Mindfulness meditation has exploded into an industry that ranges from the monastery to the military. Google, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Monsanto and the U.S. Army are just a handful of the many enormous institutions that bring meditative practice to their workforce. As someone who has one foot in the monastic traditions that these practices come from and another foot in busy urban culture, I am worried about the secularization of these practices that were once rooted in ethics and nonviolence in particular.
Mindfulness meditation comes from a 2,500-year-old tradition of using an anchor, like the breath, to stabilize attention and bring awareness to the present moment. When you feel your inhalation and exhalation, you also watch the ways in which your attention gets entangled in stories. Some stories help wake us up; they connect us with others and allow us to more easily understand another person’s perspective. And some stories are like addictions; they shut down our deeper imagination and keep us locked in old habits.
Historian Howard Zinn is famous for noting that the telling and teaching of history requires biases, simply because it requires a process of selection. Every story is a selective process. It would be impossible to tell history literally, he argued. Some events are determined to have been more significant or instructive than others, culled from a practically infinite stream of happenings and stitched together as a representation of a particular moment in time. We see this in our own lives as well, where the story we call “self” turns out to be a construct, a fiction. Correctly, Zinn pointed out that the telling of history necessarily involves value judgments. The point, for the reader of history, isn’t to discern where bias is present (because it always is), but to note which biases drive our decision-making processes. Continue reading >> Salon