|Featured Columnist – Meditations
One of the main proponents of mindfulness meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He’s the founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Kabat-Zinn exemplifies the attempt to bring Buddhist principles of mindfulness into the mainstream of Western medicine and society.
The author of such books as Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, Dr. Kabat-Zinn is perhaps the leading proponent of clinical applications of meditation.
His Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program has also been seen as an entry vehicle for bringing Buddhist principles of spiritual growth into the West. That strategy is dubious to my mind.
Stress reduction is a benefit of meditation, not a reason to meditate. Indeed, to my mind the term ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a redundancy, since meditation is mindfulness.
The difference between “Mindfulness Meditation” and methodless meditation is the difference between technique and no-technique, goal and no goal in one’s approach and attitude to bringing awareness and insight into one’s consciousness.
Techniques for stress reduction are clearly beneficial—for example, for people undergoing bone transplantation, or suffering from depression or other emotional disorders. Of course, simply sitting and passively but intently observing the outer and inner movement in the present, especially in nature, has the same effect. Then what is the difference between a meditative technique, and learning the art of meditation without a method?
Especially in the West, we function in terms of goals, purposes, and measurement. But meditation doesn’t have a goal or purpose, just intent. The intent is to effortlessly drop the comparing and measuring mind and see things as they are.
In philosophy, there is a strong belief that ‘man is a hermeneutical animal’—meaning, that we inevitably interpret the present according to the symbols, knowledge, and experiences of the past.
That belief belies and denies meditation. Because if humans can’t see directly, without the filters of thought and memory, then they can’t see at all, and are forever destined to be prisoners of conditioning.
We are prisoners of conditioning of course, but we don’t need to continue. Meditation is about freeing oneself from conditioning. If conditioning is a given, then there is no such thing as human freedom.
In the same way, if meditation is a matter of technique and method, then it too conditions, rather than frees the mind. This is why techniques and methods have no place in meditation.
So do I need to use another word for what I’m pointing at? Perhaps, but the word doesn’t matter; only perceiving the actuality does. And if humans are ineluctably hermeneutical animals, then each person, in an individualistic culture, has his and her own interpreted reality. That’s just not the way things are.
Negation in unwilled attention is the essence of meditation, allowing the movement of the true in human consciousness. Can it be taught? Can it be conveyed to children?
A gray squirrel, its mouth stuffed with fluff for its nest on the cold nights of late, scampers up one of the three thin trees that intersect above me over the stream. The squirrels naturally use the trees as a bridge from one side of the creek to the other.
But this nest-building squirrel went up the tree on my left, about five meters away, and came down the tree on my right, about the same distance away. Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is the longest to traverse.
I look up to see a woman, all in black, standing on the picnic table across the creek, holding a large camera pointed directly at me. She takes a few pictures of the fall foliage in various directions, scampers down from her perch, and walks away.
Thought slows to a trickle, permitting the rushing stream to course through one’s mind and heart, carrying away the debris of experience. In the silence and emptiness, a sense of reverence, wonder, and awe fills one.
We humans are seeds frozen in our own soil. Spontaneously initiating the movement of negation allows the sun to thaw the ground of our consciousness, so that our individual and collective potentiality can grow and emerge.