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consumers of meditation mindfulness and nirvana

Consumers of Meditation, Mindfulness, and Nirvana

By meditating the consumer believes they can find happiness, health, or Nirvana. Most of all, to practice mindfulness or meditation consumers believe they can collect pleasurable experiences (whether couched in physical, emotional, or spiritual terms).

Here we explore how mindfulness and meditation are used to get people to spend money and consume products that they otherwise might not buy1. We are exploited by elite authorities who tell us we should meditate. What causes us to be consumers of meditation mindfulness and nirvana?

Thus, meditation and mindfulness are the ultimate products, writes Jeff Wilson in his praiseworthy book Mindful America (2014). [Read my post reviewing the book.] The act of mindfulness can not be packaged or measured. So the benefits of practicing are cleverly “packaged”, promoted, and pushed as workshops, retreats, and lessons (books).

Consumers of meditation, mindfulness, and nirvana

Peddlers of meditation and mindfulness use:

  • Scientific studies to promote the benefits of their products and services,
  • Testimonials of people who were once stressed out and unhappy, and thanks to meditation, are now blissed out and happy.
  • Marketing tactics used to sell “ancient” meditation techniques.

A quiet, empty mind is fairly easy to influence, manipulate, and fill with desires. We relax and empty our minds by practicing mindfulness and meditation. It’s then fairly easy to sell us more workshops, retreats, and lessons.

We desire after happiness, self-improvement, and Nirvana; desires that previously were not present before we bought the premises that are promoted by peddlers of meditation and mindfulness products. Ironically, there are thousands of other free products (exercise, relaxation, or sleep to name three) that work just as good or better than meditation.

consumer meditation yoga
Sombilian Photography, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Game of gain

Playing mindfulness and meditation is a familiar game. We quickly learn to seek and collect experiences. The practitioner accumulates meditative experiences and gains points. The goal is to earn rewards for health, happiness, and enlightenment. The “spiritual” equivalent to earning Frequent Flyer Miles is to meditate more often and longer. Meditators choose from a menu of aspirations and benefits. Practitioners accumulate Frequent Flyer Meditation Miles. The more they practice (fly) the more points they can earn towards rewards of health, happiness, or Nirvana.

There are negative consequences to playing the game of meditation. When players of the mindfulness meditation entertain “bad” thoughts or do “wrong” acts points are lost. In the Orient and Occident this is the notion of “karma”, the cosmic scoreboard, which tallies the meditator’s points for and against the attainment of happiness and ultimately arriving at their destination, Nirvana.

We are led to believe, by meditation peddlers, if we use their products we will gain happiness, health, and Nirvana. In believing, we rely on the authority of those who taught us about meditation products and benefits in the first place. We use mindfulness research studies to bolster our beliefs that our favorite products (techniques) “work”.

Consuming and trusting dubious authorities

Hence, we think meditation works (gives us beneficial experiences). And, when we want something to work we will seek evidence that supports our beliefs. At this stage in the post-purchase process, any experiences in meditation will confirm whatever beliefs we think we choose. In reality, we are not in control of this process. Rather we are conditioned to consume by an elite group who claims to know what’s best for us.

So we are conditioned to consume what we are told is best for us: fixes or gives us health, happiness, and Nirvana. Consumption is the heart of capitalism. “Consumerism”, remarked documentary film maker Adam Curtis in The Century of the Self, “is a way of giving people the illusion of control while allowing a responsible elite to continue managing society.”3 We consume meditation because we trust dubious authorities who created our wants and desires. These authorities then sell us the fix, meditation techniques.

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, consuming meditation and mindfulness is to seek experiences: happiness, health, or Nirvana. We seek what has been promoted to us by meditation peddlers. When we buy into the underlying premises–that we are “broken” and meditation is the “fix”–it’s fairly easy for “authorities” to get us to consume workshops, retreats, or lessons.

[Read my post Duped by Meditation?]

Notes

[Featured image credit: Buddha Store by Gone-Walkabout, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0]

1 Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. (2014) Jeff Wilson. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK. p156. [Read my post Mindful America]

2 Letters to a Young Contrarian. (2001). Christopher Hitchens. Basic Books: Cambridge, MA. p19

3 The Century of the Self. Episode 4. BBC. (2002). Quote from Director Adam Curtis ~0:53:00m. YouTube. Accessed 17 Jun 2017 https://youtu.be/VouaAz5mQAs?list=PLktPdpPFKHfoXRfTPOwyR8SG8EHLWOSj6.

