The Dark Side of Mindfulness Meditation

by Melissa Karnaze

smoke on blackMy grandpa grew up in a remote village in China.

It wasn’t until he was seventeen years old that he encountered anyone from outside of his village.

Those outsiders were Chinese soldiers.

They recruited him to fight in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

He fought in the war for eight years.

He never did receive a formal education, which broke his heart.

But he was fortunate enough to move to Hong Kong after the war. He worked his way up from janitor to successful and well-respected business owner. And sent his daughter, my mother, to the United States for college.

What no one says about the mindfulness meditation lifestyle

My grandpa once shared these words with my mother when she was young:

“Monks do not contribute to society. All they do is hide in the mountains and meditate all day long.”

By the time he said them, he had seen China in great distress.

He had fought a war just to survive when his village could no longer feed him.

He didn’t say those words lightly, but from careful observation.

The dark roots of mindfulness meditation

Too many Westerners forgo hardship, born into wealthy countries like the United States of America.

Americans especially, think they can tinker with the next eastern “toy,” be it yoga or mindfulness.

I say toy because people don’t look deeper. They don’t think about the broader backstory — the philosophical and political underpinnings of an ideology.

Mindfulness, which in many contexts today is synonymous to Buddhist principles, has dark roots.

Buddhism emerged in suppressed societies in the East, including China and India. Take a look at those places today, and it’s still very dark.

Big Brother has a firm grip on China. India is so racked with poverty that children right now as you’re reading, are being forced into prostitution.

These are deep, dark troubles.

Yet Westerners don’t include this in their mindfulness storytale.

They glorify all of its light and joy, without recognizing the shadow.

The evasive component of mindfulness meditation

My grandpa made that statement because he witnessed first-hand how mindfulness meditation can actually be used in a dysfunctional way.

In a time where China’s people were barely hanging together, there were monks who chose to isolate themselves from China’s problems, and ask for donations to fund their way of life.

Donations, from those who struggled to feed their own families.

My grandpa’s mother died from starvation when her sons left her to fight in the war.

In my grandpa’s eyes, being a monk was a way to evade society, and all of her problems.

The dysfunction of a mindfulness meditation lifestyle

In India, the social fabric condones “looking the other way” instead of facing society’s problems.

People spend their lives in pursuit of enlightenment, hiding in the mountains, or both. Schools refuse children born into brothels because they are the “untouchables.”

This is a dysfunctional system that’s underpinned by religious constructs.

And then remnants of that culture trickle into our self-help bookstreams, and we lap them up without awareness of the greater context from which these principles emerged.

Westerners try to fit practices like mindfulness (and zen) into their daily practice, with little regard for how it can lead to problems in their ability to remain connected to society, and all of her glorious problems.

Mindfulness meditation needs balance

Look, mindfulness is great. Mindfulness holds promise. Mindfulness paves the way for our future. And meditation is a powerful tool that I wouldn’t try to replace.

But too many people today worship EEG brain waves generated by monks who mediate all day long.

To wonder at something we don’t yet fully understand is one thing.

To take it to the next level and assert that we should all use mindfulness mediation techniques to essentially get rid of our emotions?

That’s a recipe for disaster.

Mindfulness meditation can’t be fear-based

And it reflects a fear.

    Of emotions.

Of facing the pain that comes with being human, and living in a human world.

The bottom line is, no matter what the EEG patterns indicate, there are ways to be response able to life and to society — and there are ways to evade that response ability.

Going on meditation retreats so as to avoid real-life problems, pedesteling a guru or any other teacher for that matter, using meditation to “release” anger, and trying to permanently silence your Ego/emotional self — is not constructive. It goes against what our future hinges on.

It’s escapist. Illusory. Apparently trending in mainstream psychology in the U.S. And now it’s even cropping up in psychological literature, even if in unscientific ways.

Mindfulness, when taken to this extreme, is dangerous. Not just to an individual’s mental-emotional health and well-being — but to that of the planet.

Because it condones that large groups of people to disconnect from their emotions and look the other way when society’s knee-deep in problems.

Direct mindfulness toward your emotional experience

Suffering’s no fun, and yeah it’s part of being human.

But don’t be lured into thinking that you can change your human nature by defusing your emotions. Don’t run from yourself in fear.

Muster up your courage instead.

Pick up your emotions as the tools that they are. Integrate them to tap into your inner power. Work with them.

You are a human of the world. You have emotions so that you can care, and understand what true compassion is.

Why mindfulness meditation has a dark side

My grandpa also told my mother:

“If everyone became a monk, then we would have no food to eat, no way to live. Society would fall apart.”

Getting food, building shelter, creating laws and agreements, protecting borders — those reflect the dark powers, your dark side.

It’d be nice if you didn’t have to get your hands dirty, but you do have to in order to survive.

The dark side of mindfulness meditation is an escapist attitude — from response ability to life.

(Many mindfulness-based practices try to warp your relationship with emotions so that they’re relegated to vagaries of perception.)

People who seek this escape don’t want to get their hands dirty with all the ugly things you have to do in life to get by, like:

    • Setting personal boundaries
    • Nurturing your Ego
    • Becoming mindful of your personal constructs
    • Experiencing your emotions, especially the negative ones
    • Seeing the world’s problems

But as much as mindfulness meditation is often used to avoid the above, you can’t deny your dark side.

You can’t meditate it away.

What you can do is start using your dark side in a balanced way.

Which is the only way to create life that is genuinely guided by the principles of mindfulness.

This is the 4th article in the series, “Mindful emotion regulation: An integrative review.”

If you enjoyed this article, you can also check out the free 10-part email course, “Your Life is Your Construct.” It delivers practical inspiration on how to be more mindful of your emotions.

{ 147 comments… read them below or add one }

Haider January 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I once saw a tweet by a popular blogger along the lines of: “I’m finding it hard to not think about anything at all,” as he was attempting to practice meditation.

I asked him what he meant by that, since I didn’t understand why anyone would not want to think at all, as part of a spiritual practice. I didn’t get an answer (I guess he thought thinking of an answer to my question would interfere with his spirituality and holiness).

But that’s what you get when people who don’t know a thing or two (mostly not even a thing) about spirituality try to explore spirituality. It becomes an exercise in escapism rather than a deep connection with reality.

toni lamb January 16, 2010 at 1:01 am

As usual you have written a wonderful post that touched on emotions that very few people take the time to understand and write about.:) This is what you call execeptional content that has a TON of value. I can’t find the right words to express how impressed I am with your knowledge and insight on this rarely talked about topic.;)

Kelley Mitchell January 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Wow Melissa, I think this might be your most moving and thought provoking piece, at least for me. Thank you.

Melissa Karnaze January 17, 2010 at 11:16 am

Haider, Exactly. Spirituality is supposed to be about connecting to reality, not disassociating from it. And this *especially* goes for meditation. But the people who use meditation to remain connected to their emotions and their response ability are currently a minority…

(So you can imagine I was pretty excited when Krishna left this comment.)

Toni and Kelley, thanks for the feedback!

It’s amazing how the articles that feel rougher and more obscure hit a chord. Your feedback keeps me on this track of being more “critical” about things, rather than happy and soft. :P

Laurie Corzett January 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I hope you don’t mind that I forwarded this article to the Seers and Seekers Yahoo group:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/seerseeker/

Cihan January 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Excellent article Melissa. It touched on many topics that I’ve often wondered about myself.

Regarding the shallow western attitude to eastern spirituality, I ascribe that to Edward Said’s Orientaliasm theory which I believe is still running strong today.

It would be interesting for any Buddhists to chime in this talkback!

Melissa Karnaze January 17, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Laurie, feel free to share the article as you wish, I just ask that you include an attribution link. :) Cool that it’s a topic of interest on an occult/metaphysical forum. ;)

Cihan, I do think that it’s still running today. People don’t study the history of eastern cultures and repackage elements like enlightenment into western cultures, because they play into many of our urges. But talk about careless, and I wasn’t even considering the potential political backlash on the East.

Orientalism sounds like core reading, thanks for mentioning it!

Linnea January 18, 2010 at 9:08 am

Excellent post. You certainly raised important points I hadn’t considered. I bookmarked this for future reference.

Melissa Karnaze January 19, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Glad to hear Linnea, thanks for the comment.

Guy January 25, 2010 at 12:42 am

Sorry, but your grandpa might be a great soldier and businessman, but he is obviously to undereducated to have a qualified opinion about monks. And your repetition of his unqualified statement doesn’t make it smarter.

Melissa Karnaze January 25, 2010 at 1:13 am

Guy, there’s no need to apologize, or to misuse the term.

Would you care to let us know how your opinion about monks is “qualified”? And perhaps qualify that with a definition of “qualification” — since nowhere is it stated here that education has anything to do with it?

By the way, what is your opinion? (Cihan would like to know if you’re Buddhist too.)

Olivier January 25, 2010 at 2:41 am

I agree with you somewhat. But don’t you think your grandfather might have been resentful because he was incapable of helping at the time. Sounds like he was projecting his emotions onto the monks.

You have no idea what suffering a monk goes through. Neither do I. Yet, if we were truly spiritual people we would accept thier choices with compassion and not blame them for OUR suffering.

No one forces anyone to pay for monks, that’s why they call it DONATION. Monks often also grow their own food.

I just feel an article such as your own is an extreme in the other direction. It may not be the cuddly, western, glorifying self-help books of the west, but it does go into angry, loathing and destructive energy. I just believe we need to understand that people experience life differently, and that good and bad are relative terms.

Thank you.

Bernie January 25, 2010 at 2:43 am

As a Westerner living in Thailand, I agree completely with your view on mindfulness meditation. So many westerners here are deluding themselves with the belief that by escaping to some remote sanctuary and monitoring their own breathing for a month, they are advancing in a kind of spiritual quest. They will trumpet the benefits of this kind of meditation to anyoen who will listen and some even become part of the Thai meditation community.

What they are almost always doing is removing themselves from the wider picture of things in Thailand. By focusing solely on what they believe has meaning — mindfulness — and ignoring all that they feel is transitory and thus not worth much fuss, everything else, they are disengaged from society and thus agents for the status quo.

I can understand the benefits of being mindful and have went to a few of these retreats in the past, but it only goes so far for me. I would much rather remain an engaged and informed person, then skulk off into a cave in pursuit of higher spirituality. It’s all part of being human. We’re not alone here.

Grace January 25, 2010 at 2:50 am

I grew up in the sixties. I studied eastern spirituality in depth as it’s popularity increased and information was so readily available to western students. My very first thought as I attempted to undertake a “mindfulness” meditation practice was that it was a method for achieving indifference rather than enlightenment. I was lucky to walk away without a scratch. I’m so glad to hear you speaking about this issue because no one ever has dared to say out loud what your grandfather said. BRAVO for him and you.

Melissa Karnaze January 25, 2010 at 3:14 am

Olivier,

My grandfather probably did experience resentment about what he saw, but as it was recounted to me, he wasn’t emotional when he made those statements. However, your comment doesn’t seem to validate how he experienced his life (which you seem to be asking of me in regard to monks) — something to look at.

Yet, if we were truly spiritual people we would accept thier choices with compassion and not blame them for OUR suffering.

Just to clarify, my grandfather didn’t blame monks for his suffering. He opined his observation of their behavior given the greater context of China at war and the complex of his life experiences.

I just feel an article such as your own is an extreme in the other direction. It may not be the cuddly, western, glorifying self-help books of the west, but it does go into angry, loathing and destructive energy.

Yes, I tend to write more “extreme” articles, that’s part of deconstructing belief systems so that you can create your life as a mindful construct. ;)

My intention is to try and wake Westerners up from the illusion that Bernie has witnessed in Thailand, and that Grace encountered in the sixties. I did not say that monks are bad people, and I respect that everyone chooses the way they want to live. One of my mother’s aunts lives in a Buddhist temple.

At the same time, I do talk about the dark side of that lifestyle (and every lifestyle has its shadows). Because I think it’s really important to be more mindful of, since Westerners are warping it to evade taking response ability for their emotional health.

I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

Bernie,

Thank you so much for sharing your experience as a Westerner living in Thailand.

“…they are disengaged from society and thus agents for the status quo.”

Yes, this is a finer important point. The retreat lifestyle indirectly maintains the status quo, even if for most people that’s too politically incorrect to say.

“I would much rather remain an engaged and informed person, then skulk off into a cave in pursuit of higher spirituality. It’s all part of being human. We’re not alone here.”

Well said. We need to remain connected to our emotions so that we can remain connected to other human beings. Not just “in spirit,” but in the physical realm as well.

Grace,

“My very first thought as I attempted to undertake a “mindfulness” meditation practice was that it was a method for achieving indifference rather than enlightenment.”

Sadly, this is they way I’ve seen it pitched mainstream these days. People of course slap on the abstract spiritual jargon of “we are all one”/”the egoistic mind doesn’t exists” to obscure the indifference, but you nail it with your description.

And to “walk away without a scratch,” awesome on you!

“I’m so glad to hear you speaking about this issue because no one ever has dared to say out loud what your grandfather said.”

I don’t know if I could have written so boldly on this without my grandfather’s words, which capture a life experience worlds away from me. It does need to be talked about though, because there is this hush-hush about the topics since the movements are overshadowed by gurus and “spiritual powers.”

Thanks again Olivier, Bernie, and Grace, for continuing this discussion. :)

D-san January 25, 2010 at 3:17 am

Very interesting read. As a practicing Buddhist, I’ve noticed the disconnect between monastic motives and monastic actions and find it hard to reconcile. Ultimately, I must conclude that the reason mindfulness has dark roots lies in its perversion of the Buddha’s teachings. Realize that I am often a skeptic as much as I am a Buddhist, and so I have no qualms about accusing monks of such things. I don’t believe the practice of mindfulness should be constrained to stone monasteries or mountain eyries – that seems like one of the worst places to practice mindfulness meditation. What do the monks become mindful of? Themselves and each other. But this isn’t the reality most of us live, and it seems ridiculous to me that enlightenment can only be found when the trappings of civilizations are stripped away. Civilization itself is what I try to be mindful of, meaning that much of my meditation is less contemplative and more reactive; I feel more aware and conscious of my power to help others when I am thrust into their midst. The monasteries need to be smack dab in the middle of all that we love and strive for.

Melissa Karnaze January 25, 2010 at 3:29 am

D-san, thank you for the wonderful comment!

“Ultimately, I must conclude that the reason mindfulness has dark roots lies in its perversion of the Buddha’s teachings.”

I think it would be very useful to explore this more, but as it is, I’m mostly ignorant on how Buddhist works were changed over through translations and the creations of different sects.

Do any other readers have more insight into this?

