Meditation is an evidence-based method to effectively deal with stressful and depressive situations of daily life. Research shows that it makes you peaceful and even younger looking. The perks are many. Most importantly it can help you calm down and adapt to the demands of production society while keeping up with the Joneses. Your work and life become more efficient. You can improve yourself. And hopefully, it will pacify you enough to get the great happiness and success modern society is promising. Nothing will bother you anymore and your skin will look great.
In the midst of the wet Indian monsoon, far up in the Himalayan mountains, I finally sat down on my butt for a month.
I’m a student of meditation and a Psychologist. I would like to set a few things straight regarding ideas of meditation that I have met on my way.
If you hope that meditation and mindfulness practices will pacify you from your daily troubles and deliver a so called stress-free mind, I would assume that a more effective way to ahead be to take a valium, or whatever new design drug the medical industry is hype on right now. Even a nice glass of wine would do the trick of calming you down (with the risk of ending in drug or alcohol abuse, in which case it wouldn’t be recommendable).
When physician and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology labs in Leipzig more than a hundred years ago, he saw the handiness in looking at the mind through introspection. Not at all was it his fault that the behaviourists came along and put the mind into the black box, stating that there was nothing worth investigating. This due to the mind’s subjective and non-material quality (I’m thankful to the poststructuralist for legitimising subjectivity). Even though Wundt did his best to make introspection an objective method it never really took off. As the cognitivists came along the content inside the black box got labelled ‘cognition’. And before we knew it most psychological research was either about observing behaviour or asking people questions into the content of cognition. So that’s what psychologists do today – we talk and ask questions. Ask questions and talk. As if this was the Holy Grail of wisdom. Maybe it is, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a sophisticated unfolding of verbal diarrhea? I don’t know. Our methods are for sure profound and helpful in most cases. We can measure that. We establish elaborate and smart experiments that are telling us a great deal about our subject of concern – the human psyche. We even have neuroscientists mapping activities of the brain in their own reductionist way, to get to know what the psyche is. Surely it’s interesting to know that the hypothalamus goes wild when your feel emotional so the psychiatrist can give you a shot of sedatives, that may or may not work. But in order to know and learn how to deal with this emotional reaction in a helpful way – is talking and mapping then enough?
So meditation. What is actually the purpose of meditation (if there is any at all)? Well, I have been in this field for more than five years. I have tried out a variety of methods within different traditions. Thus, what can I say? Meditation has shown to be a very useful method for the psychologist to get to know what we label ‘mind’. Yes, Wundt got it – the idea of introspection. In the present case it means to sit and through a meditation technique observe what goes on in the consciousness. Now, this is, in a very direct way, to get to know how thoughts, emotions are roaming about in the conscious and the subconscious parts of mind. For a psychologist this insight is what a candy store is for a 5-year-old. I mean how over the top useful is it not for a psychologist to know where the seed of an emotion is? How it develops, diminishes and falls away? How helpful is it not to train our mind to carefully scrutinise and observe when anger is on its way? Or how utterly beneficial is not to in detail know how thought patterns arise and how they affect our behaviour and attitudes? How some are solid and some fluent. Luckily, we already have a lot of background knowledge of what to look for. So we might get there quicker than a non-psychologist person. We know that we might need to look directly at schemata, narratives, feelings, emotions, innate releasing mechanisms, addictions, attachment pattern, projections and much more.
We can snoop around like a freekin’ Hercule Poirot with a merciless magnifying glass looking here looking there. Could this be useful if we wanted to learn how to ‘manage’ our mind? To use a business word. If we know how to manage our mind content, then we can teach people how to manage theirs. Of course taking the perspective that they are not all that different – our minds.
This was the advantages, so what are the disadvantage? Well, this looking might be scary. Psychologists are humans too. We could risk to find things we might not want to look at, which we have suppressed. The dirt. On the other hand we already know the importance of looking at our own psychological makeup. We already adhere to strict ethical codes and supervision structures. We know the relevance of catching our projections before they land in the lap of our client. So the significance is clear. But in the same way as supervision, it is not easy, meditation. You need to train and train to develop a scrutinising Hercule Poirot observer. A watcher that can look with gentleness and compassion, because it ain’t always pretty, what you see. And because it ain’t pretty, you could give up. But again, since when have psychologists shun away from the shadow sides of human existence? Since when do we just want to make people calm and pacified as a result of our therapeutic methods? Calmness might be a very welcomed side effect of meditation, but it’s far from the point. As my meditation instructor told me at the last month long meditation retreat. ‘Just do it, just sit.’ When I wanted to shy away from directly feeling and looking deeply. ‘Just do it.’ When I had many excuses. ‘Just do it.’ Like the Nike add – ‘just do it’. Just sit down on your big fat bum and start observing. It is right there, our life experience and our human ability to look at it. You might find a treasure, something extraordinarily helpful for your psychological self and for the benefit for others. In the end, in this profession, being helpful is what matters.