Why Mindfulness Fails

Using mindfulness to fix or gain something is doomed to fail, say Buddhist meditation teachers.

The practice of mindfulness, Western Buddhists argue, should be a sustained, quiet exploration and awareness of inside out, rather than a practice for gain of self, power, or control.

As Buddhism has been mainstreamed, its teachings have often been offered not as part of a religious, spiritual, or ethical whole, argues Magid and Poirier, Buddhist lay meditation teachers, but as a relief for pain, a way to build skills, or to better oneself.1

Practice as gain operates within a familiar frame of separate self, power, and control. …An ‘I’ seek to ‘fix’ something, whether ‘out there’ or ‘deep inside’, that is ‘broken’ or ‘unsatisfactory’, or to ‘gain’ something that is currently ‘missing’ [is what’s wrong with mindfulness]. p43

Buddhist lay-teachers: Critics of mindfulness

Barry Magid and Marc Poirier are critical of the Western mindfulness movement. Their essay, Three Shaky Pillars of Western Buddhism, appears in What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives [Read my post reviewing the book, What’s Wrong with Mindfulness: Zen Perspectives].

Barry Magid is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst practicing in New York City. He is a founding member of the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York and author of several books, Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common ground of Zen and Psychoanalysis, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide, and Nothing is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans.

Marc Poirier (1952-2015) was professor of law at Seton Hall University Law School in New Jersey. He received lay entrustment from his teacher, Barry Magid, to teach meditation to students and faculty of his law school and was a longtime practitioner of meditation and active with Zen Teachers Association.

“McMindfulness”drive-through

Expecting meditation to produce a particular state of consciousness, that the practitioner hopes someday to be permanent, is doomed to failure writes Magid and Poirier. Why is it doomed to failure? The authors don’t directly say in this essay. However, the underlying Buddhist reasons for failure can be gleaned from other essays in What’s Wrong with Mindfulness.

Underlying reasons for mindfulness failure the book contends are: In Buddhism “nothing” is real and everything is impermanent. To expect anything to be permanent–especially enlightenment–is illusion and the path of suffering.

Magid and Poirier describe the “workshop” approach to meditation and mindfulness. Extracted from the religious and spiritual context of Asian Buddhism, mindfulness is being repackaged for mass markets and quick consumption, it is ridiculed by critics, including committed Buddhists, as “McMindfulness”.

[Read my article on Consumers of Meditation, Mindfulness, and Nirvana]

Buddhism repackaged for mass consumption?

Repackaging Buddhist meditation for mass consumption is counterproductive. The meditation technique, argues Magid and Poirier, needs its religious or spiritual context within Asian traditions.

Buddhist practices have, they argue, increasingly been adapted, simplified, and altered in the West. Often for the purpose of extracting meditation techniques from their Asian religious and cultural contexts.2. Extracting mindfulness from its Oriental roots puts the foundation of practice on shaky pillars.

Three shaky pillars of Western Buddhism

The Three Shaky Pillars of Western Buddhism described by Magid and Poirier are:

  1. Deracination,
  2. Secularization,
  3. Instrumentalization.

1. Deracination: Cutting off Buddhism at its roots?

Deracination is literally, “cutting off from its roots” the practices of mindfulness meditation from Buddhism. It has increasing led to a secularization (removal from religious context) of Buddhist meditation practices.3

Mindfulness and meditation techniques are being marketed and increasingly institutionalized as therapy and as personal transformation. p41

The mindfulness movement…

Threatens to obscure the fundamental nature of Buddhism itself. p41

2. Secularization: Buddhism that is areligious?

Secularization, removing the religious or spiritual context, has instrumentalized Buddhist practices as technique or therapy. Mindfulness or meditation becomes a commodified product for personal gain or self-improvement.

3. Instrumentalization: Mindfulness, instrument for gain?

Gain? The problem (of making mindfulness an instrument for gain), say the authors, is the value of the activity of meditation is not in the activity itself but in what it is to be gained. It’s commodified products or results.4

What’s the harm of removing mindfulness from Buddhism?

Removing Buddhism from its Asian cultural and religious contexts, say Magid and Poirier:

  • Obscures traditional practices [of Buddhism and distorts them].
  • Consequences [of practice ] are no longer considered sacred.
  • Loses lineages of Eastern tradition; mindfulness is no longer part of a religious container.