Realize that I am often a skeptic as much as I am a Buddhist, and so I have no qualms about accusing monks of such things.

True emotional resilience, unafraid to look into the shadow to expand your perspective. :)

Marc January 25, 2010 at 4:51 am

There’s so much crap written about spiritualism/religion, etc. on the internet & I’m really glad I stumbled across this page. I will read more on this site.

As part of therapy for recovering from childhood trauma & abuse, I have found an ACT [Acceptance & Commitment Therapy] technique they call Mindfulness to be extremely helpful. Like when you get a flashback or a really horrible feeling in your body the idea is to 1st stop & accept the feeling & whatever’s happening in your body & you gradually reduce it through your attention. It doesnt go away, but lessens amazingly & allows you to continue whatever you were doing whilst accepting the bad feeling or whatever is still around. Is this a similar use of the term Mindfulness?

Also, I have a lot of time to listen to people who have experienced wars, my parents, grandparents, parents-in-law & your grandfather included. Gee, his mother starved, he sent his own [obviously much-loved] daughter away for the education he could never get, not even mentioning the horrible things he must have witnessed in those 8 years. He sounds like he was a very wise man, the sort of wisdom that is gained from much living and also much pain.

I’m agnostic & just sort of getting interested in Buddhism, but think reincarnation is a load of shite. Anyone who tells you they know what happens beyond this life is talking through their ass. How would they know? We’re meant to live here and now thats all I know. Sort of feel comfortable saying that here though, as it is definitely not an ‘airy-fairy’ ‘lovey-dovey’ type of page!!

Allison January 25, 2010 at 10:25 am

I think until you’ve fully experienced the benefits of meditation and self-reflection you can’t begin to understand the impact it can have on a person’s life.

Looking the other way is one thing, but I think what you’re really saying here is that a person who focuses more on their personal growth isn’t as constructive as someone who focuses on the problems of a society.

These are conflicting ideas. By focusing on personal growth and using TOOLS like meditation one can overcome personal obstacles that can lead them to a fuller and more happy life, which in turn affects all those in connection with them. Some are unable to pursue dreams, to become active members of society, etc. because of mental handicaps caused by stress, negative thoughts, unnecessary worrying, and what have you. To discredit a widely popular and fascinating notion that your mind IS the tool in which you can improve your life is not only irresponsible, but ignorant.

Although I do see the relevance in your grandfather’s opinion for some, you cannot discredit an entire movement or an entire populus because of the irresponsibility of few.

However, I wonder how that war would have went if all the country men instead of complying with war had gone to the mountains instead as a sign of protest. Perhaps those monks were not hiding but just had no drive to murder another human being for even their own survival’s sake. After all, buddhists aren’t exactly the violent type, and I don’t see that as irresponsible any way you spin it.

But that’s just my opinion, as a novice, albeit casual meditating agnostic.

C4MD3M0N1UM January 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

To say that monks sit around all day waiting for someone to feed them and take care of them is an outright lie. Buddhist monks have always contributed to society, they don’t just sit back and expect rice to appear on their table. In our modern, corrupt capitalist system, it is an absolute miracle that Americans are attempting to increase their spiritual awareness through Eastern religions. These monasteries have realized over thousands of years that the nature of man is evil, and they built these sanctuaries to escape this physical plane. Surely anyone spiritually aware can appreciate the fact that while monks may not focus all of their energy into this earthly realm, they are prepared for a much more important part of their being: the afterlife.

Melissa Karnaze January 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Marc,

“Like when you get a flashback or a really horrible feeling in your body the idea is to 1st stop & accept the feeling & whatever’s happening in your body & you gradually reduce it through your attention. It doesnt go away, but lessens amazingly & allows you to continue whatever you were doing whilst accepting the bad feeling or whatever is still around. Is this a similar use of the term Mindfulness?”

Great question. My answer is yes, and no.

Here I use mindfulness in an emotions-favored way. That brings awareness to the emotional experience, so that you may continue emoting, letting the emotion run its course, and then at a later time tracing those emotional reactions back to their cognitive counterparts.

To pick up the pieces with mindful logic, so to speak, so that you can refocus on response ability, grieving the past, and reprogramming any dysfunctional beliefs.

The type of mindfulness used in formal therapy usually if not always has end goal of essentially defusing the emotional charge — interrupting the emoting process. Which can be extremely useful in certain situations. But as you say, I suspect the technique can never totally “get rid” of the emotion, simply because our biology won’t let us “let go” with a snap of a finger — emotions are highly networked with thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations, most of which are subconscious.

While the technique may be necessary for coping with certain incidents that go beyond a certain individual’s “pain threshold,” in general I see the productivity and opportunity for substantial healing in the emotional experience itself. Mindfulness-based approaches have a tendency to assume that the emotional experience itself is undesirable — which in my view is supported by sloppy neuroscience studies.

If you don’t assume that the emotional experience is undesirable, then you can actually integrate it, which will naturally defuse it. Or rather, transmute negative emotion into greater compassion, understanding, gratitude (not forgiveness) and so on.

I wrote about this pitfall in the earlier articles of this series.

I would very much be interested in hearing your feedback, as you have experienced benefits from ACT. :) And because I see much promise for the constructs of mindfulness and emotion regulation to merge into something really helpful.

“He sounds like he was a very wise man, the sort of wisdom that is gained from much living and also much pain.”

Thanks Marc. He changed so much from his generation to mine. It amazes me.

“We’re meant to live here and now thats all I know. Sort of feel comfortable saying that here though, as it is definitely not an ‘airy-fairy’ ‘lovey-dovey’ type of page!!”

I am not at all offended by your viewpoint. In fact, I totally agree that we need to live here and now — so many spiritual beliefs get in the way of that.

You are definitely welcome to speak your mind here, this is so not Love & Light Land, thanks for the comment!

Coral Karnaze January 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Marc,

I just want to thank Marc for his few words on my father’ life. In just a few sentences you validated his whole life totally. He would have been moved to tears if he were alive today. I cried when I read your comment about him. Yes, I agree that he was a very wise man. And he did not blame anyone for his sufferings all his life.

daniel james January 25, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I believe the purpose of mindfulness training is to carry over into life. Isn’t that the whole point? If you look at the Zen concept of the “Ten Bulls,” after finding and taming the bull you eventually ride it back to the market and rejoin the world. Being in it but not of it, spreading the compassion that comes with understanding of the source. Anyone who truly understands that kind of teaching should realize that. However, to use a favorite Bruce Lee quote, “It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory.”

People are always doing that kind of thing. Monks are monks because they are trying to pursue some understanding that is already inside them and IS them. How many people can we believe have actually “gotten it” since Buddha himself? Who knows?

And where someone above mentioned distortion of Buddhist teaching over time, it isn’t necessarily the way many think of Western beliefs or the Bible, as something that was purposefully edited in order to mislead, but just a message that we’ve been playing telephone with for thousands of years.

The criticism is valid but isn’t. To make it an objective fact we’d have to examine the life of every monk and find some way to value their contribution to society. I agree that we should be paying attention to the dark side, but not overemphasize it in relationship to its good brother :)

Marc January 26, 2010 at 3:43 am

To Coral and Melissa,
Never mind what I said, I think your grandfather would simply be moved by what his grandaughter wrote here on this page. I never met him but felt he came to life here.
Marc

Cihan January 26, 2010 at 4:43 am

Guys, Melissa didn’t set out to write a scathing attack on Buddhism. She’s writing about the ‘west’ and the particular ways it digests aspects of the ‘east’.

Besides, everyone and everything casts a shadow.

Allen January 26, 2010 at 7:43 am

It has never been my experience or my observation that dedicated meditators were hiding from or eliminating their emotions or evading responsibility for their actions and possibilities in the world. On the contrary, my personal experience and my observations tell me that diligent meditators are more present and aware, regardless of the emotional inflection of the moment, and more able to respond and act skillfully in that moment.

Meditation is difficult work and requires practice and patience. It’s difficult to imagine that there are many people driven by fear and seeking escape who would be able to tolerate the investment of time and energy it requires. I’m not even sure there can be such a thing as “escapist meditation.” Meditation as I practice and understand it involves deep and prolonged self awareness; something that, especially in the beginning, is difficult to do and often quite uncomfortable. Hardly an escape from difficult or painful emotions. The desire or need to escape usually drives people to seek distraction from their problems and themselves, not greater self-understanding.

As for monastic life being an escape, that perhaps is another matter that can’t be evaluated effectively based on the limited scope and testimony of the article above. I suspect, however, that there’s more to Buddhist monasticism than your grandfather’s observation.

I find it odd that you argue that Buddhist meditation practice was “darkly” born out of an oppressed society. Presumably, outward suffering was so bad that the inward road was the only escape. Does that mean that the more extrovert spiritual systems like Judaism and Christianity developed among less oppressed folk with a greater degree of freedom? If that is truly your claim, it requires more support than your say-so. On it’s face, it is difficult for me to credit.

Finally, isn’t one of the highest achievements of Buddhist practice to become a bodhisattva? To become an enlightened person who, rather than retreat from the world, remains skillfully and positively active in it? Of the practitioners I know, all agree that the bodhisattva ideal is the (admittedly distant) aim of their practice.

I’m not a scholar and don’t claim to have thorough knowledge of Buddhism’s long history and tapestry of traditions through all nations and cultures. My thoughts here spring mostly from my own experience and observations. There is a human tendency, that transcends ethnic origin, to plaster over gaps in our understanding with a thick paste of swagger and judgment. It is a goal of my practice to transform this habit in myself. I hope that I have been successful.

Thanks.

WN January 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Ouch!

I think you’ve struck a nerve.

WN January 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Actually, I have much more to say than that…

Melissa, your story about your grandpa cannot be invalidated by the defenders of meditation because that was his experience and you wouldn’t be here talking to us if he didn’t make the courageous decisions he made. For people to take shots at his life in the name of defending this “popular movement” is sadly self-righteous and hurtful to me personally. We should all be so lucky to have personal contact with such a momentous point in world history and someone with a POV that basically rocks the foundation of The West’s fantastical perceptions of Eastern Culture. I’m also half Chinese and three years ago I went to my great-great grandfather’s village in the province of Chung-san. All my Western perceptions fell to pieces and so did I. Growing up in Northern California I have no right to pretend I understand, no matter what my ethnic heritage.

If you want to practice Eastern Religion, then I dare you to go to source from which your beliefs came and then make up your mind.

Amazing article, Melissa.

Melissa Karnaze January 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Allison,

By focusing on personal growth and using TOOLS like meditation one can overcome personal obstacles that can lead them to a fuller and more happy life, which in turn affects all those in connection with them.

I agree with you here. Meditation is a very special tool for me that has had a big impact on my life, and continues to.

“Looking the other way is one thing, but I think what you’re really saying here is that a person who focuses more on their personal growth isn’t as constructive as someone who focuses on the problems of a society.”

As I see it, personal growth and being a constructive member of society both require that you work with your emotions constructively.

C4MD3M0N1UM, I loved the movie Avatar. But lots of other bloggers said it sucked. I could call them outright liars… but then that wouldn’t be very honest on my part.

“These monasteries have realized over thousands of years that the nature of man is evil, and they built these sanctuaries to escape this physical plane.”

Evil is a construct.

“Escape the physical plane” … I won’t even go into how dysfunctional that is. It is a definite theme in New Age spirituality, as well as religion. Mindful Construct isn’t about the afterlife, but the life we’re living right now.

daniel james, humans are always playing telephone. Especially when they’re passing on the words of one man and developing multiple sects from it. It’s just in our nature.

Cihan, lively talkback, huh? ;)

Allen,

“It has never been my experience or my observation that dedicated meditators were hiding from or eliminating their emotions or evading responsibility for their actions and possibilities in the world.”

Your experience and observations are much different from my own. I know individuals who have been deeply involved in the Transcendental Meditation movement and have been mediating twice daily for 30+ years.

Whenever I write an article here, it’s definitely grounded in my personal observations and experience.

“Does that mean that the more extrovert spiritual systems like Judaism and Christianity developed among less oppressed folk with a greater degree of freedom?”

I’m not implying this; your presumption is. There are many ways to cope with oppression.

WN, oh boy did it strike a nerve. ;)

Someone thought I would approve his comment in which he said I am “simply acting like a dirty chinese communist.” He was sure right about one thing, personal web real estate does not ensure freedom of speech.

Thanks for your second comment and for sharing your story.

“We should all be so lucky to have personal contact with such a momentous point in world history and someone with a POV that basically rocks the foundation of The West’s fantastical perceptions of Eastern Culture.”

The thing about rocking foundations is that people are bound to be upset. It’s a natural defense mechanism to personally attack when you feel threatened. Has been very interesting on my end to see the reactions.

Btw, Marc and Cihan, it’s interesting to see some agnostics practicing Buddhism. I’ve come across some individuals who don’t believe in intelligent design, but that all things in the universe carry consciousness.

john January 27, 2010 at 8:32 am

We are here for but one hicup in the inhebriation that is time and to spend it worrying about what’s next, we should be more concerned with what’s NOW!! eternity is next its easy, you live, your vesel dies and you then become infinate energy that will always be. if you then get bored of being infinate? you can be reborn and start to begin to live again. it’s perpetual and i like it! john baker england

Melissa Karnaze January 27, 2010 at 11:19 am

Amen john.

life_after_death February 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I guess once you die, you will know whether this article was correct or not.

If it is all blackness, then you were correct, and it is best to labor on Earth for the physical welfare of all; and the monks were often practicing in vain.

If it is all light, then the monks were the true laborers; and the social activists were often practicing in vain.

Marc February 1, 2010 at 11:51 pm

If there’s nothing, then noone will know who’s right or wrong & it wont matter anyway.

For me, things dont have to be black & white, how about grey-ish, or pink with red polka dots or whatever.

For myself, if there is a meaning to my life, then part of it is not spending too much of my time trying to work out something that might come after; something I cant possibly learn or know whilst alive.

godi February 3, 2010 at 2:01 am

yow Melissa,
how are you? and all the others that are typing/reading their life away at this site?
In general, chatrooms keep people well blocked in opinions and points of view. changing opinions and discussions are no answer for the unsatisfactory nature of samsara but are samsara. Samsara means “going in circles”, repeating the energy to go in a similar way with each time another mask put on upholding the illusion it is something different. If you like to do that and you are aware of what you are doing, then that is your choice if you don’t like that or see that you are in a repetitive condition, you might want to get out of it, but how do you do that? by chatting along about oppression-mindfullness-experiences?
I’m sorry to say that untill – suddenly out of the blue (joking, cause nothing happens without a cause) – a chat-buddha emerges who gives us the chat-teachings, I don’t think we have any example of chatting giving any onther results then temporarily relief (and thus installing) of frustration which is itself the root for the need of the next temporary relief/installing by the next chat. that’s how it works for me. but I could be wrong and maybe chatting can get somebody in the utter-blissful transcendental mindfullness awareness state that we all want so badly, who knows :-)
meditation under the guidance of a traditional realised lineage is a far better choice then any enthusiastic newborn chatroom of any newborn scientific appoached alternatif.
I think the temporary “civilised” person has the possibility to approach a tradition that – despite the chatboxes – comes over through many centuries of experience and testing in a little more respectfull way then what we are used to. If you have time to spent and you are in need, I can give you a few links to serious material about this.
here’s a free starter:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDSAAlrqAHM
big hug
godi

Melissa Karnaze February 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Hi godi,

“how are you? and all the others that are typing/reading their life away at this site?”

