Mindfulness

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

So you want to meditate… kudos to you for wanting to improve your mental health and life. When I’ve practiced it consistently, which admittedly wanes depending on the week, meditation has changed my life for the better. While some have tried to quantify meditation with a number, I feel like that might be doing meditations benefits a disservice. With regular practice, you just aren’t the same person you before meditation; suddenly there is space between thoughts and you are more present. You’re kinder, more loving and more patient.

But there is a lot of disinformation on what meditation actually is. I’ve heard wild things about meditation from people trying to reach astral planes or from novices who believe that meditation means clearing one’s mind of all thoughts. So without further ado, I thought I’d try to address 5 common misnomers about meditation.

When You Stop Meditating Consistently...

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There is an old Zen saying: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. That saying always resonated with me because it speaks to the importance of meditation not only for relieving anxiety and being productive but for seeing the true nature of your mind and reality.  

But I haven't been meditating consistently. I could give you a lot of excuses or reasons. There has been lots of travel and change in my life recently for instance. Those are perfectly valid reasons... 

The odd thing about not meditating consistently is that you stop remembering what you are missing. Your mind turns into slush like most people's. Your attention span is much shorter. Your emotions pop around like a pinball. You're more susceptible to mood swings or giving into unproductive habits. But the thing is you're mostly unaware that you're doing it. 

And that is the real benefit of meditation: awareness. Awareness of your smallest movements or your breath. Awareness of what spikes your anxiety or what your temptations are. Awareness is key. Without awareness, we can become mindless, following our every urge or instinct with reflection. Without awareness, we can easily become the worst versions of ourselves. And it is that thought that always gets me to put meditation back on the calendar every morning even if I don't always do it. 

The Neoliberal Meditator

The Neoliberal Meditator

A quick blog post before I start my next session...

One of the hallmarks of neoliberal spirituality is that each person is responsible for their own lives and should not look to governments or public institutions for answers. To put it into more libertarian terms, we are responsible for ourselves. Freedom is the ideal. We don't need want governments in our health care or schools because they run them inefficiently. Privatization has the answers. 

So what happens if you're having spiritual or mental health problems in this society? Well, like all things capitalism, the answers are in the free market. Take a look at your local bookstore and go to the self-help section. Business is booming. The free market can give you a wide range of gurus from misogynist Tony Robbins to the fraud that is Deepak Chopra.  Or if you're in the mood for a more wholesome figure, Oprah's Supersoul conversations are a great place to start. Here you can learn to be your best self and can live up to the demands of the competitive marketplace. All you have to do is meditate for peace of mind to be your best, productive self.

Deepak Chopra Is Selling $350 Meditation Glasses. Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud

Deepak Chopra Is Selling $350 Meditation Glasses. Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud

I've always had an uneasy relationship with commerce and spirituality. (I even feel weird putting ads on this website, even though it's really just to try and pay for the costs of hosting this website). But I do think there is much value in mindfulness meditation and the spread of meditation centers and apps; these things probably help many in our age of anxiety and late capitalism. 

But when I see an article about  "Luxury Meditation Class" in the Flatiron District, or how everyone in Google meditates to essentially be more productive,  my first reaction is to throw up a little in my mouth and then get angry. (From that article, "Johanna Sistek, a trademark lawyer, says the emotional skills she refined in the class help her focus on her many tasks, despite a fire hose of professional demands. Like most of her colleagues, she still faces “instant deadlines” but says they no longer freak her out." This might be the worst thing I've ever read). 

Why does this upset me so? Well, Buddhism is first and foremost about ending suffering. Not just your own suffering but the suffering of all sentient beings. And a Buddhist accomplishes this by following the Eightfold Path.  Meditation is a part of the Eightfold Path, but it is only a small part of it. So much of the Eightfold Path is about morality, including Right Livelihood, which tells us that we cannot choose careers that exploit, and Right Action, which tells we must abstain from killing, sexual misconduct and creating suffering in other people directly. 

And meditating to become productive or lessen your anxiety has so little to do with any morality or ending suffering. It's about lessening your anxiety so you can continue to be productive and a good consumer. An $18 dollar meditation class or Google's meditation centers does little to address any real morality or change in the world. In fact, it's just the opposite: It just reinforces neoliberalism through and through. 

The Gods Will Not Save You: Reflections on Meaning and Existence

The Gods Will Not Save You: Reflections on Meaning and Existence

“It’s Baltimore, gentlemen. The Gods will not save you.” - Commissioner Ervin Burrell, The Wire

A few years ago, I had to commute from Brooklyn to the Bronx for my job as a social worker at The Legal Aid Society. It was a hellish commute. What should have been a 50 minute to an hour commute, ended up being 75 minutes or longer on most days. (Anyone who lives in New York City can attest to the awfulness of the MTA.)

The only upside to the commute was that I read a lot of books and listened to a lot of interesting podcasts during that time. One morning I was listening to a Zen Buddhist podcast on WZEN. To be honest, I was barely listening. I was tired and a bit hungover. The day had not started yet, and I already wanted it to end.

Self-Care: What Does that Look Like?

 Self-Care: What Does that Look Like?

I just read this wonderful medium piece about self-care that I wanted to share.

I think there’s an assumption that self-care means checking out and disconnecting from the stresses in our life. My own tendency, as I’ve written elsewhere, is to grab a drink or watch a lot of TV to get my mind off things. Other people might go on a trip or a spa for the day and relax.

But I’m not sure any of those coping methods have ever made me feel better. What it does is push away all the feelings I want to ignore-- all that anxiety, stress and rejection that’s underneath, always percolating in my unconscious-- so I feel numb to any of it.  

Getting Unstuck: 5 Ways to Pull Yourself Out of a Rut When You've Become Complacent

Getting Unstuck: 5 Ways to Pull Yourself Out of a Rut When You've Become Complacent

Recently I’ve been in one of my better creative periods in quite a long time. I have been reading more, as well as writing every day and planning a future podcast.  When I noticed how productive I had been, I wasn’t quite sure how it happened.

You see, I was in a rut for awhile. No new projects were being planned. Books were started and unfinished. I was enjoying a few too many beers and not enough time at the gym. I wouldn’t quite call it depression. I had just grown complacent.

In Praise of Laziness: Finding Joy in a Sea of Anxiety

In Praise of Laziness: Finding Joy in a Sea of Anxiety

I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spend in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.

In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Pay Attention, Pay Attention, Pay Attention: Five Ways to Reclaim your Attention in a Distracted World

Pay Attention, Pay Attention, Pay Attention: Five Ways to Reclaim your Attention in a Distracted World

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”

― Alan W. Watts

"The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year." -Huffington Post


Early in Matthew Crawford’s “The World Beyond Your Head”  the author walks through an airport. Maybe for the first time, he notices the bombardment of advertising everywhere. There are the billboards and TVs. The signs of restaurants, the ads in his Forbes Magazine, the ads on the podcast he’s listening to or in front of the bathroom stalls. Even the backs of chairs have deals to the local hotels and clothing stores. Each is expertly designed to get his attention, designed by professionals who know just the right colors and sounds and fonts and pictures to get you to notice what they’re selling.