What is…

Most important is experience of awareness, of life as it is. Nothing is needed to be gained. p44

Meditation has always failed

Magid and Poirier argue that mindfulness is doomed to fail without a lifelong commitment to a practice, without a qualified instructor, and without a supportive religious Buddhist community. I ask: what is mindfulness meditation supposed to help us succeed at?

Mindfulness meditation, according to Fortune, is a billion dollar industry5. Many Americans are eager to consume mindfulness products, retreats, and workshops. Most consumers are not told that a lifelong or religious commitment is required for practice. The latter is the desperate plea from the authors of What’s Wrong with Mindfulness.

Last week a colleague confided with me that he has been struggling with depression and that he was considering using a mindfulness-based therapy. I cautioned him against expecting mindfulness or meditation to be beneficial. There are many adverse effects, read my posts on Adverse (Side) Effects, that are terribly underreported. I recommended he seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional to determine if meditation-based therapy might help.

We Americans can’t meditate away the problems we have behaved our way into. Meditation (and religion) has had more than 2000 years to prove itself as the ultimate solution to human suffering. Meditation has always failed.

Notes

1 What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives. (2016) Edited by Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p41

2 ibid p39

3 ibid p39

4 ibid p40

5 Meditation Has Become A Billion-Dollar Business. Fortune. 16 Mar 2016. Accessed 16 Jun 2017 at http://fortune.com/2016/03/12/meditation-mindfulness-apps/.

Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts

Yes, mindfulness can change the brain. Everything we do changes the brain. Meditation included.

Relying on neuroscience to validate mindfulness implies meditation is not valuable in and of itself as a spiritual practice, says Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum, Zen Buddhist priest and coeditor of:

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives1, a collection of 12 essays written by 12 Buddhist or Zen priests and Vipassana meditation instructors and therapists. All 12 essayists are committed, lifelong practitioners of Buddhism and meditation.

Rosenbaum, author of the essay Mindfulness Myths: Facts and Fantasies, is a psychologist and psychotherapist formally trained in Zen and Qigong. He received his lay [priest] entrustment from Sojun Mel Weitsman of Berkeley Zen Center and is authorized by Master Hui Liu as a senior teacher of the Taoist practice of qigong of Yang Meijun. Rosenbaum’s books include, Walking the Way: 81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching and Zen and the Heart of Psychotherapy.

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives book as a whole is interesting and compelling read because it is written by Western Zen Buddhist priests who are thoughtful and skeptical of the mindfulness movement in America.

Below are some excerpts and summaries from Rosenbaum’s essay Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts and my commentary in brackets.

Myth and fantasy: But we know mindfulness practices changes the brain!

Fact: Yes, says Rosenbaum, but everything we do changes the brain2. Meditation included. But so does checking Facebook, listening to music, reading, closing your eyes–each activity or non-activity will register an EEG (electroencephalograph) or fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) change in the brain. So what?

[Closing one’s eyes, as in most meditation practices, is a non-activity. Sleep is a type of non-activity. Relaxation, as in meditation, is non-activity. Non-action is precisely the benefit–the  change in our brain. Disconnecting, disengaging from electronic devices or external stimuli is a non-activity. As beneficial as relaxation.]

Myth and fantasy: Mindfulness is proven effective in clinical trials

Fact:

“A careful examination of the research”, writes Rosenbaum, “reveals how enthusiastic proselytizing can sometimes be less than mindful of the complexities and caveats involved.” p59

[Proselytizers of mindfulness who push the research often lack awareness, are unmindful. Or, if they are aware or mindful of the caveats in the research, are dishonest with themselves or others.]

“In fact, the benefits of quiet, relaxation, and stress management are so powerful it is often difficult to demonstrate that meditation contributes much beyond potentiating and enhancing the non-specific mechanisms at play in deep relaxation”. p60

[All mindfulness studies face the same difficulty:

What are the measures of mindfulness?

  • There’s no objective measure for a psychological state described as mindfulness.
  • To measure mindfulness, many studies use participant self-reported data.
  • Self-report studies have advantages for researchers, but disadvantages include exaggerated answers and are biased towards the participants feelings at the time of filling out the questionnaires3.
  • Most advocates of mindfulness-based therapies recommend practice more as a lifestyle or stress reduction (relaxation) technique, which begs the question:
  • What is the mechanism or active ingredient in mindfulness? There may be none.]