I’m well, thanks. Won’t be speaking for the other readers. But your casting them as “typing/reading their life away at this site” doesn’t slip by my nose. When you open with such passive aggression, I can sniff out the agenda of your comment. ;)

Godi, I would say you’re blocked in your own opinions about chatrooms. (Technically, this is not a chatroom, but an online discussion forum. And yes, it has its setbacks, as well as its merits.) You’re sitting on quite a high horse to come here and tell me that I need a chat-Buddha to show me how it’s done, when your own comment is classic Ego — my way’s better/more enlightened than what you present at your “enthusiastic newborn chatroom” (with little respect to the actual content here).

In your own attempt to chat, you’re dropping your agenda without being mindful of the agenda here. At Mindful Construct, the mantra is “What About Me?” because killing the Ego is not the goalnurturing it is. :)

“…maybe chatting can get somebody in the utter-blissful transcendental mindfullness awareness state that we all want so badly, who knows :-)”

This mindfulness you reference is most likely the type I critique in this article.

“untill – suddenly out of the blue (joking, cause nothing happens without a cause) – a chat-buddha emerges who gives us the chat-teachings, I don’t think we have any example of chatting giving any onther results then temporarily relief (and thus installing) of frustration which is itself the root for the need of the next temporary relief/installing by the next chat.”

Read around a bit, you’ll see response ability is not about temporary relief. But the type of long-term emotional resilience that the foundational belief of Buddhism conflicts with — all that pessimistic bunk about the mind being a manufacturer of suffering and so in need of being defused (often sugar-coated with the “transcendence” vocabulary).

Suffering happens. It’s part of the human spectrum of experience. To get with the program, you have to integrate that suffering, transmute it into something constructive. Pretending that it doesn’t exist by imagining (with your mind) that the mind is defective… won’t get you very far.

joonas February 3, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Historically, many children living in poor families went to monasteries just to get an education.Even today in some regions monasteries are the only place for poor people to get a proper education.

You cannot escape from yourself. I’m quite sure that monks living in the monasteries have realized that.

There are many kinds of people living in monasteries – they have various reasons for being there. Just like in any society. Some probably are trying to escape the society. But it’s certainly pointless to make generalizations based on the fact that there are some “bad monks”.

And where in the world did you get the idea that meditation is about getting rid of emotions…

I’m a student. I don’t have a job. My parents are supporting me. One could say that I’m just as useless and selfish as a monk. Should I get a job and cancel my studies?

Melissa Karnaze February 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm

“And where in the world did you get the idea that meditation is about getting rid of emotions…”

joonas, a careful read of this article series will clear up this misunderstanding.

Matus February 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

Hi Melissa,
meditation – if practiced correctly is in no way a means to hide away from the problems of real life. On contrary, it is about recognizing and realizing within the self the true cause of all those problems that demostrate themselves in our lives, in our society. Meditation, if practiced correctly, doesn’t lead one to passiveness – rather it encourages one to be active, be respectful of others and useful for the society, because sooner or later the fruits of meditation will appear and the only way to enjoy these fruits is to share them with others. Meditation, if practiced correctly, doesn’t recognize emotions as cause, but rather as an effect, a consequence. This meditation will want to spread to everyone; monks are given the opportunity to proceed faster on the way but even they, if not practicing the right meditation in the right way won’t be of any use, and might be even struggling with themselves.

Don’t condemn meditation as a tool, just because most of us are using it in a wrong way. There is at least one technique, that works for everyone, that is universal and goal-oriented, practical – that teaches the right way of living, that recognises that not everyone is/can or should become a monk, that some of us are having duties and responsibilities that leave less time to practice meditation during the day (but at the same time encourages to practise mindfulness and loving kindness in real-life – because this is another very important aspect of it – to apply in real life what this meditation teaches us..).

Buddha dedicated the last something like forty years (!!!) of his life to serve the others, to instruct them how to practice – among his disciples one could find all kind of people, even kings and generals, people with high positions in the society, not only monks and the like..

Before we condemn it, let’s experience on ourselves, whether this tool can be of any benefit for us and in turn for the others, the society, etc. … because, let’s be honest, have we come up with any general and universal system that would be capable of realizing the moral values, the right way of living and an unconditional love and happiness in each one of us, be it christian, or moslim, white, or black, chinesse or american, rich or poor, educated ot non-educated, healthy or crippled, etc.??? Laws and rules – do they even manage to teach us anything about morality??? Religious practices, rituals – do they recognize things as the really are? is worshipping and praying to gods or godesses going to work if we carry on living blind, ignorant, without respect, self-centred, without being aware, without compassion and goodwill, without love..

Using the words of Mr. Goenka, who re-discovered the almost lost technique of Vipassana in Burma and spread it to India (its birthplace) and later to all the continents of the world, the determination to follow the path of the a noble person “is like planting a seed. Our part is only to maintain a healthy soil with enough water and free from weed. The nature will then take care of the rest”. But that requires persistance and patience. Just like it takes time for a real tree to grow its first fruits. And it takes even longer to grow to a mature size, when it can withstand the hardest of the weather, when it can offer a shelter for so many living creatures, offer so many fruits, breathe out the oxygen that is for everyone… when it gives the people walking by and adoring it inspiration, practical meaning of words like majestic, strong, selfless, it gives them clues of how to become like a tree…

May all be happy!

Aman February 7, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Your title is a little misleading. As far as I can tell, your issues are with the escapist lifestyle of monks and not with the practice of mindfulness.

My understanding of the mindfulness is that it actually helps you see your emotions clearly. It does not change the emotions but the habits which may lead to unproductive emotions. In fact, some people say that the point of mindfulness is to make us comfortable with anything and everything.
And I would be fooling myself if I thought that I am already comfortable with all my emotions, or that I could become comfortable just by resolve. Isn’t being ok with suffering the end of it? I do not think there is much difference between your viewpoint and the true buddhist doctrine.

As far as the issue of monks being unproductive members of the society goes, it is said that Buddha encouraged many householders to continue their productive lifestyle and use their output for the benefit of others. The contribution of these people was taken to be far larger than those of mendicants.

And just to dispute the claim that the roots of Buddhism lie in darkness, note that China and India lead the world economically till they were taken over by other nations. Besides, it is not even clear if being more productive has made us any happier.

jp February 9, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Indulging our emotions is just as much of an escape from reality as suppressing them. Mindfulness watches them; is aware of where they arise from and the effects they have. This process has the natural affect of detachment from, rather than suppression of emotions, which leads to the ability to experience reality without their bias. This does not, however, mean a mindful person is some cold, lazy, zombie.

Love is far more than an emotion, and is a much more bountiful and accessible tool without the petty taint of fleeting emotion. The mindful person embodies love as well as they can, and does all things out of love to the best of their ability. This is not a fearful way of living. It is quite the opposite, and ostensibly a more pure way. Though I can imagine we are all very attached to our emotions and the physical and mental rushes they produce, and it must be frightening to think about loosing their grip on us.

This is Truth, independent of political-cultural implications or nostalgia. It doesn’t “work” for one group of people better than another. It’s just the way it is, and has been found to be true and beneficial around the world.

As for the historical monastic life, my only defense is that begging is good for the soul. Maybe it is a selfish way to live, but that is from an outsider’s perspective. I would love to hear some monks address it, as well as why they don’t do more “outreach.” Or didn’t, at any rate. That has since changed in many places where there has been the freedom to do so.

At any rate, we can meditate mindfully and brush our teeth mindfully. We can fight fires and conduct research and lecture students mindfully. It is not inextricably tied to the old monastic life.

So what is the goal? It is not some great escape from reality, but rather a greater immersion into reality. Greater awareness. Greater wakefulness and intuitive understanding of the true nature of things. The distracting waves of emotion do not define us, friend. They are part of the dream.

Melissa Karnaze February 10, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Hi Matus, if you read carefully you’d have seen that meditation is a tool that I cherish. And I make sure not to use it as a substitute of working with my emotions. :)

Before we condemn it, let’s experience on ourselves, whether this tool can be of any benefit for us and in turn for the others, the society, etc. … because, let’s be honest, have we come up with any general and universal system that would be capable of realizing the moral values, the right way of living and an unconditional love and happiness in each one of us, be it christian, or moslim, white, or black, chinesse or american, rich or poor, educated ot non-educated, healthy or crippled, etc.???

While these are good intentions, it’s very vague to assume that meditating will solve all these problems. These are complex issues to tackle, and they take hard work, courage, patience, and self-love to even approach. Meditation can help with that of course, but I don’t think it’s the simple answer.

Aman, I select my titles very carefully. ;)

My understanding of the mindfulness is that it actually helps you see your emotions clearly. It does not change the emotions but the habits which may lead to unproductive emotions.

Yes, the other parts of this article series explain this specific interpretation of “mindfulness” you talk about.

I’m very careful before slapping the “unproductive” label on emotions. Because you can work with all emotions in a productive way. I see the passing up on that chance as being unproductive.

jp, it’s interesting, because I happen to think that what I write about here is also the Truth, independent of political-cultural implications or nostalgia. ;)

Indulging our emotions is just as much of an escape from reality as suppressing them. Mindfulness watches them; is aware of where they arise from and the effects they have. This process has the natural affect of detachment from, rather than suppression of emotions, which leads to the ability to experience reality without their bias.

It’s true that you can indulge in emotions in dysfunctional ways. But detachment is just a cleaner word for suppression.

Your reality is the way it is because of numerous constructs you have built into your biology, and picked up through social conditioning. As long as you are human, your reality is bound by your personal constructs. And your emotions are a vital piece that hold them into place.

Though I can imagine we are all very attached to our emotions and the physical and mental rushes they produce, and it must be frightening to think about loosing their grip on us.

You’ve just demonstrated the view that I see as being a dysfunctional take on emotions. We’re wired to feel. To refer to that as an addiction is a way to dissociate from human nature. If you want to talk about love, let’s talk about self-love. And accepting your emotions as a part of who you are.

The distracting waves of emotion do not define us, friend. They are part of the dream.

Thanks for sharing your viewpoint jp, but this blog is very much about self-love and acceptance. A dream? Yes, one worthy indeed.

jp February 10, 2010 at 3:01 pm

“it’s interesting, because I happen to think that what I write about here is also the Truth, independent of political-cultural implications or nostalgia. ;)”

Your opinions seem to be very much influenced by memories of your Grandfather and his, as well as your own, interpretations of the political-cultural climate of early 20th century China. In fact, that seemed to be the strongest support you had for your argument.

I may be wrong, and I apologize in advance if I am, but I also detect a distinct tone of nationality and geo-centrism in your words. You imply that a big part of the problem is Westerners practicing something they haven’t earned and can’t possibly understand like you do.

“It’s true that you can indulge in emotions in dysfunctional ways. But detachment is just a cleaner word for suppression. ”

The two are entirely different.

Suppression is a forceful act. It is to shove something down, hide something away, or to in some way impair it. However, whatever is suppressed still exists, and usually comes back with greater force. Political uprisings and belches are suppressed. Emotions certainly can be, and they always build up and come raging back.

Detachment is a non-forceful act. It is to release something, to let it go and loose its influence on you. Whatever is released doesn’t fight its way back, because it has been dealt with and is no longer interesting. Past and possessions are two of the most common things detached from. Emotions certainly can be, and when they are, a “person” can see much more clearly.

“Your reality is the way it is because of numerous constructs you have built into your biology, and picked up through social conditioning. As long as you are human, your reality is bound by your personal constructs. And your emotions are a vital piece that hold them into place.”

I agree completely. The key point is “your reality,” which is, unfortunately, not true reality. What a sad, scary way to live. There is so much more!

This also relates to the rest of your remarks, and the way I finished my post. I believe you misinterpreted what I meant by emotions being part of the dream. This thing you call waking life and “reality” is a dream, friend. An illusion.

Thinking we are bound by and dependent on some sticky mash of chemical reactions in the brain is exactly what keeps us from understanding our true natures. Our body produces emotions, and we are left to react to them. Mindfulness and detachment aren’t about making them stop. They are about understanding them so that we do not have to be driven by them.

So what then should drive us? Love. Love, which doesn’t wax and wane like emotions, but perseveres and holds the Universe together. Love, which is true human nature, rather than the dramatic emotional roller coasters people just can’t seem to get enough of. And really, forgoing a more clear and loving style of living just to get tossed around in the waves of emotion and the way it tickles the back of your neck is just as selfish.

Melissa Karnaze February 10, 2010 at 5:43 pm

jp, the two principles of this site, mindful constructs and response ability, are the Truth I am referring to. Articles flesh them out, and do take on more personal tones as you pointed out.

I agree completely. The key point is “your reality,” which is, unfortunately, not true reality. What a sad, scary way to live. There is so much more!

I don’t share your opinion that this “limitation” is *unfortunate,* but rather focus on creating life as a mindful construct, based on response ability.

If we are more than what our physical reality tells us, then why do you think we are incarnate here? What is the purpose of going from something blissful to an animal body at the mercy of emotions? If what we really were was so much better, then why are we here?

This thing you call waking life and “reality” is a dream, friend. An illusion.

Yes, “reality” as we experience it is constructed. And you prescribe meditation as the red pill, correct?

Bash emotions all you want here, but I prescribe self-love as the red pill. And I’m still not convinced that detachment isn’t a subtler form of suppression. The brain doesn’t work so simply like that.

By the way, how do you define love? In specific, concrete terms?

jp February 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm

When I talk about love, I don’t refer to filial, fraternal, friendly, or romantic love, but rather unconditional love. “The Force,” the glue of the Universe, the golden lotus… and a million other metaphors that attempt to describe it. But concretely, I mean love without condition, Compassion is the practical application of unconditional love, and forgiveness, kindness, etc. are the fruits of it.

“If what we really were was so much better, then why are we here?”

The monks would say your answer is in your question, for were you content, you would not be here. It is because you have that question, and make distinctions between things like “we” and “if” and “here,” that “you” “are” “here.” I personally don’t know why we are here, and don’t really care to know.

