I'm a meditation teacher who speaks about mindfulness and teaches workshops around the world. I'm also founder of the Open Heart Project, an online meditation community with close to 12,000 members. And what a great time it is to be a meditation teacher! Mindfulness is becoming a movement and although I'm not always sure what people mean when they use the word, I'm just glad they're using it.
Two recent experiences sharpened my view of the current culture surrounding mindfulness meditation. One involves the esteemed psychologist, academic, and thought leader Daniel Goleman. The other involves side boob.
I was at a recent talk in New York by Dan Goleman in support of his new book, Focus, which makes the case that focus is what drives excellence: accomplishment, impact, leadership. Fair enough. It can.
The talk was at the beautiful ABC Carpet and Home which, in addition to selling exquisite furnishings, hosts such events. One of his opening sentences began, "Recent research at Harvard shows... " and before he finished the statement I thought, it does not matter what he says next. Everyone is going to believe him (which, in the case of Dan is well-placed because he is awesome). But if he had said, "Through deep practice and perfect realization, the 10th-century mahasiddha Tilopa shows... " not so much. Okay, I thought. That's cool. In our culture, scientific proof lowers resistance to new information.
The talk itself was excellent and inspiring. People seemed convinced that mindfulness was important and that somehow it was also a road to success.
In a recent Marie Claire article entitled "Single Girl's Guide: How to Meditate for a Month" the altogether wonderful writer and meditation practitioner Whitney Joiner wrote a short piece on her experience at a month-long meditation retreat. I happen to have attended the same retreat at a different time so I knew she was not kidding when she wrote, "committing to ostensibly doing nothing is one of the bravest things I've ever done." Truth. Sitting with your own mind hour after hour, day after day, is not easy.
The photograph chosen to accompany the piece was of a supernaturally beautiful and serene-looking young woman sitting on a meditation cushion, wearing a see-through top cut to show major side boob. (Hey, I've meditated a lot! I thought. I never got boobs like that.) With this image, mindfulness glowed with the patina of fabulousness. Perhaps readers would think that meditation was somehow connected with glamour, beauty and youthful cool.
Some readers were outraged: Using sex to sell meditation is bad! Others were sanguine: It's great that meditation is a part of our culture and we should just be happy that it's entered the mainstream.
Success and sex. These are the things we are taught to value most and of course we will use them to sell meditation. But is it okay to offer the reassurance of scientific proof or a glimpse of perfect breasts to get people to meditate?
Personally, I don't care. At some point along the path, we find that while success and sex can be awesome, no amount brings lasting happiness and so all our formulas begin to unravel.
In spiritual tradition, this is considered a fortuitous moment.
To practice mindfulness, neither scientific proof nor magnetizing boobage will help you to meet the joys and sorrows of your life. The truth is, the point of mindfulness is not peace, nor is it bliss or transcendence. It does not make you permanently calm or inure you to pain and it does not even give you perky breasts, much to my dissatisfaction. Rather, it shows you where your heart is hard. It reminds you of your dreams. It shows you where you are afraid. It unlocks all the tears you have been holding back and in so doing breaks your heart to the preciousness of your life, the uniqueness of your genius, the unending grief of your losses, and your immeasurable capacity to love. It goes one better than to make you into a supermodel CEO -- it shows you how to be who you really are and you discover gentleness, authenticity, and fearlessness. There is no Harvard research or conventional image of beauty that can make it otherwise.
To read about meditation: Turning the Mind Into an Ally.
To learn meditation: The Open Heart Project.
To experience meditation: Being Brave: Is Enlightened Society Possible?