The thrust of Rosenbaum’s essay and throughout the book is that mindfulness ought to be practiced with lifelong commitment within its Asian Buddhist religious context:

[What’s wrong with mindfulness is that it has been] extracted from its Asian religious and spiritual contexts proponents of mindfulness are grasping to demonstrate its verifiable and useful [that there’s something to gain from mindfulness outside of its religious or spiritual context]. P55

[The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, another book that critically examines mindfulness studies: “Listen, this new wave of studies on mindfulness is full of disingenuous scientists who are up to their necks in Buddhism”, remarked Jonathan Smith4, a 1970s pioneer in scientific research into effects of meditation practice. “Look carefully. Check the control groups they’re using.”]

Myth and fantasy: Mindfulness is superior to other techniques

Fact: Psychological studies compare one technique (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT) to another method (such as traditional psychotherapy or medication).

What sixty years of psychological research has uncovered is that client (participant or patient) factors are far more important than the techniques.

Factors such as motivation, desire, belief, psychological, relationship and socioeconomic status account for 85-98% of the outcomes of psychological treatments. That means, the techniques themselves such as mindfulness or meditation, according to Lambert and Wampold, account for at most 2-15% of outcome variance in psychological treatments. p64

In other words, that it is the client, not the therapist nor the technique, that is most important in the process of psychological change is not popular. P65

Rosenbaum warns:

“The ‘hard science’ of research swallowed uncritically makes us more credulous: it enhances the fantasy that meditation is somehow magical, that by meditating we will not have to confront the hard work of placing our difficulties within the context of how we are living our lives and the messy specifics of how to change our behaviors.” p67

Zen and Qigong lay-priest, Rosenbaum, continues:

“In the religious sphere, meditation can tempt us with the fantasy that we are more than human, some kind of super-being, if only we attain anuttara samyak sambodhi, [samadhi], or supreme perfect enlightenment. In the secular sphere, meditation can tempt us with the fantasy that we can control our thoughts, feelings, and achieve superproductivity and happiness just through our personal [individual] efforts.” p67

I agree with Rosenbaum. Many Westerners tend to be fantasy-prone with their expectations of mindfulness or meditation techniques. Rather than practice to gain or achieve anything, the Zen Buddhist priest says that mindfulness practices are not important. What is important is awareness of life as it is and ultimately the practice is to make us aware of what’s right in front of us.

Notes

Image credit: Public Domain. affen ajlfe, brain 18, www.modup.net/. Retrieved from Creative Commons Jun 11, 2017.

1 Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid (Eds.). (2016). What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives. Somerville, MA. Wisdom Publications.

2 ibid p.55

3 Self-report study. Wikipedia. Accessed on Jun 9, 2017.

4 Jonathan Smith quoted from p132 of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm (2015) [Read my book review of The Buddha Pill]. Smith had published a landmark study in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1976, pp630-637, Psychotherapeutic effects of transcendental meditation with controls for expectation of relief and daily sitting. Smith’s study  used equivalent expectancy controls, and he clearly demonstrated that a person’s predisposition toward anxiety (trait anxiety) is not reduced by the practice of meditation (TM method), but that it can be reduced by sitting with closed eyes in conjunction with an expectation of relief. Abstract of Smith accessed from TranceNet: TM_Independent Research on Jun 10, 2017 at http://minet.org/www.trancenet.net/research/abs.shtml.

A Guru Dictates the Questions and Answers

What’s the difference between a guru and an educator?

A guru fashions a doctrine and disciples. A guru dictates the questions and answers which are permitted. Disciples are discouraged from independent thought. Their job is to distribute the doctrine and to allure more disciples. Gurus demand obedience and compliance.

Educators, on the contrary, foster learning and encourage questioning and searching for answers. Students are allowed to engage in independent thought. Unexpected answers or questions are welcomed by educators as part of the process of learning and discovery. Educators stimulate creativity, skepticism, and intellectual explorations.1

Gurus seldom, if ever, doubt their doctrines and tend to see themselves as infallible. Educators, on the other hand, are doubtful about many of their beliefs. Educators lack absolute certainty. Gurus are absolutely certain of their doctrine.

Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)
Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)

Guru behaviors

It’s important to define words that often have multiple meanings. A popular definition is that a guru fits the East-Asian notion of an enlightened spiritual teacher. Most important, is not the personality or person, but the actions and attitudes that differentiate an educator from a guru.