I am sorry that you are not convinced that the brain works as simply as that. Perhaps this site will explain things better: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindfulness-approach/201002/online-mindfulness-meditation-therapy-overcoming-social-anxiety

Your link about self-love as the red pill certainly reinforces what you have been saying. It seems we both agree and disagree.

Loving yourself, and more importantly, feeling compassion for yourself, are immensely important and integral in your ability to feel compassion for others. But your “pill” doesn’t seem to go further than loving yourself and accepting certain limitations that keep it from getting any further than that.

The main limitation, and the main point on which we disagree, it seems, is the ego. You think that the ego is who we are. I think it is another illusion that keeps us from understanding our true nature. Indeed it is the greatest illusion, the notion of “self,” that keeps us from experiencing true communion with the Universe and all it comprises. The practice of embracing the ego takes us further from this integration by definition. My own goal is to “rise to the top of the pyramid,” where all become one; to become Love itself and no longer differentiate between individuals and objects. This would not be possible with the ego. But then, that isn’t everyone’s goal.

Back to the article though… Now that I have read more about your ideas of self-love, I can’t help but wonder how holing up in your ego it is any more beneficial to society than holing up in a monastery in the mountains.

Melissa Karnaze February 10, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Yes, Ego is a very important aspect of our multidimensional selves/ consciousness/ being human.

I can understand why you don’t have compassion for the Ego. Doing so would conflict with the desire to get rid of it and “be one with all.”

Psychology Today is a publication I read with lots of salt. I’m aware of the growing popularity of the mindfulness construct, but if you read the rest of this article series you may understand why I’m not convinced by your argument. This doesn’t mean I don’t see any value whatsoever in the mainstream mindfulness practices, just that I am skeptical of long-term success, as it can easily be used to avoid emotions for mostly escapist reasons rooted in a fear of emotions themselves.

I don’t take “unconditional love/ love without condition” as a concrete definition because it’s circular; love still hasn’t been defined concretely. Unconditional love is an abstract term that’s well-suited battle cry for the Kill Ego Crusade.

Laurie Corzett February 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm

“You think that the ego is who we are. I think it is another illusion that keeps us from understanding our true nature. Indeed it is the greatest illusion, the notion of “self,” that keeps us from experiencing true communion with the Universe and all it comprises. The practice of embracing the ego takes us further from this integration by definition. My own goal is to “rise to the top of the pyramid,” where all become one; to become Love itself and no longer differentiate between individuals and objects. This would not be possible with the ego. But then, that isn’t everyone’s goal. ”

I feel the ego is an organizing principle to help us develop and maintain focus, to live purposefully. The denigration of the ego as illusion or self-aggrandizement is often a barrier to appropriate understanding of the ego’s usefulness. You have a goal; ego lets there be an organizing “you” to attain it.

There is no need to rise anywhere. The Oneness is. The separations are. They are human distinctions about a whole system. We each get to be our discrete stories weaving through the greater work of art, to impart drama, comedy, appreciation, even compassion. The point is to experience. In some senses, that is the embodiment of the love of which you speak.

Melissa Karnaze February 10, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Laurie, I’m with you. If we are all one, then there’s nothing to worry about, escape from, or grope for. We already are one (however that means).

What a lot of Oneness promoters don’t like to ask is why oh why did the One split into the Many. Ah, because then that would mean that there is some *value* in the Many, or rather, the Ego.

jp February 10, 2010 at 7:31 pm

“I can understand why you don’t have compassion for the Ego. Doing so would conflict with the desire to get rid of it and “be one with all.””

I’m afraid I didn’t say either of those things. I feel compassion for many things that don’t really exist. The ego is no different :) And I don’t desire to get rid of it. I desire to understand that it doesn’t exist on a fundamental, unspoken, and intuitive level. Why?

Even if “being one with everything” isn’t your goal, the effects of living a compassionate life are undeniably positive to yourself and to others. The practice has merits on this basis alone. If one of the best ways to live (if not the best) is compassionately, then it follows that we should let go of the things that keep us from living that way.

In other words, it’s hard to live a compassionate life that benefits others if your consciousness it clouded by the high’s and lows and fluctuating “good” and “bad” emotions. It’s harder to be Love when you give in to feelings like jealousy, lust, and contempt.

jp February 10, 2010 at 7:34 pm

“What a lot of Oneness promoters don’t like to ask is why oh why did the One split into the Many. Ah, because then that would mean that there is some *value* in the Many, or rather, the Ego.”

Actually, they do talk about this. The Buddhists refer to it as “The Mirror Breaking,” the point when the primal consciousness became aware of itself and shattered into what we are now, the “Many.”

Melissa Karnaze February 10, 2010 at 7:44 pm

To say that the Ego doesn’t exist is not unconditionally accepting the fact that the human brain generates several constructs that create the Ego aspect of consciousness.

You can use the “reality is an illusion” argument to negate this, but I won’t be buying it. :)

jp February 10, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Then we are at an impasse, my friend, and I thank you for the good conversation.

By the by, I’d still like to know how holing up in yourself is any more beneficial to society than holing up in a monastery.

I’d also like to hear your definition of love.

Melissa Karnaze February 10, 2010 at 7:52 pm

And I thank you jp for your thoughtful comments.

Since I’m not talking about holing up in yourself, I don’t have an answer to your first request.

As for how love’s been defined here, it’s something that you do.

jp February 10, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I shall be more specific then. How is your practice of self-love more beneficial to society than the monastic life?

jp February 10, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I enjoyed your article on what Love is. I smile, because we have similar mechanisms, but they manifest in different ways, it seems. My basis is in love for all things, and yours seems to be based in romantic, or at least interpersonal love.

When I think of Respect, I think more of the Golden Rule. Your definition springs from this, because if you treat all others how you treat yourself, you will respect their boundaries.

What you call acceptance, I typically think of as forgiveness. Unconditional love always forgives, and this forgiveness or acceptance is one of the most powerful acts of Love.

You talk about surrender: “When you surrender in love, you let go of the outcome completely. You simply do all that you can that is loving, and let the rest take its place. If that means the person you love hardly notices you as a blip in their world, so cry it.”

That’s exactly what I’m going for! Except for all things, all the time, rather than a person, for a time.

I hope that helps you understand my definition of Love. But there is also little more to it than that. You say, “Love isn’t just a noun, it’s a verb!” I say, “Love isn’t just a verb, it’s a noun!” It’s what connects us to each other and to everything.

Melissa Karnaze February 17, 2010 at 11:52 am

Hi jp,

I didn’t write that the practice of self-love is more beneficial to society than the monastic life. Maybe you interpreted my grandfather’s words as my own.

My statement was: “The dark side of mindfulness meditation is an escapist attitude — from response ability to life.”

A monastic life — or any lifestyle for that matter — that is focused on using mindfulness meditation to essentially detach from emotions is by definition not response able (that’s probably the closest I can get to your use of “beneficial to society”).

Great to hear to we have some common ground with the other article. The reason I focus on interpersonal love is because it’s the hardest type. As I see it, it’s easy to love things, but loving people is a real challenge.

And… I have a different take on forgiveness, or at least, how to eventually get there. :P

Monk February 18, 2010 at 10:25 am

I am a monk. We farm. If everyone was a monk I think we could still eat.

jeff February 20, 2010 at 4:23 pm

It isn’t fair to trash something like mindfulness when really the problems you cite are the fault of religious institutionalism and are in fact common to all religions. The dark side is that of religious hierarchy and doctrine and its parasitic hold on humanity. For the most part the underlying philosophies of religions are like your own and are nothing more than a statement about our human potentials and actualities. In fact not really anything more than what most people do every day by being kind and cooperative and thoughtful; what they would continue to do without religious or even philosophical “guidance”.

Melissa Karnaze February 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm

jeff, I think mindfulness is a wonderful thing, that’s why it’s in the title of this site!

Chris Skuller February 21, 2010 at 11:12 pm

After reading the whole article I have to agree with you. Mindfulness is a great, powerful, and wonderful thing, but not when used to disengage. Mindfulness, like all things, has its place in our lives and any teacher worth her salt should state as much.

Melissa Karnaze February 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Exactly Chris, mindfulness isn’t everything. As wonderful as it is, it doesn’t solve all of life’s problems. I suspect the people who get pricked by this (article) have a codependent relationship with their preferred doctrine of mindfulness.

Talleyrand February 24, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Well Melissa, number one you are playing devil’s advocate by proposing a “critique” of “mindfulness (or buddhism)” in the guise of grand dad’s viewpoint. Very nice.
Both my “grandfathers” fought in wars against so-called “tyranny” also. Good for them.
What have you done in your life Melissa? Just curious. Not really.
I don’t believe anyone actually owns spiritual principles. The so-called “East” or what people used to say, the “far east” does not have a patent on being human anymore than the “West,” the Occidental swamp, does with its individualism.
Before Europeans invaded this land the native americans lived in tune with nature yet they still fought each other in tribes. There have been wars in India, China, Japan, and every other country in the East also.
From what i know, “buddhists” are not a warring group. But are they escaping from reality and not contributing. Are they avoiding intimate connections with other people for fear of feelings? Perhaps, many may be. But, it seems to me that one who strictly and devoutly practices mindfulness (what you term a “monk”) is maybe just maybe practicing peace (of mind and of association with others and with their environment). And also Love; NOT War.

Toast February 25, 2010 at 12:25 am

I find it highly unfortunate that you and your grandfather have been brainwashed by Mr. Mao’s “cultural” revolution.

“People who seek this escape don’t want to get their hands dirty with all the ugly things you have to do in life to get by, like:

o Setting personal boundaries
o Nurturing your Ego
o Becoming mindful of your personal constructs
o Experiencing your emotions, especially the negative ones
o Seeing the world’s problems”

How is nurturing your ego something you have to do to get by?
Becoming mindful of your personal constructs is one of the aims of meditation, as with experiencing your emotions, positive and negative.

Consequently, nurturing the ego is what has gotten the world into as many problems as it has. Failure to see the picture as a whole, and only thinking in terms of “me” (my car, my money, my future, MY need to feel good) can never create a situation that is conducive to the advancement of all.

Melissa Karnaze February 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

“What have you done in your life Melissa? Just curious. Not really.”

Talleyrand, if you’re not really curious, why did you take the time to write out the question?

Because it’s a passive aggressive borderline personal attack. And definitely not convincing that you understand the difference between peace and war. In the same way you put tyranny in quotes.

Toast, I was born and raised in California, care to explain your link to Mao?

“Consequently, nurturing the ego is what has gotten the world into as many problems as it has. Failure to see the picture as a whole, and only thinking in terms of “me” (my car, my money, my future, MY need to feel good) can never create a situation that is conducive to the advancement of all.”

A car doesn’t satisfy the need for approval. Getting that new car is not nurturing your Ego.

The world’s problems are due to the fact that people continually deny or neglect the nurture their Egos (emotional selves) need — that’s why the Ego/subconscious takes over rather self-destructively and inefficiently (in terms of getting its real needs met).

But, you can still blame it all on the Ego, which will only exacerbate the problem.

Cihan February 25, 2010 at 11:03 am

The greatest irony here is that Mel has shown she has the patience of Buddha. ;)

Melissa Karnaze February 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

Aw Cihan, I’m so glad you’re here in the thread. :P

Laurie Corzett February 25, 2010 at 11:34 am

“nurturing the ego is what has gotten the world into as many problems as it has. Failure to see the picture as a whole, and only thinking in terms of “me” (my car, my money, my future, MY need to feel good) can never create a situation that is conducive to the advancement of all.”

I don’t think you understand the purpose of your ego. You have twisted it, dishonored it. Of course you don’t see it working to enlighten you, to bring you to the bliss place or help you to understand the human place. Thinking in terms of what you can do to feel good (really good — not “this is all I deserve” or “bright shiney objects will protect me”) is the only real way to create a situation that is conducive to the advancement of all.

Melissa Karnaze February 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm

And feeling good is not surface-level pleasure, but substantive pleasure, or leading your life as a mindful construct. :)

JediMaster March 3, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Actually you miss the complete point of meditation, meditation if practised correctly is a way of communion with none other than the absolute. I to be honest hate to use the word “God” because it makes it seem personal, but yeah there is an all pervading intelligence but I don’t refer to it as God as the name has been stained by followers, cults and people from orthodox Religions who do nasty things in the name of God.

Melissa Karnaze March 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

JediMaster, you assume I’ve not experienced this. ;)

Krishna April 30, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Hi Melissa,

I was moved by your blog post, more than I can express in these comments.

I find the teachings of someone like Eknath Easwaran, that teaches us to live a spiritual life while being fully engaged much more “wise” than a path that leads us away from the world and our duties. If spiritual practices do not help us live with grace and kindness in the middle of everything that’s happening in this world and influence those around us towards a more positive mindset, they are worthless.

Cheers,
Krishna

Melissa Karnaze May 2, 2010 at 10:05 am

Thanks Krishna, I really like your description. I cultivate spirituality to be more engaged with what’s happening in this world, and it is such a powerful and beautiful tool when used in balance.

Ankit May 22, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I cannot comment upon your research on whether mindfulness is running away from emotions or helping to deal with them properly as I am a beginner at learning meditation. I am from India and a non-Buddhist . I belong to a contemporary religion of Buddhism. i.e. Jainism. However, the philosophy behind Buddhism agrees with my logical think and ‘gut’ feeling. Yet, it does not make me qualified enough to comment any which ways.

Still, I would like to comment on your expression that monks do not contribute anything to society but just want to be fed while they hide away from responsibility.

Let me ask you. Do you just value human life over all other living being’s right to existence on this planet? If not, then please answer what do humans contribute to nature? We just feed on natural resources and make other species go extinct. So, do we as a species have a right to exist in the bigger “society” of earth’s ecosystem? And should other species banish us away from this ecosystem for just plundering away their resources?

I hope you understand that painting all monks with a sweeping remark is over-generalization. In that sense, take anybody who is fighting it out on the lowest rung of Maslow’s pyramid. For them, anybody who practices fine arts, music, etc contribute nothing to society. When the base level needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, viz. food, shelter, security are not met, anybody would raise questions on the point of spending society’s hard-earned money on those who just develop “classical” music, various art forms, abstract sculpture etc.

For a civilized society to function properly, there is definitely a need of a strong social and moral order. Social order is provided by the governance structure. Moral order is provided by religion (w/o all the propaganda ofcourse) and philosophy. You can’t deny the role of thinkers in the social system. If it were not, whom would people consult when science advances to produce clones, stem cells and abortion and debate whether it is a right thing to allow.

