Meditation and the Pitfall of Explanation

I recently attended a humanistic/philosophical group in which meditation was discussed. The discussion leader practiced and endorsed meditation.

So far, so good.

However, he claimed meditation worked because it put the mind in a beta wave state.

I don’t know if that’s right. But I do know it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know how my car works to drive it, and I don’t need to know how meditation works to use it.

If a person meditates and becomes happier, that’s all the explanation needed.

Furthermore, speculating on how meditation works can backfire. What if the explanation is disproven? Meditation may work, but with a false explanation, prospective meditators might discount the whole practice. This wouldn’t happen if advocates stuck to the basics.

Now sometimes, an advocate might be forced to give an explanation for how meditation works. If so, they could try something like this:

Meditation reduces our pain by reducing our attachment, and it does this by making us better at letting things go.

If they wanted more detail, analyze the instructions for mindfulness meditation:

  1. Focus on the breath.
    1. This improves our concentration, so we’re better at not getting dragged into worries about the future, regrets about the past and other painful thoughts.
  2. If a thought or feeling arises, note it and let it go.
    1. Noting develops a distance from the thought and feeling.
    2. Noting makes us more aware of the many thoughts and feelings that arise and cease, so we appreciate how transient they are.
    3. Practicing letting go, we get better at letting go.

If Buddhism is being discussed, connect these with some key elements of the philosophy, such as suffering (1.1), no-self (2.1) and impermanence (2.2).

What about you? 

  • Do you have any concerns about the way philosophical, spiritual or religious paths phrase their views?
  • Do you have any pet peeves regarding the language or examples used to promote these practices?
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