Today, an Inverse article says basically that meditation is overhyped. As someone who hypes meditation quite a bit, I want to address it.
I saw the article because my friend Merrill Barr tweeted it out and added “my friend Laura House teaches it for free on her podcast!”
So first, The Money Issue:
In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a team of 15 psychiatrists, psychologists, and mindfulness experts…are concerned with… Lots of people… that have gotten overzealous as they make lots of money off of mindfulness therapies.
--Peter Hess, Inverse
(P.S. The article he references is called “Mind the Hype” -- good title!)
Oddly, I’m Team Inverse on this one. I’ve seen meditation teachers who I love over-promise results. I’ve been confounded when they called themselves “Consciousness Experts.” I’ve been afraid of doing it myself, and I probably have done it. But I really try to watch it.
The problem of teaching meditation for money is—how hard do you push? How effusive can you be? I’ll talk about meditation and its benefits all day long. But weirdly, when you’re considering learning meditation from me, I’ve got to be careful with my words. Because I’m not just saying, “Hey meditation in general is great.” I’m saying, “Hey meditation is great, give me money and I’ll show you.” I can’t just say, “Meditation will help you lose weight,” even though it’s had that effect on lots of people. Or, “Meditation will help you sleep better,” even though it’s done that for a lot of people, too.
The Truth is, I don’t know how meditation will affect you, because meditation affects everyone differently.
At the very least, like worst-case-scenario with meditation, you’ll relax a little.
But I’ve seen HUGE stuff, too. I taught someone who stopped smoking suddenly (while 40 year meditator David Lynch remains a chain smoker). Someone I taught who has chronic high blood pressure said her numbers plummeted after she started meditation. I’ve taught 2 women who finally got pregnant after they’d tried unsuccessfully for years. They both attribute it to meditation, so essentially I’ve made 4 children…
But do I say this to someone who might learn from me? It gets a bit into Snake Oil territory. I can’t say, “You’ll stop smoking and get pregnant and have stellar lab numbers by the end of the week.” Again, the Truth is, meditation affects everyone differently.
In my experience, people who are interested in meditation feel vulnerable.
It’s rarely, “Hey, I’m on top of the world, everything’s great and I thought I’d top it all off with a dollop of meditation.”
It’s much more often, “I’m stressed, I’m hurting, I don’t know what else to do. Can meditation help?”
Money + Vulnerable People. It’s the simple formula behind church money scandals and elder money-abuse HSN and fraud awfulness. Targeting people who are hurting and saying, “Hey, I can help…for some money,” seems like a real dick move.
On the other hand, meditation is great. I will speak about it effusively because it’s amazing. It gives you A BREAK FROM YOUR THOUGHTS. I’m about to type something graphic, please brace yourself. When people shoot themselves, it’s in the HEAD. All day long the head is like, “AAUUGH AUUGH ARRGHH!” Like we all have a head-based Sam Kinison screaming at us all day, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT? AUGH AUGH AUGH!!”
Meditation is a simple technique, for sure. But you get the experience of WHAT’S ON THE OTHER SIDE OF YOUR THOUGHTS. Or under them or between them. We’re talking about inside your mind, doesn’t really matter what preposition we use. It’s like WE SEE OUR THOUGHTS FROM BACKSTAGE, “Oh look, my thoughts are out there doing their thing and I’m right here. Hm. Interesting.”
Instead of AAAUUGH! We get a dose of Aaaaahhh.
And that’s profound. Thoughts (can) feel torturous. Meditation gives relief. And regular meditation makes it easier to access that Aaaaahhh in the rest of your day. And the more times you meditate, it’s like you’re stockpiling little bricks of Aaaaahhh, till you can live in a house of Aaaaahhh.
MEDITATION BUILDS YOU A HOUSE OF AAAAAHHH!
See? I really do get carried away about meditation. Sorrynotsorry.
In conclusion, Inverse says a lot of meditation teachers are over-promising “with some proponents saying it can treat anxiety, cancer, and everything in between.” And studies don’t necessarily back that up, and when there’s money involved, motives can seem suspicious.
Okay. There’s not a magic pill, or magic mantra, that will make you never be sad again or immune to disease. Alright. But meditation does help alleviate the pain that can come from our incessant “want more, need more, can’t stop, won’t stop” mind.
So, think about all the stuff STRESS affects. You could argue that stress exacerbates health problems, heart problems. It leads to car accidents, to bad money decisions, bad relationship decisions. Tons of drinking. (I’m just talking about me now). General anxiety and/or malaise. There’s all kinds of stuff we hate that’s stress-related. (At the very least, it just doesn’t feel good.)
& Meditation helps us deal with STRESS. It’s a simple technique where you put some focus on your breath and you have thoughts and that’s fine, when you notice your attention isn’t on your breath, you put notice your breath again and let go of your thoughts. You get in a kind of drifty headspace for a few minutes. It settles the mind. Like holding a screaming toddler for a few minutes, to calm and settle them.
Meditation is like holding the screaming toddler of your mind. And that CAN have profound benefits. And THAT’S why people who teach it might overpromise it sometimes.
If you’re thinking about learning meditation, here’s my advice: Investigate. Look online, look at free stuff, try out some apps. There are lots of ways to meditate. You’re not going to do it wrong. Try what feels good.