Below are two examples using different Eastern, Hindu-inspired gurus.

When a visitor named Shyam Basu asked [guru] Ramakrishna: “How can you say that sin is punishable when you say that He is doing everything?”. The [guru] was cheesed off and quipped: “What calculating cunning (sonar bener buddhi)! You asshole (Ore podo), just eat the mango. What will you gain by counting the trees, branches, and leaves in the grove?”2 [Read more quotes and a brief biography in my post Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Smoking, Cussing Godman?]

To a dissatisfied student, [the guru] Paramahansa Yogananda said: “Don’t doubt, or God will remove you from the hermitage. So many come here looking for miracles. But masters do not display the powers God has given them unless He commands them to do so. Most men don’t understand that the greatest miracle of all would be the transformation of their lives by humble obedience to His will.”3

The behaviors and attitudes expressed by these two East-Asian, Hindu-inspired god-men is emblematic of gurus. It doesn’t matter whether a person is popularly called a guru or disciple. What matters most is how a person acts and how disciples surrender and obey.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_6-minMany more gurus than educators

A guru aims to produce disciples who obey and comply. Disciples are discouraged from independent thought. Independence is discouraged as being egoic, rebellious, and “doing your own thing”—opposing the guru and doctrine. Educators encourage students to question and search for answers. When it no longer serves, doctrine may be discarded. An educator aims to stimulate creativity, skepticism, and intellectual explorations.

In many schools teachers are more like gurus than educators. In politics many citizens act more like disciples. Making distinctions—between guru versus educator—is important. It illustrates and impacts the way we think and act in daily life, in private and public.

Notes
Top photo credit, walking buddha and disciples, by AntanO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39371295.

1 Many of the distinctions of guru versus educator made in this post were gleaned from Russell L. Ackoff’s, Differences That Make a Difference, London: UK, Triarchy Press, 2010.

2 Quote of Ramakrishna Paramahansa from Narasingha P. Sil’s,
Ramakrishna Revisited: A New Biography, Lanham: MD, University Press of America, 1998, p. 163.

3 Quote of Paramahansa Yogananda from Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda, Los Angeles: CA, Self-Realization Fellowship, 1980.

Idealist or realist? On religion

Religious, metaphysical, and ethical beliefs are greatly influenced by whether a person is predominantly an idealist or a realist.

This post contrasts idealists and realists and their worldviews, and aims to better understand ourselves and others, and to explore the impact that idealism and realism has on our thoughts and behaviors about religion, metaphysics, ethics and more.

It is important to clarify upfront that few people are pure idealists or realists. Most of us land somewhere between the two conceptual extremes of pure idealism or realism. We will examine this further below, but first let us define what we mean by idealist and realist.

Definitions: Idealist and Realist

First, let’s define Idealists and realists. Each have different perspectives; with idealists tending to focus on ‘what could be’, and realists focusing on ‘what actually is.’1

Idealists typically see the world, life, and people as moving towards some ideal or perfection. Realists, on the other hand, tend to see things in a more practical or actual “as is” view of the world or situation, and may be overly pessimistic.2

The Idealist-Realist / Realist-Idealist Continuum

Most people land somewhere between the two conceptual “pure” ends of idealist or realist. In other words, few people are pure idealists or pure realists but are a combination of the two to one degree or another. People tend to be either an idealist-realist or realist-idealist depending where the land on the continuum of idealism and realism: an idealist with stronger or weaker worldview of realism, or, a realist with stronger or weaker beliefs about idealism.

Idealist.Realist.Continuum-min

The Idealist-Realist Continuum graphic depicts, conceptually, that idealists and realists are actually a mix of both on a continuum. Both idealists and realists often hold religious or scientific-oriented beliefs. Some realists may adhere also to a weaker or stronger form of idealism that could include religious beliefs. While some idealists, on the other hand, may harbor beliefs that, for instance, science can help achieve world peace or human utopia. Most people are somewhere on a continuum between the two contrasts of pure idealist and pure realist.

Contrasting Idealists and Realists

Pure or strong idealists and realists are a stark contrast in terms of worldviews of religion, metaphysics, and ethics.

Idealists are often much more religion-friendly, and sympathetic to otherworldly ideas. Realists are often much more science-friendly, and tend towards a this-world emphasis.

Below is an itemized list3, gleaned from Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University, that contrasts idealist’s and realist’s beliefs about metaphysics, knowledge, human nature, religion, ethics, and liquor.

