In the USA (please tell us about your part of the world), to confess to practicing “Meditation” has become much more acceptable. When I was young, “meditation” had many negative connotations: anti-Christian, devil inspired, cultic, etc. But with the medical world embracing meditation for health reasons and with the new Yoga trim-fit-sexy fads adding it in their marketing cocktail, the word “meditation” has become more benign and outright positive, if not much more pretentious.
There are many different forms of meditation, all purporting different benefits. You can read elsewhere of all the attempts to study such claims but in this post, I am interested in the individual, not the theology of mediation.
Individual meditation practitioners, even in the same group, are all really doing their own thing when their eyes are closed “meditating”. No matter what the meditation system is purporting, when sitting there quietly, and at home when thinking of themselves as meditators or when telling their friends they meditate, the individual meditator may be doing something very different that what the professional meditator sales folks would recommend. Does this sound familiar? Sure does. That is exactly what happens among religious practitioners. (see my post on “Most Christians Don’t Believe“)
So in addition to trying to sort out the truth of what the sellers of meditations purport, I find it interesting to see why the individual really practices meditation — I hope my reader sees the distinction. So below I have quickly drawn up five categories for why people meditate and suggested pitfalls to those motivations. I will keep be changing my list based on your feedback. Thank you.
Take the poll above to give fellow readers an idea of frequency of meditation motivations among us. And in the comments, please criticize my categories to suggest any expansions or re-phrasings that we should consider so that anyone who reads this list can say to themselves, “Yep, I fit in there.”
And meanwhile, hopefully people will also see the foolish, self-deceptive reasons they chose to meditate that accompany their more honest ones.
(1) Mental and Physical Health
Meditation is sold as relaxing muscles and minds. Practitioners want lower their blood pressure, lessen their anxiety, be cured of tension headaches, gain more patience and much more.
pitfalls: self-concern neurosis, hyper-body awareness neurosis
(2) Meaning & Spiritual Identity
Practitioners want to feel they are doing the right thing spiritually. Many are averse to the label of “atheist” but they can’t abide the Christianities around them. They want some spiritual or moral identity. Some deeper felt meaning.
pitfalls: self-righteous pride, joining dangerous groups just for the sake of identity, us-vs-them mentality
(3) Insight and Wisdom
Practitioners want a deeper insight of themselves, of their minds, of their habits, of others, of the way we all work. They may call it wisdom, enlightenment or some such things.You will hear Zen meditators speaking about “seeing the world as it really is.” (yeah, right !)
pitfalls: delusion of real insight, false pride
(4) Altered Mental States
Some practitioners want to go beyond relaxed. Sure they want insight, but they want their mind categorically altered during meditation. They want an altered state of consciousness, Union with the Divine, Oneness with the Universe or some such thing. They want that unworldly experience. Or they want the extra-ordinary experience of talking with God, communing with the divine or feeling hum of the universe.
pitfalls: experience mongering delusions
(5) Afterlife Benefits
Some practitioners are seeking a better afterlife, Nirvana, better reincarnation and others such afterlife magic.
pitfalls: comforting perhaps, but …
(6) Paranormal Powers
I don’t find many practitioners to do this, but their are some who want to be clairvoyant, see past-lives, be able to levitate …
pitfalls: there is almost nothing good about this delusional category.