There may be many monks who have just run away to the monastery for shirking away from their worldly responsibilities. In a similar manner, you will find there to be 10-20% workforce in any organization which earns its wages but avoids doing any meaningful work. They exist everywhere and every HR person knows that. You just can’t eliminate such elements from anywhere – be it monasteries or private organizations.

As far as I have read, mindfulness can be practiced by householders to better function while handling highly stressful situations. There is no need to go to a forest or mountain to achieve a black-belt in the discipline. Even a small progress lets one better handle the adversities in life.

Please do keep Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind when you look at the perspective from which your Grandpa may have evaluated monks.

Melissa Karnaze May 23, 2010 at 9:20 am

Hi Ankit,

I’m not generalizing across all monks. I’m explaining my grandfather’s statement and highlighting the dark side of the monastery lifestyle — that no one wants to talk about. As you said, “There may be many monks who have just run away to the monastery for shirking away from their worldly responsibilities.” This is what’s being discussed.

In a similar manner, you will find there to be 10-20% workforce in any organization which earns its wages but avoids doing any meaningful work.

I agree. It’s probably higher than that. At least corporate U.S. is set up as a system to distract employees from meaningful work.

You just can’t eliminate such elements from anywhere – be it monasteries or private organizations.

I’m not talking about eliminating such elements by interfering with people’s lives. The only way to eliminate such escapism is to educate those who are open, of the pitfalls of such escapism, so they can choose engagement instead.

Let me ask you. Do you just value human life over all other living being’s right to existence on this planet? If not, then please answer what do humans contribute to nature? We just feed on natural resources and make other species go extinct.

Are you tying to “prove me wrong” by getting me to admit that humans do bad things? As Smith said in The Matrix, the human race behaves as a virus. We’re causing a lot of destruction to each other and our home, and it’s devastating.

Do we as a species have a right to exist in the bigger “society” of earth’s ecosystem?

You’re asking me to answer whether the entire human race has a “right” to live, when I’m no position to mandate such rights for the entire “society” of Earth’s ecosystem.

But if an advanced extraterrestrial race came along — that could wipe us out in an instant and that cared about the preservation of unique habitable planets like Earth — they would certainly have a difficult time deciding, wouldn’t they?

And should other species banish us away from this ecosystem for just plundering away their resources?

Are you referring to a theoretical species that could consciously banish us? If so, I don’t know what they “should” do. And to be clear, I wasn’t implying that anyone should banish monks.

When the base level needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, viz. food, shelter, security are not met, anybody would raise questions on the point of spending society’s hard-earned money on those who just develop “classical” music, various art forms, abstract sculpture etc.

Yes, this is true from the perspective of those lower on the pyramid. But from the perspective of Maslow, classical music and art are actual needs to those who are fortunate to sit higher on the pyramid.

Moral order is provided by religion (w/o all the propaganda ofcourse) and philosophy.

I disagree. Organized religion is responsible for numerous and atrocious immoral acts. I don’t believe you can separate organized religion from propaganda. Because any time there are religious officials in charge of what lower ranks do and think, with a lot of worldly power in their hands — the common folk don’t have the right to make up their own minds. So they have to buy into the propaganda. Or, “become followers.”

Ankit May 25, 2010 at 10:11 am

Hi Melissa,
I am posting a link to a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQfICW9C7Bw) which doesn’t at all answer the doubts you have raised or goes ahead to defend point-by-point of what I have said earlier.

It is a dramatization of the book Discovery of India written by J. L. Nehru (India’s first Prime Minsiter and Gandhi’s political counterpart in Congress). There are subtitles in English. He must surely be a learned man to lead India’s freedom movement along with Gandhi and then lead a nation limping to gain its stand in the world. Please see what he has to say whether mindfulness (or Buddha’s teachings, if you think we can equate them) means turning away from emotions or from human interaction.

I am not a Buddhist and neither am I subscribed to the idea of mindfulness in some religious way. I am a beginner who is ready to look at both sides of the picture. But, I don’t think you are representing mindfulness (and mindfulness based stress relieving strategies) in the right manner. Nowhere in the writings of Buddhist monks (translated in English) or in the books of Western scientists bringing mindfulness to West (Jon Kabat-Zinn) have I read that mindfulness means suppressing one’s emotions or ignoring them or burying them deep inside.

The monks have a special duty to adhere to practice the way in a more diligent manner so that they can deliver the teachings in their true spirit. If you research on Jainism, you will find that Jain monks observed far severe and austere life. Still, the Jain texts do not prescribe the same way for the householders. The Jain monks observe such harsh life so that they can set an example of what is possible for householders while being involved in material world. In my perception, Indian society does not treat ascetics of any creed with the eye that they have run away from life or are burden on society. Buddha, in fact, chose the Middle Path, as neither the cultism of distorted Vedic rituals nor the extreme austere nature of Jainism, in his opinion was the way to lead life. Even in Vedic way of life, students studying in Gurukools (schools of study under Brahmin teachers) had to daily go to ask for alms / food in the city and deposit it with the school with which the school functioned. The knowledge they gained was not imparted back to the masses in any direct form.

Again, there will be bad eggs everywhere. People who give up on life and run to monasteries for such purpose. If at all I have understood the principles correctly, such people will be a nuisance in the monastery too as they would fail to understand the true spirit of why they should be there. And also, mindfulness nowhere tells you to run away to monasteries for attaining nirvana. Monk-hood in any religion can then be seen in the same manner.

As for religion, I did emphasize that it is useful without the dogma. Organized religion carrying out persecution is a result of few people who use it further their cause. No religion started this way, it always starts as a philosophy. Only when it gets vested with super-normal social powers does it attain the power to damage.

Buddha has said that one should not believe in anything because the teacher has said so. Experiment for yourself and then find the right answer. I haven’t found a single mindfulness promoting text (S.N. Goenka, Jon Kabat Zinn) saying that mindfulness is the word of God and redemption is only possible this way. All very categorically tell to experience it yourself without buying into any Buddhist believes.

I don’t know whether you feel that whole idea of selling mindfulness is a brain-washing technique to get a buy-in of people to adopt a new ideology. As far as I found, mindfulness is a practice you can do without believing in Buddha’s philosophy though it helps if one understand the theory behind.

Apologies for a winded and long discourse.

Melissa Karnaze May 26, 2010 at 8:47 am

Ankit, if you read the rest of this article series, you will find one about “Western scientists bringing mindfulness to West” who state in their research paper (indirectly of course) “that mindfulness means suppressing one’s emotions or ignoring them or burying them deep inside.”

Please see what he has to say whether mindfulness (or Buddha’s teachings, if you think we can equate them) means turning away from emotions or from human interaction.

In the video it’s said, “I cannot believe that a pessimistic religion can influence so many million people.” That’s what this video is about, a defense of Buddhism. This video doesn’t convince me that Buddhism on whole encourages people to get in touch with, experience, and learn from their emotions. It doesn’t cast out my own observations.

I am not a Buddhist and neither am I subscribed to the idea of mindfulness in some religious way. I am a beginner who is ready to look at both sides of the picture. But, I don’t think you are representing mindfulness (and mindfulness based stress relieving strategies) in the right manner.

If you disagree with my representation, then you are not really looking at this side of the picture. It’s okay if you don’t understand the point of the article, or if you disagree with it. Keep in mind though that your opinion is yours. Other readers, like Bernie and Grace, have had a completely different observation after years of spiritual exploration of the East.

Krishna May 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Isnt mindfulness meditation all about EXPERIENCING each emotion to the fullest and getting to the root of it? Or have I been missing something all this while :-)?

Plain vanilla supression is something we have learnt to do all our lives, no meditation required :-).

Cheers,
Krishna

Melissa Karnaze May 29, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Krishna, I would say so. ;)

derek June 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm

A lot of fear. You could explain the benefits of proper meditation and self education in meditation. It is not about hiding from emotions but how to accept them for what they are, feelings we experience. It is good though to warn people of downfalls that can happen through blind faith. Take it easy.

Lisa July 11, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I like this a lot, just came across it on StumbleUpon. I so agree that there is a very romanticized ideal of what Eastern spiritual traditions are like, and we Westerners love to ‘adopt’ these things without understanding that they all have light and dark manifestations. To me, the investigative process that the Buddha really taught is about looking very honestly at both shadow and light, in ourselves and the world around us. And working to transmute the shadows, in both, as well. And mindfulness is a tool in that process – it’s not just about finding joy in the present and all that.

Thanks so much for an insightful post.

Melissa Karnaze July 13, 2010 at 8:36 am

Thanks Lisa, what a healthy way to look at it. It’s especially refreshing to hear from a meditation teacher. :) Mindfulness is *the* tool for transmutation!

a GrebBear July 16, 2010 at 1:47 am

Thanks Melissa )
Its nice that you are reflecting and sharing thoughts of your grandfather. I’ll be sure to look through more articles you’ve written.
Just a quick quote:
“Buddha taught an art of living. He never established or taught any religion, any “ism”. He never instructed those who came to him to practice any rites or rituals, any empty formalities. Instead, he taught them just to observe nature as it is, by observing the reality inside. Out of ignorance we keep reacting in ways which harm ourselves and others. But when wisdom arises—the wisdom of observing reality as it is—this habit of reacting falls away. When we cease to react blindly, then we are capable of real action—action proceeding from a balanced mind, a mind which sees and understands the truth. Such action can only be positive, creative, helpful to ourselves and to others.”

The original teachings of Buddha.
http://www.dhamma.org/
If you’d like to learn mindfulness, this is the way ))

sincerely,
a GrebBear

Peace Love Light Truth
(- ;
; -)

Dolorez August 1, 2010 at 1:25 am

This is one of the best articles I have ever read, it speaks so much truth and wisdom, Wow, I am speechless, totally in awe.

Thank you for putting these thoughts in here, I am so glad I had came across this article, it has touched my soul, in a very real way!

Kevin August 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm

India and China are poor not because every one do meditation there but because of their earlier policies of blocking the international trade by closing their economies. Meditation has nothing to do with a country competitiveness.

In 1600s, India and China were the richest countries in the world and US was one of the poorest.

Now Both India and China are growing at 9-10% p.a. Your grandpa is right that if every one becomes a Monk, we will not be able to carry this economic world forward.

We have created this super $ 60 trillion world GDP by our ideas, thoughts and innovation. To create this wealth we obviously go through lot of stress day in day out.

But if every one learn meditation and practice it before or after his work, this society will be a better place to live in.

Why do you think a suicide happens? Suicide is primarily a ‘thought’. Thats the purpose of mindfulness meditation- to alleviate painful thoughts or not attaching our consciousness with our thought process.

All i know, human peace can not be delivered till we align 6 billion people to tune to meditation so as to merge their self consciousness with universal consciousness.

If all 6 billion people on earth do meditation, the events like 9/11 are out of scope.

But meditation should not be done 24 hours a day like a Monk. The 6 billion people should also use their brain grey matter and thought structure to innovate and create more goods and services so as to grow the economy and experience life comforts.

Cory Chu-Keenan August 16, 2010 at 9:26 am

If 6 billion people on earth do meditation, it will be a lot easier for the shadow elite to pull off more political smoke screens like 9/11.

We don’t need more sleepwalkers on this earth, we need more awakenings. Meditation is just the seemingly benevolent form of the zombie-fication of the body politic.

Sorry, Kevin. I would have agreed with you that meditation was the answer to world peace if you asked me like maybe 3 years ago. But now I just don’t believe in world peace. And I don’t consider myself cynical, just realistic. We need to work with the actual dynamics that exist in reality, not believe that an ever newer ideology is out there that will save us.

If geopolitics is something that keeps you up at night, then you need to get involved and make a change from within the belly of the beast. Wishing for change or hoping for it or meditating about it won’t affect the physical reality of our (tragic) situation.

Laurie Corzett August 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

Hey Cory,

Obviously you do not understand nor practice mindful meditation or you would not compare the effect to sleep or zombie-fication. Meditation is a tool for awakening.

As to world peace, of course meditation, a practice, cannot create action. Actors act. People are actors. We tend to repeat behaviors for which we have been rewarded. If we are to act toward a more peaceful world, we need to feel that such an outcome would be a personal reward, would be personally meaningful and pleasurable. Meditation can help us toward such a realization in a world that is not peaceful for direct experience of such pleasure.

There is nothing about meditation that would keep one from serious involvement in world affairs. There is much that can help inform us as individual actors in a world that often feels hostile and peaceless. This is not wishing or hoping. This is another form of preparation and self-motivation.

Cory Chu-Keenan August 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Laurie, you’re right. I obviously don’t understand nor practice mindful meditation. I have no idea what those two words strung together mean. I have a stereotypical image in my mind, but I have never delved into the topic and don’t consider myself an expert. But when someone says that 9/11 wouldn’t have happened if we all practiced this thing called “mindful meditation” I have to call BS on that.

I should have left it at that because I have not given MM a chance in practice and most likely never will. It doesn’t sound attractive to me, but that doesn’t give me the right to rant on something I don’t know about, right?

All I can say is that I’m skeptical about claims that have the following structure:

My ideology of _________ has the ability to make this society a better place to live in, will prevent suicide, stop terrorism, and allow world peace.

I don’t doubt that MM can bring personal clarity, calm and pleasure. Sorry for using the term “zombie-fication.” That was an overly graphic hyperbole. Personally, I prefer action-based activities in my attempts to bring value to my community.

Laurie Corzett August 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

“My ideology of _________ has the ability to make this society a better place to live in, will prevent suicide, stop terrorism, and allow world peace. ”

I never said that, nor would I. Ideology, as you seem to be quite aware, has no ability. People have abilities. We are better able when we are clearer, calmer, more balanced. These conditions are facilitated by meditation. Thus, in a visionary revelation one might suggest that a worldwide normative practice of mindful meditation could allow people to have clearer thinking and communication which would obviate the perceived need for “terrorist” attacks.

Action is all well and good, as long as it is predicated on clearly thought out strategy. Mindless action is pretty much useless, and stupid.

I am in no way suggesting you take up any practice. Your life is yours.

Peace,
L.

Cory Chu-Keenan August 17, 2010 at 9:14 am

Mindless anything is useless and stupid. You’re obviously right.

You said:

“We are better able when we are clearer, calmer and more balanced. These conditions are facilitated by meditation.”

These conditions are also facilitated by masturbation. Where’s the spiritual movement for that? No joke.

“…in a visionary revelation one might suggest that a worldwide normative practice of mindful meditation could allow people to have clearer thinking and communication which would obviate the perceived need for “terrorist” attacks.”

MM works for you, but there’s no need to claim that if everyone did it then the world would transform into a utopia. Creating a “worldwide normative practice” of everyone thinking exactly like me would also stop terrorism, because I don’t practice it. But as you can see, that simply is not a real possibility.