View of Idealist Realist
Metaphysics Supernature

(higher, superior realm, or realm of the spirits, gods, or goddesses)

Nature
Knowledge (epistemology4) Mysticism, revelation (direct communion with higher realm or god), faith, (occasionally “pure” reason) Integration of senses, reason, interaction with this world

(empirical)

Human nature Dualist

(spiritual and physical are two distinct substances, often in conflict with each other)

Badness: original sin

Integrationist

(mind and body ordinarily function together, no opposition between the two)

Tabularasa (born with blank slate) or some may argue born with original goodness

Religion Human is microcosm (lower) of macrocosm (higher) realm, distaste for natural lower/physical world

Born with predestined abilities/capacities [eg. Karma, original sin]Religionist: God didn’t make world according to strict laws but according to His/Her wishes and whims, a God who intervenes through miracles, answering prayers, god may be angry, punish, or destroy (Noah’s flood)

Born with unlimited moral and mental abilities/capacities (eg. tabularasa)

Religionist: God made an orderly world, nature just like scientists find. Not a whimsical god. Often is a more hands off kind of god (eg. there had to be some sort of Divine Being or Intelligence before the Big Bang)

Some may say it’s immoral to act on “faith”. God gave us our senses and reason to act in physical world. God doesn’t want us to be antagonistic toward science but use it to come to better understanding of His universe and to appreciate Him.

Nothing wrong with our bodies, God made mind and body. God wants us to enjoy our bodies and natural world.

Ethics Mind or spirit values (often disparagement or denial of physical body and sensual pleasures: food, money, sex)

Motivated primarily by duty and obligation (sacrifice of self for higher authority or duty, often for happiness in next life)

Mind and body values

Motivated primarily by pursuit of happiness in this life, living a flourishing life, liberty

Liquor Leads to weakening of body and morality (temptation to resist, exists in the world as a test of our character or from a bad force, eg. devil) Ben Franklin, religious realist: “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The contrast and continuum of idealists and realists may give insight into ourselves and others.

Most people are somewhere on the continuum between two extremes of pure idealist or pure realist. A person may, over time, flip from idealist to realist or vice versa. Case in point, I flipped.

I used to be a strong idealist, especially during the decades I was an ordained, meditating monk in the cloister of Self-Realization Fellowship. As a strong idealist, I devalued the natural, physical world and overemphasized the value of the higher or spiritual realms, beyond this world. True knowledge and wisdom supposedly came to me through intuition, meditation, and revelation from a guru, from Supernature or Divine Intelligence. During those days I never touched a drop of liquor and imagined pleasures of the flesh to be harmful, spiritually dangerous.

I used to be a strong idealist. Today, I am a strong realist and weak idealist. I believe that human flourishing arises from letting go of overly idealist beliefs and embracing nature, reason, and human experiences in this world. I am optimistic that we humans have the capacity to learn and develop, but am concerned that strong idealists put us at risk of danger by overemphasizing imaginary otherworlds.

Hopefully we humans can bridge the chasm between strong idealists and strong realists, rather than destroy each other and the planet. I could improve by being more patient when listening to some strong idealists, and watch that I don’t step into the dogma of a too strong realist.

Where are you on the idealist-realist continuum? Strong or weak idealist or realist? How can the contrasts be used to improve ourselves and others?

Notes
1 The DifferenceBetween website elaborates further on the “Difference Between Idealism and Realism” http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-idealism-and-realism/#ixzz41OwOGbVu

2 A short video Is This Glass Half Empty?

offers insights from science about idealists, “glass as half full” types, who tend to be more optimistic. Whereas, realists who may see the “glass as half empty”, though not necessarily as a negative, may view situations as less optimistic or maybe even as pessimistic.

3 The list was gleaned from an excellent YouTube video series presented by Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University. For Professor Hicks’ brief introduction to the Idealism and Realism watch Introduction: Contrasting Realist to Idealist Philosophy, Clip 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxYvYR3M3oo&list=PL3ED4A5B0BF91CACD&index=1. To jump straight to the beginning of Professor Hicks’ white board discussion of contrasts between idealists and realists start with Clip 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ilt-gP4dehs&list=PL3ED4A5B0BF91CACD&index=2

4 epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, is the study or philosophy of how we come to know or believe that which is important, true, and real of the world or the realm beyond us. Read Wikipedia Epistemology https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology