Monday, January 25, 2016

Practicing Buddhist meditation IS serious stuff, but on the other hand...

Yeah, if you're doing 座禅 and you're feeling bad experiences, do seek counseling, and do cultivate your practice with people that know what they're doing.  And corporations shouldn't really be involved in this, has has been said so many times.  On the other hand, when I see stories like this one,  well, comments must be made...

Farias looked at the research into unexpected side-effects. A 1992 study by David Shapiro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that 63% of the group studied, who had varying degrees of experience in meditation and had each tried mindfulness, had suffered at least one negative effect from meditation retreats, while 7% reported profoundly adverse effects including panic, depression, pain and anxiety. Shapiro’s study was small-scale; several research papers, including a 2011 study by Duke University in North Carolina, have raised concerns at the lack of quality research on the impact of mindfulness, specifically the lack of controlled studies.

OF COURSE you won't have all unicorns and rainbows from practicing mindfulness, because one's own suffering is among the things which might come into one's awareness when one is cultivating awareness.

Also "guided" meditations aren't the same thing as what one generally encounters in Zen/Cha'n temples. It's never been clear to me how "guided" meditations are associated with mindfulness. It's telling though that no legit Zen person seems to have been quoted in the article.
The idea that mindfulness is harmful,  "in general" is of course ridiculous.  It's not a stretch to say that whole disciplines in the arts, athletics,  and yes, even product design owe their existence to people practicing mindfulness. 

Some people have suffered greatly,  and this suffering can and does come up in practice.   But that suffering often is also a catalyst for great compassion and wisdom;  secular psychologists admit that.

But know what you're dealing with and what you're getting into. Stay away from hucksters, be they spiritual, corporate, or just plain hucksters.


yeti said...

As I see it, traditional Western counseling or psychotherapy deals with problems or experiences that at most encompass a single life time. I can certainly see how mindfulness meditation could bring out or exacerbate such problems, especially in a stressful setting such as sesshin. If one is seeking optimal physical and psychological health with a spiritual flavor, perhaps better than Zen would be yoga or perhaps a Universal Unitarian church. Plenty of good vibes there, and great if that is the purpose of choosing such an activity. Likewise, I have always felt there is every reason, at a worldly level, to seek some form of psychological counseling if optimal physical and mental well-being (in this lifetime), coping with stresses, etc. is desired, just as one should consult a medical doctor for dermatitis rather than try to meditate it away.

Unfortunately, what I see most commonly is people approach Zen with a massive set of beliefs, assumptions, and misperceptions about what Buddhism is, what Buddha taught (believing Gautama said things which are outright spurious, even preposterous), and an entirely remote understanding from what Zen is all about. They have seen the bamboo shoots and green tea photos of the local day spa, which calls itself Zen, but are no more Zen than the paper they are printed on. Such perceptions seem to do far more harm than good when the purpose of Zen is liberation from samsara (meaning necessarily birth and death), something tragically distorted when reduced to something so banal as an architectural water feature or tinkling of a wind chime. Who in their right mind would want to liberate themselves from a soothing foot massage while sipping chilled cucumber water?

Unlike laughter yoga, reiki, bubble baths, hugging-circles, etc., Zen (at least up to the sixth ancestor) does not concern itself so much with the physical and psychological stress of a lifetime, but something incomparably more vast stretching through the three times (past, present and future), beyond even the incomprehensibly long existences of gods. It means liberation – something which I think involves, at some point, letting go of the pleasures of life as the a priori of existence and acceptance of its many sorrows. I don’t think this means never enjoying oneself as a Zen Buddhist, or heaping suffering upon oneself in the deluded idea this will do any good, but if physical and psychological pleasure is the goal, I would tend to think Zen is rather close to the bottom of the list.

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