Wednesday, 17 December 2008

This is it.

The above cartoon is from the New Yorker, and is referenced in Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

'People don't usually get this right away,' Kabat-Zinn writes, 'They want to meditate in order to relax, to experience a special state, to become a better person, to reduce some stress or pain, to break out of old habits and patterns, to become free or enlightened. All valid reasons to take up meditation practice, but all equally fraught with problems if you expect those things to happen just because now you are meditating. You'll get caught up in wanting to have a 'special experience' or in looking for signs of progress, and if you don't feel something pretty quickly, you may start to doubt the path you have chosen, or to wonder whether you are 'doing it right.'

This is a way of looking at meditation that I have often struggled with. When sitting, I often get thoughts to the effect of, 'Is this a waste of time? What is the purpose of this? What am I supposed to be getting from this?' It's natural to think this way, and with most human endeavors, that kind of thinking is reasonable. It's only with meditation that the point is not what you're getting out of it. The point is clear ackowledgement that what is happening is happening.

But here's something that Kabat-Zinn says that really hit home with me. I'm not sure what I should do with it:

If you do decide to start meditating, there's no need to tell other people about it, or talk about why you are doing it, or what it's doing for you. In fact, there's no better way to waste your nascent energy and enthusiasm for practice and thwart your efforts so they will be unable to gather momentum. Best to meditate without advertising it.

Everytime you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it's doing for you these days, or what it's not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look at it as more thinking and go meditate some more. The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off--especially you.

What do you make of that??


anonyrod said...

Dear Carla, this is a further reply to the reply on the other site.

What you might like to make note of, besides the other obvious capitalist interests of many book sellers and so-called teachers, is that those who do not list the details are those who do not know the details.

If you want to find out most of the details of vipassana meditation, check out This is by an Ajarn from the Vipassana Ajarns Training Center of Thailand (basic training 10 yrs), and will be updated with a final article for this year later this month (I know because I do the editing for this site).

When you read some of the details you may well consider that Buddhist meditation is not for you, because there are some fairly unjoyful stages you have to go through in the development process.
Also, if you don't have the correct grounding, then you can easily get lost in the practice.

Most teachers talk about having mindfulness, however if you don't develop it you will definitely not have enough of it to be useful. Mindfulness, like samadhi (concentration) is a skill, and if you don't have a method (i.e. noting) then you will never develop it.

If you don't have sufficient mindfulness then samadhi takes over, and this can be dangerous.

Carla said...

Anonyrod, thanks for your opinion about a so-called commercial adaptation of Buddhism. (I'm sure I've read somewhere that Jon Kabat-Zinn is actually a Buddhist, though the books he writes are aimed at Westerners who are interested in meditation but are leery of the Buddhist trappings.) In any case, I'm not using his book as my one and only teaching tool. I do read widely. What I'm most interested in is the question of whether it is useful to discuss our meditation practice. The author suggests that it is not useful to talk about meditation, more valuable to just do it. Do you agree?

I will check out that site, thanks for the link.

I am afraid I fail to understand how meditation itself can be harmful. I can't see how sitting and following the breath for 15-30 minutes could cause someone to 'go bananas.' Trying to do it for 8 hours a day maybe! :) But to be honest, I don't think I'm in any peril with my small practice. I will check the site to see what it has to say.

anonyrod said...

In vipassana development there is a daily interview called 'sorp arom', or examining moods and feelings, where the meditator gets to talk about his/her practice with the Ajarn. This shows the Ajarn where the meditator is in the practice. Obviously, if you do not have an Ajarn then you cannot talk about it, but talking about it certainly helps and even if it is just limited to posting on a blog; you might get lucky and get the correct guidance, although you may have to work out what the correct answer is.

If your samadhi is not very strong then you won't have to worry about the dangers of meditation, but if, for example, it does become strong, then meditation can become unbalanced, which means an unbalanced mind.

As for JKZ, he is an academic, and while he may well be a Buddhist, he is about as qualified as Richard Gere or Michael Jackson to teach meditation. The guy is absolutely clueless when it comes to meditation, a complete joke.

It would be unfair to single him out as being the only such therapist who considers himself to be an expert on meditation, the Jewish community in the US is full of such therapists, and while they may call themselves Buddhist what they teach is not Buddhism but simply a western intellectual interpretation of Buddhism.

To know the intracacies of Buddhist meditation you have to have experienced it yourself, not just read about it or visited a few Buddhist teachers.

Would you go to a doctor who had no formal training, but simply read a few books and talked to a couple of doctors at the hospital?

It takes around 40 years of practice living a disciplined lifestyle, on average, to become a good meditation teacher.

anonyrod said...

You can download the book 'Practicing insight on your own' at

This is a great book listing more details than most people can swallow in a year, but it is a perfect guide to the practice.

The author, Ajarn Thawee, was a Burmese monk who lived in Thailand, now passed away.

Another site, containg many of the works of the late Ajarn Buddhadasa of Wat Suan Moke, offers the traditional form of mindfulness of breathing (developing jhanas).

This url will start you off at 'The prison of Life,' which is a good read. The rest of the site consists of many other teachings.

None of the Ajarns I have pointed out have any interest in the trappings of Buddhism, only correct practice.

Anyway, that should keep you occupied for a while, and you have good source material for finding out what is what, and come to your own conclusions (note that none of this is costing you anything).

anonyrod said...

While I realize that criticizing celebrity icons is not popular it basically boils down to one issue.

There are those who glamorize life in the mud, i.e. worldy existence, and how to enjoy living in the stink, and there are those who teach you and exhort you to become a lotus and grow out of it.

rich said...

I love this cartoon! I have shared it with several friends after stumbling across it in one of Jon Kabat-Zinn's books. It really captures the impatience and frustration that we feel when we meditate or pray from a goal-oriented perspective. But practicing mindfulness gets easier with practice, in my experience. I find that it helps to practice mindfulness when I am doing activities that lend themselves to contemplation such as washing the dishes or riding my bicycle.