MM creates a community that works for you that I don’t want to be a part of. Your heart is in the right place. But I’m the type of person who dissects every word, and when claims are made that don’t compute, I just can’t help myself.

The thing that set me off was Kevin’s claim that 9/11 could have been prevented if we were a society based on meditation. No. 9/11 happened because we were so damn asleep. Don’t ask me what the solution is because I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the problems have something to do with corporate controlled media, corporate sponsored politicians, secret military operations, an evil fraternity of psychopaths with billions of dollars, and a population of people addicted to celebrities and sugar. Meditation may help you feel peace in a chaotic world, but it won’t alter the major driving forces operating on the grand chessboard. Activism is our best hope, and maybe even then…

For me, I want to live conscious and awake with the burden of the truth rather than pacify it.

Laurie Corzett August 17, 2010 at 11:26 am

Cory, Cory, Cory. You continue to denigrate a practice which you have admitted you are ignorant of. I don’t think I want to be part of any actions you are involved with. Then, you claim to
“dissects every word, and when claims are made that don’t compute” while clearly ignoring most of what I said.

I do understand your frustration with the craziness in this world. Mindful meditation helps to promote sanity. No, it is not a magic formula ready to swoop in and create world peace. It is a mindful practice which can help individuals toward a better understanding of peace, and, possibly, with other resources, ideas, communication, strong will and action, can be of help in achieving greater peace in general. I make no claims. I only offer possibilities. People are obstinate in their insanities, you know. My main concern, though, is that you equate a practice which allows for greater awareness with sleep while claiming action (apparently any wild action) as equivalent to wide awake awareness. It makes me sad for you.

I am not in any way exhorting or even encouraging you to take up any practice. I am encouraging you to open your mind a bit, any way you feel comfortable to you.

Melissa Karnaze August 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I’m stepping in because saying someone’s name three times is getting to be condescending.

Laurie, Cory was not — in his last comment — denigrating meditation.

His response *to Kevin* obviously emotionally triggered you, and you voiced it, and Cory admitted he made statements from ignorance, but he won’t back up on his main point — which is that he disagrees with Kevin’s claims about meditation being an easy solution.

I’m pretty sure the three of us agree on one thing, which you said:

“[Meditation] is not a magic formula ready to swoop in and create world peace. It is a mindful practice which can help individuals toward a better understanding of peace, and, possibly, with other resources, ideas, communication, strong will and action, can be of help in achieving greater peace in general.”

Cory, clarify if need be, but I don’t believe you are equating the practice of meditation — which allows for greater awareness — with sleep while claiming action (apparently any wild action) as equivalent to wide awake awareness.

My interpretation is that you are equating the *mainstream* practice of meditation with sleep. Which is exactly I wrote this article in the first place.

Mainstream, across the board, mindfulness meditation is being used to numb out the masses. So that they don’t have to process their negative feelings and ego tendencies.

And one major reason we have “corporate controlled media, corporate sponsored politicians, secret military operations, an evil fraternity of psychopaths with billions of dollars, and a population of people addicted to celebrities and sugar,” is because the masses have lost their ability to experience their negative emotions — which give them discernment and power — and mobilize them to constructive action. And I’m not the only who believes that the eastern philosophies are being marketed to westerners to lull them into even deeper sleep.

Laurie, “It makes me sad for you” is a personal attack and won’t be tolerated in any further escalation on your part. Feel free to continue discussing ideas, however.

Laurie Corzett August 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Melissa,

I am sorry you saw my expression of frustration as a personal attack. It was not meant to be an attack of any kind, but an expression of true emotion. I am saddened by people who out of true frustration reach to act without the kind of clear thought that could help to mitigate unintended consequences which make matters worse.

I really have no interest in whether Cory, or anyone, practices meditation, or any practice. I simply want those who are reaching out to make a difference to be more aware of what they do, why, and under what circumstances. So, if you like, strike the “for you”.

Of course marketers want to sell what will give them the advantage. This includes marketers of conflict. We do need to be aware of our own power individually and in community. We do need to take back the power of our own minds, by getting to really know our own minds, how to sharpen and focus them for our own purposes. And, of course, we do need to learn to communicate in ways that add to better common understanding and interaction. So, Melissa and Cory, if my communication was off-putting rather than elucidating, I hope I am learning to do better.

Peace,
Laurie

Melissa Karnaze August 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Laurie,

“I am sorry you saw my expression of frustration as a personal attack.”

That’s not a real apology; it’s a deflection.

You’ve deflected the responsibility for having made a personal attack on this site — whether it was consciously intended or not — by saying that you are sorry not for what you said but for *my having seen your words as an attack.* There’s a difference.

In this and similar contexts of discussion/debate, when you say to someone personally (even on the web), “It makes me sad for you,” it’s a milder form of, “I pity you.”

And the intended meaning is really an insult: “It makes me sad for you (/I pity you) because [there is something bad or wrong about you that I would certainly not want for myself].”

As long as future comments don’t include personal attacks, even if subtle, you’re more than welcome to continue discussing these topics.

Laurie Corzett August 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm

As you point out, I was not apologizing, but using a rhetorical device. What I am sorry for is that I was misunderstood; so taking responsibility, I am sorry I expressed myself poorly.

Cory Chu-Keenan August 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Laurie, it’s all good. We’re discussing a topic that we are on opposite ends of. Arguments tend to get heated, and I accept that as a natural part of defending my position. Here’s what’s going on with me:

1. I find Melissa’s counter argument to meditation liberating and refreshing so I’m like a kid in the candy store on this thread. I don’t like feeling guilty about not participating in the meditation practices that have become status quo in the self-development field. It doesn’t work for me. I am dancing in my opposition to it. I won’t change my mind.

2. I’m not cool with people throwing around 9/11 to make a point about their ideology. It’s just their way to get an emotional reaction. 9/11 is complex, multi-layered, multi-faceted, and in major ways still a mystery. Let’s not resort to such hot-button phrases.

3. The opposite of MM is not any wild action. Never said I was a proponent of the any-wild-action movement. But, hey, great discoveries have been made through bungling and screwing around. So who’s to say?

Laurie, it’s been fun discussing ideas with you! I think a lot of good things have been brought up here.

Laurie Corzett August 17, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Hey Cory,

I am sorry for conflating your opinion with others I have been frustrated with lately. I made assumptions based on my own emotional buttons getting stuck.

In direct response, then:

1) No guilt necessary, or even desirable. It is much better, I believe, to do what works for you. What does work for you?

2) I am not interested in a 9/11 analysis here. I was merely accepting the discussion already in play. I am not even interested in promoting meditation, or any other practice. I was reacting to what I saw as your attack on others’ practices based on perhaps mistaken information about what those practices might entail.

3) The opposite of wild action I suppose would be considered action. The opposite of MM, I have no ready idea of what that might be. Any wild action, though, might be a result, though, of course, any wild action could result from many precedents.

My concern with wild action is not its wildness, nor its activity, but its consequences. Great discoveries can be made in a great many ways. Some wild actions may be useful in their outcomes. However, since this was my hyperbole, perhaps it would be more useful to talk about what you mean by action, rather than what I in wild rhetoric assumed.

Peace,
Laurie

Cory Chu-Keenan August 17, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Laurie, you have no idea how glad I am to read your shift in tone. This is a much more sharing vibe. Cool :)

And thank you for asking what works for me! I don’t think I would have considered it if you didn’t ask.

What works for me is writing. Writing is my meditation and it helps me discover things about myself and my perceived world in ways that I would never be clear on otherwise. I try to write in order to discover, not to persuade. I usually start with a question and then try to think it out on paper. I like to think that my humble blog http://www.sacredsheath.com is a seed that will grow into something larger that may have some real impact in this world. I can only do my part.

My meditation is the blank page.

What works for you, Laurie?

Jane Li August 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Hello Melissa

I enjoyed reading your article. You raised an excellent point about the monks who hide in the mountains to practice meditation for the soul purpose to escape their own sufferings. I believe that’s an act of cowardliness, which is along similar lines to people who want to end their sufferings by taking their own lives.

I have been a meditator and a dedicated disciple of mindfulness for about a year or now. I find it’s a refreshing daily regime that adds more color to my life. Have you ever considered that mindfulness is not about escaping problems. To me, true mindfulness is actually about accepting what ever is happening in the moment and absorb our life and soul with the present. By being mindful, we can make rational decisions, not extorting reality and form true meaningful relationship with another person. By being mindful, we can become more at peaceful with our truly hectic world. This peaceful vibe is also contagious to the people around us. By being mindful in the presence of others, we will add sanity and bring peace to them. Is this what the world needs? Everyone to help each other on a more deeper level. If everyone can be fully present with another person. If everyone can yield their own ego by being in the moment and become one with another person, there would be no negative emotions, no conflict, no sufferings.

I think that we need more of this new consciousness in North America. People are too absorbed in their own problems that we neglect to care stop and smell the air and feel the beating of our hearts and to realize that everyone in this country is ONE. In the end.. we should use mindfulness to accept and help each other.

I don’t know if you have read the book “a new earth” … its a truly insightful book mind opening book in which it introduces the true essence of the art of mindfulness and its evolutionarily beneficial purpose to our society

Jane Li August 19, 2010 at 5:51 pm

PS. please pardon my faulty grammatical errors. I wrote this in a hurry.

Melissa Karnaze August 20, 2010 at 11:31 am

Hi Jane,

Thank you for your comments.

“Have you ever considered that mindfulness is not about escaping problems. To me, true mindfulness is actually about accepting what ever is happening in the moment and absorb our life and soul with the present.”

Definitely, that’s what this site is about. ;)

“By being mindful in the presence of others, we will add sanity and bring peace to them. Is this what the world needs?”

Well, you can’t really “bring peace” to others, but you can model it in yourself and support others in creating their own peace within their own relationships.

“If everyone can be fully present with another person. If everyone can yield their own ego by being in the moment and become one with another person, there would be no negative emotions, no conflict, no sufferings.”

The goal is not to eradicate negative emotions, conflict, or suffering. True mindfulness is acceptance of those things and their role in the human experience.

But yes, if everyone were infinitely more present with themselves (which requires loving the ego) and others, this world would be a much different place.

Duff October 20, 2010 at 12:31 am

I again apologize for opening up the comments of an old, but popular blog post on your site.

“Monks do not contribute to society. All they do is hide in the mountains and meditate all day long.”

Honestly, that sounds pretty racist to me. It’s like a white American saying “those lazy Mexicans are bankrupting our economy by going on welfare.” What a difference in framing had he said, “monks do not participate in war—they are conscientious objectors to any kind of violence whatsoever, preferring to starve in the mountains and beg for money than fight.”

I have no doubt that life in rural China is sometimes very hard and that there are complex sociocultural conflicts underlying the history of China and Tibet. I also have no doubt that many spiritual practitioners both East and West sometimes use mindfulness meditation as an escape from reality rather than a way to embrace reality in all it’s variety, including painful emotions. On the other hand, every meditation instruction I’ve ever received has explicitly included the direction to include all of experience, especially painful emotions.

Perhaps I’ve been lucky to encounter such wise advice, but I think this line of instruction may actually be the norm in the West, at least in terms of explicit mindfulness meditation instruction. MBSR follows this line of thinking, as does S.N. Goenka’s Vipassana courses, Shambhala and every Western Vajrayana Buddhist teacher I’ve heard of, and many more. There may be a few Zen teachers who disagree, arguing in favor of an empty mind and treating the contents of mind with less respect than they deserve, but I’m not sure. Eckhart Tolle is definitely a bad choice if you want an embrace of negative emotions, and most of the selfish help/new wage is very aggressively against all unpleasant and undesired experiences.

Buddha himself warned very explicitly numerous times against clinging to any pleasant experience or being averse to any unpleasant experience in pretty much every sutta in the pali canon.

That said, I do think spiritual bypassing is a common problem amongst meditators, especially newbies, and could use much more discussion amongst those talking about mindfulness in the West.

Cory October 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Duff,

What? Racist?

There’s nothing racist about Melissa’s grandfather’s statement in the least. Did you mean to choose a different word? Are you under the assumption that Melissa’s grandfather is White? And if so, how did you glean this from the article?

Just to clear things up, a Chinese person can’t be racist against another Chinese person. Maybe there’s inherent hypocrisy in this “rule” but that’s the world we live in. Just like how Ice Cube is allowed to say the N-word while Eminem is not. David Cross can make fun of the Holocaust. And Asians can call themselves chinks (yes, I’ve heard it be adopted) and people cannot label it racism.

I’m Chinese, and I know a lot of Chinese people both born here and in China, and the vast majority of them don’t follow a monk’s lifestyle. The only people I see attempting this are White.

You said: “What a difference in framing had he said, ‘monks do not participate in war—they are conscientious objectors to any kind of violence whatsoever, preferring to starve in the mountains and beg for money than fight.’”

Now you’re the one over-generalizing here, but I’m not going to go so far as to say you’re being racist. You are pedestalizing an entire group of people based on nothing but your own biases, and readings, and no empirical evidence to prove what the internal intentions of these people were. And you’re invalidating the opinion of a war veteran who experienced first-hand the behaviors of the monks that he encountered.

Western “mindfulness meditation” (empty meaningless words, apply your own interpretation) was adopted from the East as a synthesis between two vastly different cultures. What is practiced here in the U.S. is an anglicized interpretation of the original teachings that were passed down through a diaspora of Buddhist nations written in their native languages. What we have here now are very misunderstood shreds of whatever the original lessons may have been. But, nevertheless, there’s always going to be someone who wants to write a book claiming they have the most accurate version for a consumer audience.

Spiritual bypassing, you say, is a common problem in meditating newbies. Well, yeah, that’s just it. Meditating deeper is not the answer then, as it will lead to deeper and deeper spiritual bypassing, not the opposite. Why would spiritual bypassing all of a sudden reverse? Because you finally read the single sentence that finally made you get it, and start meditating right?

Now I’ve gone and written too much, but all I really want to say is please be “mindful” of using the word “racist.” It’s very strong.

Kelley Mitchell October 20, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I agree with Cory’s comments. How can people of the same race be racist against each other? Duff is comparing apples to oranges, and it detracts from the point of the post.

Melissa Karnaze October 23, 2010 at 9:42 am

Cory’s comment sums up my response. My grandfather saw things a certain way because of his unique life experience that no civilian can really fathom.

Kirsty November 10, 2010 at 7:42 am

This article has gone against everything that I have been taught from therapists, people who train yoga and even other Buddhists. I am so confused about the whole concept of “meditation” and the more people I ask, the more opinions I get – But so far, after reading this article I more agree with you Melissa Karnaze. You made alot of excellent points or should I say your grand father did about how we westerners meditate to disconnect from reality cause it’s the whole craze and sensation these days.

My question is I didn’t really understand the whole concept of meditation. Could you maybe explain it to me from your opinion.

Aswell as I did not get the comment made by (Haider) ” I once saw a tweet by a popular blogger along the lines of: “I’m finding it hard to not think about anything at all,” as he was attempting to practice meditation.

I asked him what he meant by that, since I didn’t understand why anyone would not want to think at all, as part of a spiritual practice. I didn’t get an answer (I guess he thought thinking of an answer to my question would interfere with his spirituality and holiness).

But that’s what you get when people who don’t know a thing or two (mostly not even a thing) about spirituality try to explore spirituality. It becomes an exercise in escapism rather than a deep connection with reality.”
I always thought you weren’t supposed to think of anything when you meditate about it was a bout clearing your mind from thought, but I am getting this is not the purpose at all!!!

If so, when you meditate what are you supposed to do?? What is the correct way?

I would love any feedback positive or negative, just looking for answers

Thanks for the articles Melissa, they are a great read. I am really enjoying them :)
I hope you keep the same point of view in the future as it helps me and feels as if I can relate.

Kirsty :)

Ross November 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

Here’s what I have learned about meditation. It’s really quite simple.

What we all do in our daily lives is contingent, solely, upon the make-up of our mental faculties. Even when something outside of us, moves us, as in, simply even a strong wind blowing us off our feet; how we respond or react to that outside force depends entirely on the make-up of our minds, of who we are, and of all the experiences that we have had up til then.
Pretty basic stuff so far, eh?

Okay so by now you are wondering if I’m for or against Buddhism and what my argument is (most likely, you’re guessing that I am pro-Buddhism). AND, I suspect so are you, btw [Sneaky! :) ]

Anyway, try sitting silent tonite when you come home from work or school or wherever. Most likely, this will be difficult. You’ll probably want to turn on the television or the music or make a call, or sit, or eat, or lie down. Normal things, and good things.
But if you sit silent instead I bet you may sense some discomfort, or anxiety at least in doing so.
That will tell you what the state of your mind is and that to be pretty sure this discomfort is probably with you throughout the day BUT in the background. But it’s there, just the same.

My point is that meditation is not something that has to be defined as a lifestyle choice.
It’s only a tool that one can use to see one’s mind for what it is and then to be able to use that information (seeing the state or quality of your own mind) to let go of all these states, this baggage we all carry around with us and find the part of the mind that is essentially peaceful.
Why is that a terrible thing?
Such a long debate / argument going on here about not much at all, methinks.

Melissa Karnaze November 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Hi Kirsty,

Yes there are many definitions of meditation, and there are many different kinds. Some focus on “emptying the mind” and some are contemplative or concentrative (for example, repeating a mantra).

You can meditate however you want to, it’s only “right” or “wrong” if you want to do a meditation the way it’s taught or how the rules or tradition states. In that case, you would need some type of judge, master, or teacher to let you know if they thought you were doing it right or wrong.

In this article series (see the link at the bottom of this article), you can read more about my interpretation of the mainstream dysfunctions surrounding the particular type of meditation called mindfulness meditation, as it’s practiced in the U.S. But these dysfunctions can apply to other meditations as well.

“Could you maybe explain it to me from your opinion.”

From what I’ve observed, researched, and experienced, people often meditate to feel better or more at peace. They don’t want to experience any negative sensations or emotions, or only for a brief moment before they “get rid” of them. So they try to use meditation as a way to avoid those sensations and emotions.

They come up with elaborate explanations, often spiritual, about why those sensations and emotions are “bad,” “useless,” “just illusions,” “not real anyway,” etc. No matter what the specific language — it’s a label of negative judgment about the undesired emotions — which makes the whole concept of mindfulness and acceptance a contradiction.

This doesn’t mean that all meditation will lead to or promotes a dissociation from negative experiences — that’s just how people most often use it. As a defense mechanism against suffering. Here you will find a healthier perspective on suffering and negative emotions, emphasizing their incorporation rather than rejection — where you’re not at war with yourself.

todd February 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Useless opinion, not a first hand account. You wasted my time while I could of been meditating, thank you.

18 wheeler July 11, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Meditation is about NOT running from your emotions but experiencing them directly and letting them have their say. Meditation is about quieting the endless chatter. It’s the endless, compulsive repetitive thinking that distances you from other people and your emotions.

In other words… whatchoo talkin bout, Willis? It’s a good idea to understand something before you condemn it.

John July 19, 2011 at 7:35 am

I think 18 Wheeler said it the best. I can’t speak for the monks, but I from what little I know and practice, it has helped me to relax and see that most of my thoughts and emotions are lying to me. It’s nice to know that staying in the present moment can help.

Hashshashin July 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm

It doesn’t matter what in what country you were born, wether it is rich or poor, the result is the same.Society is like a casino:it is not made so that you can win,it just makes you think it’s made for that purpose while the real winner is the owner of the casino, and you probably lose more than you gain.
Society was made so that people can live togheter and provide a services to each other.That’s the base, but tell me…is it really like that?I mean, I’ve seen a lot of people just working their asses off just to make a living, while others were born rich, or some other guys win the lottery and they don’t have to lift a finger for the rest of their lives.How is such a man contributing to society?
Another thing: the society is made in such a way, that anything you need or want is attainable through money, and money is made by serving society.But I believe you can spend time doing something else, more producting, something for yourself without serving society.From my point of view, it drags you down.If you see the purpose of life having a job, then a girl, a family, home, car, then be grandpa, the die.It’s ok…go on.
I want to live doing something for myself, not going by the rules of society, I want to discover myself and grow.
So, what’s wrong in living in a monastery if you want to?
Not contributing to society?Why would I if I don’t get anything from it in the first place?
The monks ask for donations?Those who have a monastery most probably have a field and ways to prepare food.If you talk about the traveling ascets or monks…. they may ask for donations, but you’re not compelled to give them something.
So…they don’t get anything from society, they don’t do harm, and they don’t consume from you.They live for other purposes and are INDEPENDENT.
I repeat, your goals differ from someone else’s.
Please ask yourself, when you will acomplish everything you ever wanted, will you be…I won’t use the word “happy”…satisfied?Will you be able from that moment to close your eyes and die at anytime death might face you without having a regret or last wish?Something that if you wouldn’t have followed other people’s advice you would have done it your way?Maybe wonder if you wouldn’t have played by society rules you might have lived a much more meaningful life?
This comment is not meant to offend anyone with another opinion, they’re my thoughts, they might not be perfect, and I myself could correct some things as I’d grow older, but in principle I stand my ground and defend my point of view.

Leigh August 7, 2011 at 2:14 am

I’ve been practising meditation for about 12 years now, indepth analytical mediation. And it is not a way of avoiding life it is experiencing life directly. This subject has a massive explanation and needs a massive understanding.
Life in itself without meditation is avoiding. Cause your just following the crowd. Solitude helps the practitioner break the connections to life that cause the problems in the first place (attachments).The pain that you experience through solitude in meditation is terrible but also rewarding. It actually helps humanity.
When you see someone practicing compassion it makes you feel warm and happy, much different than what a normal human being can offer that isn’t trying to understand him or herself.

Although i live in a busy town environment and i don’t believe in abandoning people while they are suffering and i try to contribute the best i can. I try to seek solitude at home when i can.

What people suffer and go through is all related to karma if you believe in such a thing and some people with suffer more or less based on that. The monks shouldn’t be blamed for that. They’ve given up there attachments to wanting to be happy.

Everyone’s entitled to be happy no matter which way they choose.

Karma Gyatso August 24, 2011 at 4:35 am

Melissa,
Interesting blog – your comments and views have certainly raised some issues for me:

“Buddhism emerged in suppressed societies in the East, including China and India. Take a look at those places today, and it’s still very dark.”

Are you saying those places (the East, China and India) are still very dark as a result of meditation and/or Buddhism? Perhaps you should consider the role of successive Chinese governments in the suppression of that area and how the Chinese governments cared for your grandpa. It is interesting that your grandpa must have encountered much bloodshed, suffering and killing as a soldier and yet he chose to direct his dissatisfaction towards monks, Buddhism and meditation – the very things that the Chinese government has desperately and brutally tried to eradicate over the years and still is trying in Tibet even today. I am sure your grandpa was doing everything he could to survive in what I would consider life in its ultimate reality – of surviving each day at a time (something I am very fortunate not to have to experience). As an uneducated Chinese soldier do you not think that your grandpa would have to have had these views indoctrinated into him by the Chinese government – at that time, any soldier from any country would have been forced to have those views in order to maintain the numbers and discipline in the army.

“My grandpa’s mother died from starvation when her sons left her to fight in the war. In my grandpa’s eyes, being a monk was a way to evade society, and all of her problems.”

Albeit very sad that your grandpa’s mother had to die from starvation when her sons left to fight in the war, you cannot in anyway lay the blame of her death on monks, Buddhism or meditation – it is irrational and illogical to do so. Her sons did not leave to fight a war in the name of Buddhism, they left to fight a war in the name of China. I know someone whose parents were bricked up inside a cave by Chinese soldiers and left to starve – he, nor I, would consider blaming your grandpa for this atrocity no more than monks or Buddhism can be blamed for the atrocities that happened to your grandpa and your mother.
In a free society we all have a right to become whatever we want to be as long as it does not harm anyone else. Surely you are not sitting in the USA (the land of the free) and suggesting that a person cannot be part of society if they choose to become a monk or that a monastery is not part of a society? Do you consider a Christian pastor or a Catholic priest to be outside society?

“Mindfulness, when taken to this extreme, is dangerous. Not just to an individual’s mental-emotional health and well-being — but to that of the planet. Because it condones that large groups of people to disconnect from their emotions and look the other way when society’s knee-deep in problems.”

This is simply not true – where is your evidence, where is the research that mindfulness is dangerous? What is dangerous is people claiming to understand mindfulness when they don’t understand it at all or when people bring historic political views into their evaluation of something which is completely apolitical. Your views are based on your grandpa’s comments – with all due respect to you and your grandpa, I would neither seek you nor him to teach meditation to me nor how to be mindful.
The very essence of mindfulness is to connect with our emotions – if you are disconnecting from your emotions you are doing it wrong and you need to seek guidance from a proper authentic mindfulness teacher – i.e. not a psychologist, neuroscientist nor a therapist who has merely been on an 8 week course and picked up a certificate.
Society is knee deep in problems – but only because of people’s ego centric grasping. Ego centric grasping is a response to feeling inadequate, vulnerable, insecure and fearful. If we were all a little bit more compassionate to each other society would have a lot less problems.

“Monks do not contribute to society. All they do is hide in the mountains and meditate all day long.”
“If everyone became a monk, then we would have no food to eat, no way to live. Society would fall apart.”

What your grandpa was saying was monks do not contribute to his view of society and have nothing to offer him. Clearly, with his views, it is unlikely that he would have anything to offer the monks either – which is fine – that’s just how things are. However, to say that all monks hide in mountains and meditate all day is a complete generalization and not fact.
But the fact here is that not everyone does want to become a monk do they? Just like not everyone in society wants to become a firefighter, a banker, a charity worker, and so on. Surely in a free society we are able to become whatever we want to be as long as it does not harm anybody else. How you see society is a reflection on your own mind – you seem to have a specific problem with monks who are a group of people who take less from society than any other group I know. Do you not think, for example, bankers and politicians have been a much bigger drain on society than monks have? We would all be a bit wealthier if the bankers had acted with a bit of the self discipline that monks show. Do you consider bankers to be part of our society – I do, they are part of society even though they have caused immeasurable suffering in the world recently. Moreover, although beyond the scope of this blog, do you think you could live as a nun? It is not sitting on a cushion all day and day dreaming – it is an intense and very difficult vocation in life. Would you be brave enough to give everything away – all your possessions? Would you be willing to dedicate your life to looking into the deepest parts of your mind with the motivation of benefitting others? Would you be able to trust on the dependence of strangers for your small daily meals – do you have this in your mind? Have you even contemplated the reasons why monks and nuns have begging bowls – they are more than capable of growing their own food – more capable than you or I?
From your blog it is clear that you do not in any way appreciate, or have even thought about, the reasons why people become monks and nuns – you seem to have jumped into the conclusion that they are simply scroungers. Perhaps you should consider whether it is you that lives in your western luxury whilst claiming a link to poverty through your grandpa.
Your motivation behind this blog comes from the views of your grandpa who said that “if everyone became a monk……society would fall apart” and yet you also claim that we shouldn’t practice mindfulness when society is knee-deep in problems [as it is today]. Your view is contradictory. Society is currently falling apart, but this is not because everyone is a monk and it is not because everyone is practicing mindfulness – it is because more and more people are subconsciously living in fear – in fear of who – in fear of themselves and their emotions derived from their perceived insecurities and inadequacies – that is to say – in fear of their own egos and their identity with who they perceive themselves to be.

“But as much as mindfulness meditation is often used to avoid the above, you can’t deny your dark side. …You can’t meditate it away.”

In this statement you are again showing a lack of understanding of meditation and mindfulness. Meditation is not in any way about avoiding or denying anything (including your dark side) – meditating does not involve meditating anything away. Meditating is simply accepting everything as a whole – bringing everything into a “one” into a “whole”. We cannot do this by avoiding or denying anything – meditation is an inclusive practice. We cannot experience happiness without experiencing unhappiness – however, true long lasting happiness is being content in equanimity with both happiness and unhappiness – there is not denial or avoidance whatsoever.

Melissa Karnaze August 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Karma,

I’ll do my best to answer the questions of yours which I see as being genuine (i.e., not arguing tactics).

“Are you saying those places (the East, China and India) are still very dark as a result of meditation and/or Buddhism?”

No, I’m not making a direct causal argument.

“As an uneducated Chinese soldier do you not think that your grandpa would have to have had these views indoctrinated into him by the Chinese government – at that time, any soldier from any country would have been forced to have those views in order to maintain the numbers and discipline in the army.”

I can understand your assumption, but from my understanding the war was about warding off the invading Japanese. So no, I don’t think he was indoctrinated with views about Buddhism by way of being able to fight invading Japanese.

“Albeit very sad that your grandpa’s mother had to die from starvation when her sons left to fight in the war, you cannot in anyway lay the blame of her death on monks, Buddhism or meditation – it is irrational and illogical to do so.”

Be very careful with your reading; I did not place this blame.

“Surely you are not sitting in the USA (the land of the free) and suggesting that a person cannot be part of society if they choose to become a monk or that a monastery is not part of a society?”

