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Susan Piver

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What I Look For in a Meditative Practice

Posted: 03/24/11 02:29 PM ET

Can I just say I’m thrilled that Russell Brand is a meditator? For some reason, I take personal pride in every newcomer to the practice. I know he's been practicing because I read it in The New York Times, in an article called "Look Who's Meditating Now." The article discussed Brand's practice of Transcendental Meditation, his teacher, film director David Lynch, and Lynch's influence on the culture of meditation. In addition to his foundation that offers free TM instruction to veterans, prisoners, the homeless and others who would not otherwise have access, Lynch has also personally "counseled" (the Times' word) actors on meditation, including Mr. Brand.

The article suggests that the benefits of meditation range from the physical (it helps with obesity and hypertension), to the psychological (it promotes relaxation, makes you less angry), to mitigating artistic angst (Lynch: "Maybe suffering is a romantic idea to get girls, but it's an enemy to creativity"). Dr. Mehmet Oz, Susan Sarandon and Moby were also quoted, and each mentioned in a different way how the practice was about calming down, not freaking out.

The part I liked was how you might think that meditation could help you take on a larger perspective, which is both calming and a more creative way of being. The part I didn't like was how you might also think that meditation could make you a famous, successful celebrity or, a second choice, a smoothly competent person who lives in bliss. I'm not saying this is what TM says, only how it came off in the article -- to me.

I have nothing for or against TM, apart from being basically pro-anything that promotes synchronizaton of mind and body. From what I read, TM seems to be a very cool (as in dispassionate) path. For some people, this could be just right.

I am not one of them. What drew me to my lineage, Shambhala Buddhism, was its heat. There was no mention of calming down. It places emphasis on the value of raging emotions and on meditation as a way to meet them fully and shamelessly. This path could teach me to work with feelings as a source of intelligence rather than embarrassment. The counsel was to turn toward my feelings, open to them, appreciate them for their vividness and, the kicker: to do so without agenda, without trying to make them go away, harvest them for value or turn them into magical messages. Instead, I could trust my own experience as the perfect teacher, finally come home. I don't find mention of this in most descriptions of meditation, of what happens when you value the rich, fertile, uncomfortable, stinky, joyful brilliance of emotion.

My experience of meditation practice has nothing to do with smoothness, and everything to do with becoming basically raw. It has less to do with competence than genuineness. And when it comes to bliss, well, I am more uncertain than ever about what this word even means.

Instead, meditation opens my heart. In doing so, I discover the real reason for my practice, which is the cultivation of compassion in all its forms. I meditate first for myself to create some kind of balance and discipline, and then, in a most important evolution, to be of benefit to others -- to open my heart to this world in order to be genuinely helpful. Meditation wakes you up to your own and others' truths, and in this wakefulness you find both compassion and joy.

You don't often see these described as benefits. As mentioned, like most, this article alluded to health benefits and how it can be a stepping-stone to success or the mysterious "bliss." Meditation is not a practice of happiness, per se, but by helping you discover your own path to compassionate action (or inaction, as the case may be), it creates it anyway.

And of course the article had the requisite poo-pooer, in this case one Dr. Sara Weber, the chairwoman of the Contemplative Studies Project of New York University's postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. She said, "Some people report falling apart. They can have very intense and bad emotional experiences." I thought, "Well, yes." Of course. I am one of those people. But I thought that was the good part.

 
 
 

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