can delay diagnosis and treatment for serious illnesses, including cancer.

I’m not implying all meditators are the same; they all use meditation as prophylactic (treatment to prevent disease). Obviously, many meditators use meditation for other reasons. A thesis I put forward in this post is many meditators, especially those who believe in subtle life energy, prana, chi or qi, are more likely to seek out and be harmed by CAM treatments. There’s no credible scientific evidence that CAM or meditation therapies offer anything more than temporary relief of stress. There is no credible evidence that meditation therapies are more effective the relaxation, sleep, drugs or placebo (fake or sham treatment).

Question for readers: What’s your experience or observation? Do meditation beliefs in prana, chi or qi lead to increased use CAM therapies?

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. Without Scott’s help and encouragement this post would not be published.

Notes

1 Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine,  R. Barker Bausell. (2007) Oxford University Press. Ch. Rise of Complementary and Alternative Therapies: Definitions of CAM p 21

2 Placebo: Latin “to please”, is any irrelevent procedure or inert substance that produces a genuine psychological or physiological response. The placebo effect, or placebo response, is a phenomenon in which a placebo–a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution–may improve a patient’s condition simply because the person expects it will be helpful. Bausell p 30.

3 Bausell p 256. On p 292 we read “Neither a placebo nor a CAM therapy is going to cure anything that will not resolve itself or that the body does not have the capacity to deal with. Both a placebo and a CAM therapy that appeals to you, however, are equally capable of relieving pain if it isn’t too severe.” Using meditation techniques also can give someone a sense of pain relief or psychological control.

4 Adapted from Bausell, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

5 Bausell. Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, p182

6 “In science, methodology is the detailed process used to arrive at a scientific conclusion. As you can imagine, the more the methodology is flawed, the more likely researchers are to come to an inaccurate conclusion.”– Bo Bennett. For elaboration about why method and procedure is more important than conclusion readers are encouraged to listen to or read Dr. Bennett’s Methodology Over Conclusion https://www.thedrboshow.com/tools/bg/Bo/TheDrBoShow/B7RvXyZw/Methodology-Over-Conclusion.

7 “A randomized controlled trial (or randomized control trial; RCT) is a type of scientific (often medical) experiment, where the people being studied are randomly allocated one or other of the different treatments under study. The RCT is often considered the gold standard for a clinical trial”. Retrieved from Wikipedia on Mar. 20, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randomized_controlled_trial

8 Double-blinded study: A medical study in which both the subjects participating and the researchers are unaware of whether the actual or a placebo (sham/fake) treatment or procedure has been given. Retrieved from MedicineNet.com on Mar. 20, 2016, from http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11177

9 The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? Miguel Farias and Catherine Wickholm. Watkins Publishing (2015). p 56. This easy to read and excellent book goes in-depth into the history and latest meditation research, it’s flaws, and promises.

10 Additional Resources for Evaluating the Credibility of Meditation or CAM Experiments

Quality Assessment of Controlled Intervention Studies checklist, National Institute of Health
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-pro/guidelines/in-develop/cardiovascular-risk-reduction/tools/rct

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions
http://handbook.cochrane.org/chapter_8/8_4_introduction_to_sources_of_bias_in_clinical_trials.htm

Medical Nonsense, Interview with Dr. Angie Feazel Mattke. Skepticality Podcast, Episode 278 (2016) https://www.skepticality.com/medical-nonsense/

Science-Based Medicine: Exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine. Search results for “meditation”
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?s=meditation

Elvis in the Ashram

elvis and yogananda-minFrom private correspondence between a former SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) monk and me, below is a kind-of guest post used with permission. In this story our former-monk-friend shares his personal experiences of the night he entered the SRF ashram to begin his new life as a monk.

The night I entered the ashram, I was picked up from the duplex where I lived. I shared this duplex, right across the street from the SRF Hollywood Temple (on Edgemont Ave), with a handful of other devotees. A brahmachari [one who takes vow of brahmacharya, a celibate junior monk in the swami order] who had lived at Hollywood Temple and, in fact, was driving the SRF ashram car that came to pick me up. I knew this brahmachari from before he became a monk.

