Saturday 30 January 2021

Can Meditation Make You Self-Satisfied?

Yes, it certainly can and often does. Here's an article in the Daily Telegraph that goes into the hows and whys of that a little. It is something that is well-known in monastic circles, and spiritual directors have always warned novices about the dangers of inflation, as it's called, but as meditation has entered the mainstream, often repackaged as mindfulness, its potential problems have been neglected.

The principal problem arises from the disconnect that has come about between 'spirituality' and religion. People take to meditation and other spiritual practices with the desire to gain something. They are in effect simply transferring their desire for consumer goods to the spiritual plane but it's exactly the same process at work. Wanting something to boost your sense of self. It doesn't matter if you become a vegan, live a simple life reducing your needs to the minimum and all the rest of it. Everything depends on motivation. A greedy, lustful winebibber with a fundamentally decent heart is closer to God than someone who eats next to nothing, practises austerities and meditates 4 hours a day but whose heart is not open to their Creator. Meditation only works in the way intended when it is balanced by a proper spiritual focus by which I do not mean a desire to achieve spiritual goals or gain spiritual gifts but a true dedication to God. Many results can arise from meditation which can be confused as spiritual but they really only relate to the psychic or supernatural, terms which properly refer the intermediate world that exists between the material and the true spiritual, the world of magic, occultism and most forms of what are regarded as higher consciousness, that is to say, consciousness released from the immediate restrictions of matter but not from ego.

I meditated for 21 years and it gave me a sense of detachment from this world which had its pros and cons. I consider I derived benefits from the pursuit but I now tend to believe that meditation, a bit like Buddhism in its original form, is something that should be practised by dedicated monks in the context of a religion with its own proper disciplines and moral structure. It can be practised outside of that scenario but then you have to be a very well-motivated and spiritually self-organised person to avoid its pitfalls, many of which can be grouped together under the umbrella of spiritual narcissism. It can be very hard to retain a proper perspective about oneself and life in general if one is constantly looking for spiritual experiences. Still harder if one gets them.

If I could say one thing to all meditators it would be this. The true spiritual path is not about higher states of consciousness. It has to do with the sanctification of the soul. It is not so much about transcending the sense of self as bringing that into complete alignment with God. You are not a spiritual person if you receive spiritual gifts. You are on the way to becoming one (always by the grace of God) if you can forego spiritual pleasure and accept spiritual pain, should it come, by increasing your dedication to God.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think matters are even worse than you say, in the sense that mainstream modern meditation (such as the incredibly popular 'Headspace' product) seems to have nothing to do with God at all, nor even higher consciousness - but is almost purely a 'technology' for feeling good.

But there is a potentially inflationary problem from impressing other people by being a meditator - but that seems to be unearned status; insofar as modern meditation is indeed merely a matter of feeling better - and supposedly functioning better (as a 'life hack').

William Wildblood said...

I'm sure it is worse than I say since meditation has largely become just a therapeutic tool as far as I can tell and its separation from a proper religious impulse is almost complete. This means it can easily be twisted into a tool of the devil as people explore their own inner "selves" and go ever more deeply into their own egos.

BSRK Aditya said...

Hello William,

There is a flawless spirituality on this exact topic. As a bit of history, it was not the Buddha who first expounded it, but rather a certain deity.

"These seven qualities, Lord, lead to a welfare-recipient’s non-decline. Which seven? Respect for the teacher, respect for spirituality, respect for the guild, respect for training, respect for equilibrium, respect for heedfulness, respect for hospitality. These seven qualities, lord, lead to the non-decline of a monk"

Altered states of consciousness is included under equilibrium. Though what's an altered state for one being is just the normal state for another.

What you speak of is included under training. Training means:

1) mental training to endure pain
2) physical training to endure pleasure
3) heart training to endure displeasure

k johnson said...

"Everything depends on motivation. A greedy, lustful winebibber with a fundamentally decent heart is closer to God than someone who eats next to nothing, practises austerities and meditates 4 hours a day but whose heart is not open to their Creator."

Great point. It would seem that meditation coupled with faith turns more into contemplation (which is anything BUT mindless). Without faith you'll become a Sam Harris, and have impressive things to say, but in reality lack depth, insight, and wisdom.

Brief Outlines said...

Beautifully put.

Adil said...

In my own experience, meditation is dangerous, and not an innocent activity like the mindfulness types would make you believe. As you say it should be done with the correct motivation, and probably with a religious master in most cases. In your book Meeting the Masters you emphasise the importance of practical work which is more innocent and effective form of therapy than free-soloing meditation.