Meditation as Personal Development

“A little mindfulness is better than no mindfulness.” – Dan Harris (probably paraphrasing)

Some Buddhists bemoan the fact that their practices have been appropriated, taken out of context, and used for purposes that directly contradict their ethics.

Probably the most extreme example is mindfulness being used by active duty military personnel.

“After eight weeks of meditating for just 15 minutes a day, the soldiers are far better at dealing with anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. It helps them stay calm and focused in the thick of battle, while improving overall mental and physical fitness.” – Meditate Just Like The U.S. Marines

The very job of the military (whether on offense or defense) requires it to break the first of the basic precepts of Theravada Buddhism – not taking life. Breaking the second (not taking what isn’t freely given) and fourth (being truthful) are also often required, while the third (not participating in sexual conduct) and the fourth (abstaining from intoxicants) are often practiced.1

The impetus for me writing this post was something I read in the forward to The Monkey Is the Messenger: Meditation and What Your Busy Mind Is Trying to Tell You by Ralph De La Rosa.  I just started reading the book (love it’s premise and what I’ve read so far), but there’s a part of the forward by Susan Piver that bothered me:

“To use meditation purely for its prescriptive capacity is to miss the point of the practice altogether. Though it is indeed a powerful medicine (my friend and fellow meditation teacher Jonathan Foust says that if meditation were a pill, everyone would take it), it is far more than that.

Meditation is not a life hack. It is a spiritual practice.”

I don’t see the difference. A “spiritual” practice is something one participates in to improve the quality of their life. The only way to improve life quality long term is to improve ourselves. Meditation can do that.

I’d say that when we meditate to develop mindfulness, we often start to see that killing, stealing, lying, doing sexual harm, and getting wasted do more harm than good.2 Not always, as is evidenced by the recent rash of “spiritual” leaders finally being called out for their misconduct (Noah Levine and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche come to mind), but often.

Mindfulness is a tool, like a hammer. Depending on what you use it for, the quality of a hammer you need differs. A home do it yourself person doesn’t require much more than Walmart offers at a low price, but the skilled craftsman needs something better. If the DIYer really loves what he’s doing, maybe he’ll upgrade. In the same way, if McMindfulness is where people get started, more power to them.

Of course, if someone is using a hammer to bash someones head in, they need to be stopped by any means necessary. But don’t blame all hammers for the actions of the person using it.

 

  1. Personally, I’m convinced that the military, and the things that it has to do to get the job done, are necessary in the world we live in. Peace and love may be values that I hold dear, but they aren’t the values of people who couldn’t give two shits about the safety of my family, community, or the world population. If mindfulness helps soldiers protect us, while protecting their own health while they do their job, I’m glad they are practicing it.
  2. Self defense still gets a pass from me when absolutely (and I mean absolutely) necessary.

2 Comments

  1. You quoted Susan P.:

    ““To use meditation purely for its prescriptive capacity is to miss the point of the practice altogether. Though it is indeed a powerful medicine, it is far more than that.”

    Lyman, another aspect of this is that it puts the writer in the role of prescribing behavior for others, rather than concentrating on her own practice. Perhaps that makes sense for her, but worrying about others’ behavior seems counter to what I’ve read about doing the work.

    1. Great point Jorah. I remember a talk with Jack Kornfield that I listened to where, during the Q&A portion, a corporate type asked about motives. The person asking the question said that he was worried about his own motivation – he wanted to embrace meditation as a path, but was worried that a part of him was also doing it to get ahead in his job. Jack basically said “Meh. It doesn’t matter so much. Just meditate.”

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