Brother Premamoy [see my post Postulant House Cat: Queen Nefertari for a brief bio], who had been in L.A. for some organizational business and was on his way back to Encinitas ashram center, was in the passenger seat. It was about 9:00 p.m., maybe even a little later. I’d been told earlier in the day to standby and be read. So, when the brahmachari rang my doorbell, I grabbed my little bag of possessions and got into the waiting car. I’ll never forget that drive to Encinitas. Quiet, contemplative, whisked away into a new life. When we arrived in Encinitas, the streets were empty.

I, too, did not tell anyone in my family what I was doing. I just did it. In the car, the brahmachari told me I’d have to change my name because there was already a monk with the same first name as mine. [No duplicate first names were allowed in the ashram]. The brahmachari jokingly said, “This is your chance to name yourself Elvis.”

Not sure where my questioning of belief came in–it just happened gradually, over time. I am not the same empty vessel that I was when I entered the ashram decades ago to be whisked away into a new life as a monk. Recently, I was reading Camus’ The Stranger, a short, existential novel. I highly recommend this book if you have not already read it. It cuts to the core.

To the best of my knowledge there never was a monk named Elvis. However, the real Elvis Presley was apparently a staunch SRF follower and devotee of Sri Daya Mata. You can find plenty of online sources and references of Elvis’ affinity for SRF, Yogananda and Daya Mata in Elvis biographies. Also while I was a monk in the ashram, I had heard from Sri Daya Mata and from other senior monks of encounters of Elvis visiting the SRF ashrams. I can visualize the legend: Elvis, the Pelvis, sitting in full lotus.

Thanks to our guest contributor for sharing with us his story and his journey.

Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture

mindful americaHow has the mindfulness movement shaped current notions of meditation, spirituality, and Buddhism in the West? How has Asian religion been adapted for mainstream America? I finished reading an intriguing book that explores the phenomena of the movement of mindfulness in America. The author, Wilson, is a Buddhist and religious studies professor. Mindful America is the first comprehensive, critical examination of the practice of mindfulness in America.

Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture
Jeff Wilson, Oxford University Press. 2014. Hardcover.

Mindful America is an exploration of the mindfulness phenomena, concerned with large-scale trends that can be observed within the movement, and the forces behind these trends.

Wilson argues that mindfulness over the last three decades has gone from an obscure Asian religious technique to a widely touted panacea and a serious money making industry. Today, mindfulness is touted as a cutting edge technique said to produce everything from financial success to mind blowing orgasms.

This 260 page book is well-researched and easy to read for the lay person. Wilson’s treatment of his subject, though, is often predictable and formulaic. Sometimes his critiques of the movement’s advocates seem repetitive chapter to chapter. Nevertheless, he weaves hundreds of interesting facts, quotations, and sources from the mindfulness movement and addresses six questions.

Mindful America explores six questions under these chapter titles:

Chapter 1 Mediating Mindfulness: How Does Mindfulness Reach America?

In this classic presentation [of the Satipatthana Sutta] mindfulness is taught to the monks, not the general Buddhist community, and it is clearly associated with traditional transcendent monastic concerns, such as nirvana. Mindfulness meditation is to be pursued as a way to disengage from clinging to the everyday world of suffering and turn toward a rigorous discipline, resulting in breakage of the cycle of rebirth. p21

Diligent mindfulness produces high-level trance states known as jhana (Sanskrit = dhyana). p21

Chapter 2 Mystifying Mindfulness: How is Mindfulness Made Available for Appropriation?

mindful_mints02For foreign religious practices to be successfully appropriated by mainstream American society, they need to be rendered spiritual and personal to best fit into the prevailing trends in religious orientation…Hinduism is appropriated as yoga, Islam as Sufi poetry, Daoism as tai-chi, Japanese folk healing as reiki, and Buddhism as mindfulness.

The historic authority over these practices of Asians, Middle Easterners, and other groups coded as non-white in American society must be dissolved so that white Americans can claim authority over them, an authority that issues from the fact that these are now self-evidently universal, spiritual, or medical practices available to all comers, which new constituencies have a right to use, and to sell, as they wish. p61-62

Chapter 3 Medicalizing Mindfulness: How is Mindfulness Modified to Fit a Scientific and Therapeutic Culture?

Buddhist monks were supposed to preach, chant, and performed blessings. Too much meditation was believed to cause mental illness. And, anyway, the proper Buddhist methods for dealing with psychological issues, sickness, and other health impairments were exorcism and chanting, not mindfulness…

[Ordained Theravada Monk Henepola Gunarantana explained in his book Mindfulness in Plain English:] “Meditation is intended to purify the mind. It cleanses the thought process of what can be called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred, and jealousy, which keep you snarled up in emotional bondage.” p76

Buddhist practice has been removed from the realm of religion and professionalized to become the property of psychologists, doctors, scientists, and diet counselors, to be engaged in by clients rather than believers, who are not expected to take refuge, read scriptures, believe in karma or rebirth, or to become Buddhist. p103

Chapter 4 Mainstreaming Mindfulness: How is Mindfulness Adapted to Middle Class Needs?

033009onetaste09VW.jpgAt the heart of OneTaste is Orgasmic Meditation (OM), a form of mindful clitoral stimulation that OneTaste devotees practice daily, either in a group setting or at one of the OneTaste centers, or at home if they have taken OneTaste workshops. As the OneTaste website states, “Practitioners experience benefits similar to other mindfulness practices such as sitting in meditation, as well as the well-known benefits associated with orgasm”. p122

[In] the Satipatthana and Mahasatipatthana Suttas…the Buddha tells the reader to think of one’s own body as a rotting, oozing corpse eaten by worms and disintegrating into its component parts. Mindful-eating authors never quote these passages. p118

Chapter 5 Marketing Mindfulness: How is Mindfulness Turned into a Commercial Product?

Here’s nine of the many commercial mindful “products” discussed in the book:

  • mindful-mayo-originalMindful Horsemanship: Daily Inspirations for Better Communications with Your Horse (sport)
  • Tennis Fitness for the Love of It: A Mindful Approach (sport)
  • OneTaste: female orgasm through the practice of Orgasmic Meditation (sex)
  • The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (religion)
  • The Mindful Brain (science)
  • Mindful Therapy (therapy)
  • Mindful Knitting (hobby)
  • Mindful Mints (breath freshener)
  • MindfulMayo Dressing and Sandwich Spread (food)

Chapter 6 Moralizing Mindfulness: How is Mindfulness Related to Values and Worldviews?

In mindfulness movement writings the present moment becomes both savior and heaven: the vehicle for salvation and salvation itself. As Thich Nhat Hanh asserts in You are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment: “The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment. The present moment is the destination, the point to arrive at”. p174

…Mindful civil religion does not call for mandatory participation in mindful activities, radical changes to the economic structure, aggressive or combative politial struggle, or class warfare. Rather, for many it is apparent that mindful capitalism will be sufficient, as will mindful politics, mindful consumption, mindful work, and so on. p183

We might call this secular religion, one devoid of the supernatural and the afterlife yet operating as a deep well of values, life orientation, and utopian vision. p185

Those who do attach morals to or derive values from their mindfulness practice are often people with a connection to a religious tradition, especially Buddhism. p185

My posts inspired by this book:

From Monastic to Domestic Mindfulness

Central_Asian_Buddhist_MonksTracing the spread of mindfulness from Buddhist monks to everywhere in America

How did mindfulness, which was originally the exclusive property of Buddhist monks, come today to be quite simply everywhere? In Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture Jeff Wilson examines how mindfulness became domesticated and adopted into American businesses, homes, institutions and schools.

One device Wilson uses in Mindful America to trace the spread of mindfulness is breaking down the movement’s texts into six categories:

  1. Buddhist texts on mindfulness by Buddhist clergy;
  2. Buddhist  texts on mindfulness by lay people;
  3. Articles on mindfulness in popular Buddhist magazines;
  4. Self-help mindfulness texts by Buddhists;
  5. Self-help mindfulness texts by non-Buddhists;
  6. Media reports of the mindfulness movement.

The newer developments in mindfulness do not replace the older texts. Wilson notes that the oldest texts are still in use; monks and nuns are still teaching about mindfulness; Buddhists still use sati (mindfulness) to attain nirvana; and people may pursue mindfulness for both this-worldly and or other-worldly ends. But the older texts and uses are today dominated by the newer publications and voices of mindfulness. The earlier forms have been pushed to margins while the discussions, publications, and practices of mindfulness are led by non-monastics, non-renunciant voices.1

Lord_Buddha-by_SegarThe co-authors of the Complete Idiots Guide to Mindfulness are noticeably defensive:

We started out this book telling you that you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness. And then we’ve talked about Buddhism throughout the book! What’s up with that?…People in some religious traditions would have you see this book and Buddhist teachings as a cult or a turning away from God and Jesus. But this comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the practices of mindfulness and meditation. You do not worship the Buddha when you practice mindfulness; you explore your inner landscape, which includes your mind and your soul. Your mind and your soul are gifts from God or Allah or Spirit–why wouldn’t you want to explore them and open you heart to them as fully as you can?2

Mindfulness is quite simply everywhere. The history of mindfulness, examined in Wilson’s Mindful America, can be traced in the progression from older to newer texts. Sati (mindfulness) is still in use by monastics for achieving nirvana. While non-renunciants, mainstream Americans, can use mindfulness with or without their own God or savior of choice. The newer voices in mindfulness have managed to push the older ones to the margins. Mindfulness continues to spread ever wider into the businesses, schools, hospitals, homes and institutions throughout America.

What was originally for Asian Buddhist monastics is becoming  ever more American, secular, and everyday. These processes, argues Wilson, don’t just happen. People choose to use whatever cultural tools are available because of some benefit they believe will come from such choices. Ultimately, mindfulness is neither religious NOR secular, spiritual NOR therapeutic. It can operate and move within one or more of these domains depending on the user. Mindfulness and the movement can draw upon whatever texts, applications, or authorities it chooses. Thus the mindfulness movement uses ancient traditions as proof of its authenticity, uses scientific studies as evidence for its effectiveness, and uses practitioner’s personal experiences or intuitions for support3.

Mindfulness is all things to all people.

Notes

1 Jeff Wilson, Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture p42

2 ibid 57 quoting Ihnen and Flynn, 2008: 263

3 ibid 194-5

Meditation has gone viral, says Los Angeles Times

Viral flu, Flickr, CC-2
Viral flu, Flickr, CC-2

Meditation, primarily a 2,500-year-old form called mindfulness meditation that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment, has gone viral.

Originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times

adjective
  1. of the nature of, caused by, or relating to a virus or viruses.
  2. relating to or involving an image, video, piece of information, etc., that is circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another.
    “a viral video ad”

Meditation: cure for the agitated American psyche

A sign outside Unplug calls passersby to find that peace: “Hurry up and slow down.”

Olivia Rosewood, a teacher at Unplug who said she learned to meditate from former Beatle George Harrison when they happened to meet in Fiji, pointed to other 21st century stresses.

“We’re all over-stimulated. It doesn’t matter whether you are 3 or 93. People are not going to the bathroom without their iPhones, and if they tell you they are, they’re lying,” she said.”We need a place to take a time out.”

[Meditation] has moved from its Asian, monastic roots to become a practice requiring no particular dogma on a path not necessarily toward nirvana but toward a more mindful everyday life. Some serious advocates worry it’s becoming another feel-good commodity.

Meditation is a hot commodity

Meditation is hot, feverish in the popular press. Mindfulness is spreading like a virus, says the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s mind-blowing,” said Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts and one of the people who brought Buddhist meditation to the United States in the 1970s. “It fits a lot about the American spirit,” she said. “You don’t have to join anything. It’s very private. It’s a very direct answer to an awful lot of stress and confusion.”

Stripped of the monastic tradition of Asia, meditation has been packaged and distributed for the average American household. Meditation made to fit any life-style or pocketbook. A perfect product. A jack of all trades. Master of…

Jason Garner, caught the virus and turned to meditation.

A child of poverty who grew up in the Arizona desert, he rose to become CEO of global music at the concert promoter Live Nation and on Forbes list of Top 40 Earners Under 40. Through all that, he never felt “good enough.” He was unhappy, married and divorced twice, more wrapped up in quarterly results than in his true self.

Read the full article Meditation booms as people seek a way to slow down, Los Angeles Times/Health & Fitness

Question for readers outside of North America: How has meditation been treated in the popular media in your country? What does your society say about meditation?