While the U.S. is only “free” in comparison to most other countries (as our “freedoms” are continually stripped away here), no, I am not suggesting that monks living in a monastery are not part of the greater society of the country they reside in. But at the same time, they deliberately seclude themselves from the rest of society — the people of which don’t deliberately seclude themselves as such, but remain a part of, at least to some degree.

“… where is the research that mindfulness is dangerous? What is dangerous is people claiming to understand mindfulness when they don’t understand it at all or when people bring historic political views into their evaluation of something which is completely apolitical.”

I haven’t found research that’s critical of the mindfulness construct, which in my opinion is a reflection of researcher bias (and yes, I’m aware of my own biases as well), but there is research to suggest that as “it” largely stands, the mindfulness construct is not yet well defined in a scientific sense. Of course some of that comes with the “complex” nature of the idea to begin with.

[This isn’t “empirical” research, but an article discussing how mindfulness is not well-suited for judges while they serve: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1785616

However, mindfulness as it’s usually defined in scientific literature is very similar to dissociation (which I don’t think, either, is researched enough). I’ve explained my rationale for concluding this in this article: http://mindfulconstruct.com/2010/01/11/the-contradiction-of-mindfulness/

“Society is knee deep in problems – but only because of people’s ego centric grasping. Ego centric grasping is a response to feeling inadequate, vulnerable, insecure and fearful. If we were all a little bit more compassionate to each other society would have a lot less problems.”

I agree with you, though I don’t blame it on the ego — which is just a construct we use to sub for all the ill effects of, as I see it, dissociating from one’s negative emotional experiences.

Do you not think, for example, bankers and politicians have been a much bigger drain on society than monks have?”

I never said monks are a “drain” on our society. And yes, I think that many bankers and politicians are a huge drain on society.

“From your blog it is clear that you do not in any way appreciate, or have even thought about, the reasons why people become monks and nuns – you seem to have jumped into the conclusion that they are simply scroungers. Perhaps you should consider whether it is you that lives in your western luxury whilst claiming a link to poverty through your grandpa.”

“Scroungers” is your projection. “Western luxury” and “claiming a link to poverty” are your judgmental perceptions shared here in an attempt to insult me sideways.

“Meditation is not in any way about avoiding or denying anything (including your dark side) – meditating does not involve meditating anything away.”

I won’t repeat myself, as I’ve written another article on the topic, which I linked to earlier, and which includes points that you will probably just disagree with.

“Meditating is simply accepting everything as a whole – bringing everything into a ‘one’ into a ‘whole’.”

Not if we’re talking about mindfulness meditation. From that framework, nothing has an “essence,” of which “wholeness” is most often used to characterize.

“We cannot experience happiness without experiencing unhappiness”

YES!

” – however, true long lasting happiness is being content in equanimity with both happiness and unhappiness – there is not denial or avoidance whatsoever.”

Ah, and we disagree again. “True long lasting happiness” is not a constant (which I think you do agree with though) because (as you just agreed with) happiness cannot “exist” without a contrast/it’s opposite.

A meditation teacher can claim this however, and you are more than welcome to agree, but I’m not convinced. And the more I read into the psychological/cog sci/neurosci literature even remotely related to this topic, the less I’m convinced.

Vaughn August 25, 2011 at 8:08 am

WOW…A lot of angst out there. We do love our debates don’t we?

To meditate or not, mindfulness or mindlessness, racist or not, yin/yang, negative/positive, darkness and light. Ah, to discover the truth, the great experiment here on earth called life.

Everyone certainly does have a story, their truth and you can use intuition, the scientific method, or some combination to live your life. The Bible, Koran, Talmud and countless others have laid down stories, traditions, facts and fiction and yet it’s still up to each of us to decide what is “truth”.

The path can be lonely and narrow. It took Melissa quite some courage to expose herself and it definitely struck some chords. And perhaps in so doing she’s created an opportunity for everyone to question, re-examine past assumptions that we all may become a bit more aware of who we are through our similarities and our differences.

May we all find what we’re all looking for…someday!

Leigh August 25, 2011 at 4:51 pm

This topic is a discussion that could go on forever.
As its a topic that has been going on forever.
Constant battle between right and wrong.

You shouldnt speak of the ego as being something petty.
The ego is the problem of all society. That’s why we see thing’s wrongly.
The ego is so so strong that in a tiny moment we can identify with something and not even realize what we have done. This is something that’s happening constantly between everyone.
That’s why there’s the need of solitude.
Try it yourself for a time , put all the things you like doing away. Or lock yourself in your room for a few hours and just sit there and see what happen’s. That retaliation is the ego, that’s happening constantly everyday, at every moment.

That’s where the saying ignorance is bliss comes from,cause your not facing your problems.
There’s a bigger reason we are on this planet and the whole reason of the universe.
Where not here to join in on wars and kill the other side to live. That’s something that will go on forever no ones going to win. The ego always has to win. eg. My pride is better than yours, Im stronger than you, Oh i’m better looking than that person,etc..,

Look at a small child under the age of 5 do you every see them trying to be better than other people thinking there hard done to ,etc… There just happy for everyone. Just being there in the moment playing with there toy’s and learning.

All we think about is attacking people secretly, picking faults, wishing we had more money, better job, better car, better house, the people i work with treat me terrible, everyone hates or loves me etc.. its pretty sad really.

Let’s say in meditation we are presented with an image ,each image as 2 poles one negative one positive, understanding both sides we arrive at a synthesis comprehension of the problem. So you cant have one without the other in anything

But the whole problem of life is the ego ,it shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly.

Someone who is practicing meditation in society is going to suffer a whole lot more. Because there going to receive representations at a stronger rate. Some people don’t have that strength and wish to go to the mountains which i don’t blame them. But it will take them much longer to find all that putrefaction in the deep recesses of the mind.

The number one law in the universe is happiness and that law is broken down to love and wisdom.
The Mother and Father of every religion.
That’s why its also natural that we look to our physical mother for love
and our physical father for wisdom.

The ego destroys this totally, completely smashes it. Something so natural.

Janey Mae August 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

With all due respect………

Pop-psycho babble’s use of mindfulness is not the same as true spiritual awareness and it has sometimes been a problem with the pop use of “mindfulness.” Having a grandfather born in China where there are Buddhists doesn’t make one an expert as it does not make me an expert in the country my ancestors came from, I’ haven’t even lived there!. That is great that you got some relief from ACT, I know it is helpful . One’s personal trauma can sometimes greatly cloud one’s world view, however.

Humans are humans everywhere, the ego is always the ego, even on this board; most humans exist at the bottom level of the awareness pyramid with raging egos, regardless of the culture or religious moniker they chose to use or which is betowed on them; that’s why we are here!
Therefore there are a lot of problems. Only true spiritual people (again regardless of monniker) can make good determinations about how to act. Some are called to act in society and many do, others feel called to go off and meditate, some do a mixture of the two.A lot of times helping is really for the helper. No one is qualified to judge individuals with this, but we each can have individual opinions. At the same time each person must take 100% responsibility for her/his actions.

One needs to be very careful about seeming to ascribe causality or some type of reciprocal association.

I have never been taught in my spiritual practices by various teachers to “get rid” of emotions, only to observe them, this is not the same thing. A clear mind will always make better choices.
(from licensed therapist and over 30 yrs. spiritual student who does not like to identify with any one religious group as that can be limiting and stereotyping)

Cody Sullivan September 22, 2011 at 7:19 am

Have you considered that everyone has the spiritual right to live exactly how they want on this plane of existence? We are all here by our own will and we will do what we will in order to experience what we must to carry on our spirits journey. The physical world we experience every day is but one of many stops on our journey to the source, the almighty, the devine. Those monks you speak of that contribute “nothing” to the broken scociety we live in today are on their own path forward. Choosing not to rely on their emotions to function is not a wrong way to live just a different way. We all have our paths to follow and I would alway suggest looking inward to find the way. Love is what connects us all.

jane December 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

As stated by others, Melissa misunderstands mindfulness meditation. It is not about pushing away emotions or supressing them but feeling them, witnessing them, and integrating them. So unfortunately the pyramid of her argument is based on a wholly eranous foundation! I believe Melissa is the one who is over-intellectualising a subject she does not understand and insists in re-stating concepts with no depth of understanding. As regards monks, well lots of people resent a religious community or hierarchy in any religious, political or historical culture – probably her grandfather was one of them. But I think she is unable to analyse that correctly and is confusing it with a different subject of people’s relationship with themselves, their spirituality and meditation. Other places it is an interesting website, so it is a shame there is such lack of knowledge and insight on this subject, but I have enjoyed the contributions from others.

Melody April 28, 2012 at 11:55 am

I am new here and am glad – relieved, actually – to have found a place where the topics of meditation, mindfulness and such can be discussed. I think part of the problem is simply that the words “meditation” and “mindfulness” each have two, polar-opposite definitions in and of themselves. Some people hear the word “meditation” or “mindful” and immediately think of it as a “grounding” consciousness; others associate it with more of a “floating” consciousness; and others of an “un-consciousness.” Many people close to me are Christian Scientists (not to be confused with Scientologists) Their practice, called prayer, is the same as when “meditation” or “mindfulness” is equated with relinquishing any sense of individuality and claiming – “knowing”- that all beings are good, and that any experience to the contrary is an illusion. KInd of a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” thing. HOWEVER, these people are some of the most giving, generous, compassionate, loving people I have ever met. They have supported me physically, financially, lovingly…and have always been honest about their beliefs and respectful of mine. If you met them, did not know they were Christian Scientists, did not use any terminology relating to prayer, meditation, etc., you would experience them as simply being honest, caring people who do everything they can to help relieve some of your suffering and bring a little more joy into your life, and who are willing to go the extra mile with you, if that’s what you need. Its interesting to see what happens when you take away the words and just focus on the relationships instead. Its like “actions speak louder than words,” only deeper.

Melody April 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I just finished the comment re: Christian Science. It was so long that I figured I had better submit it and start a new one re: my experience with someone of yet another faith/religion/movement/culture/cult…they are referred to as all these things. I am referring to the group of people who define themselves as “Brahma Kumaris” (BKs). I was an intern at a counseling center, and my supervisor was one of the most intelligent, effective therapists I had ever seen, through her gentle, kind, nurturing nature. I don’t know if there are such things as differing energy fields, but if there are, I would describe being with her as being encompassed by some kind of light. I got to know her, and learned about the BK ideology. It isn’t necessary to detail all their practices and beliefs here – you can research them further, if you like. They “meditate” and “practice mindfulness” and “pray” constantly – all of which refer to trying to achieve a state of emptiness. Any sort of ego, thought, or experience of ones physical being is viewed as being unclean, and there is a huge emphasis on achieving “purity.” The only path to purity is to deny the existence of oneself. They are to rid themselves of any attachments to others – relationships are obstacles to purity. As I read about it, I read that the group is identified by some as a cult, and that people gave up everything for it. I watched as my friend’s experience mirrored what I had read: she divorced her husband; had a sudden decrease in her economic status; and broke contact from her family – including two little grandchildren whom she cherished and spent so much time with the year before. Then one day I got an email saying that she wasn’t going to be in touch with anyone because she needed to focus on her spiritual work. That was three or four years ago. Ironically, she still works as a therapist (according to what I have read, she will eventually give up her career, too). I look on the BK website every now and then, and she is still there; each time I look she is responsible for more and more things. I understand how it happened, though. The environment is very calm and peaceful. Everyone is kind and welcoming. You are immediately accepted. If you have an emotional void to fill, and you are intelligent enough to twist things in your mind so that inconsistencies make sense, its a done deal. I had to constantly remind myself that the reason I was going was to educate myself with the hope that I could help my friend break out from this small circle of people…it was a very inviting atmosphere UNTIL I started asking questions. I asked if they did any volunteer work in the community. They said yes…they gave free workshops and retreats to educate people about BK. I asked if they did anything for the community that didn’t have anything to do with educating people about their beliefs. They didn’t even know what I was talking about: I had to give examples like donating clothing to shelters or helping in soup kitchens or holding fundraisers for other causes. The answer, of course, was no…except they never said it. They just continued with what in counseling is called the “broken record” technique, saying over and over that they offerred these classes and retreats free of charge. Shortly after that I was told that the morning meditation time was only for members and that I was no longer welcome. Actually, it was my friend who told me. She said that Sister____told her to tell me that. This Sister was basically in charge of everyone’s activities in as many areas of the members’ lives as possible because she was thought to be further through the karma cycle and therefore more knowledgeable. She was actively separating my friend from me because I was a threat. Same with her friends. Same with her family. You are either in, or you are out. There is no room for having differences; no respect for other ways of thought. That is the basis of a cult. There was one other warning bell that rang louder than all the others: one is not allowed to view the content of the book they study from every day until AFTER one joins. I’m not quite sure why I’m writing these posts. I apologize if I am writing to much….I’m new and don’t know what is appropriate, so please tell me and I will respect any guidelines you have. I think I wrote all this because I have never had anywhere to share what I experienced and how I watched my friend become more and more involved with this group and less and less involved in the outside world. I miss her. I grieve her. I mourn the friendship we had, and the deeper friendship we could have had. It used to infuriate me. Sometimes it still does, but lately I’m more sad than angry. I do have a background in counseling, so I understand mind-control and brainwashing. I know that by the time I met her she was already in too far for me to help her get out unless that’s what SHE wanted. Sometimes I wish I had never researched it, because the numerous beliefs and practices I learned about on my own – in which she is engaging – are scary, painful, and dangerous in mind, body, and spirit. Knowing these things makes it harder and harder for me to “let go” because I understand what is really happening. Its not like we had a fight, or she moved, or we just drifted apart. She IS a VICTIM and is BEING ABUSED NOW, and I feel like a victim too, although I don’t have the words to explain why.

Morgan May 4, 2012 at 6:40 am

It seems like you are making two points. One is that mindfulness, or Buddhism in general, leads one to disengage from the world. The other is that mindfulness leads one to disengage from their own emotions. To both, I think it first needs to be pointed out that in any practice, there will be people who figure out how to make it serve their own ends. If someone wishes to escape from the world, I think they will probably find a way to justify that, regardless of what system they happen to use to do so.

As to Buddhism, on one hand, there are many socially engaged Buddhists. The monks who set themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam war are an extreme example. Buddhism is about moving beyond suffering (sometimes through mindfulness), and it seems that this can either be used to cultivate compassion and awareness of the suffering in the world, or as an excuse to reject and ignore those who suffer. I think how it turns out probably depends on the individual person though. You have a good point that it does not work for everyone in the world to simply stop living in an effort to avoid suffering. Instead, I think we need to incorporate the insights of mindfulness into our ordinary lives.

I would agree that many people in the west probably use mindfulness and other practices as a way to avoid problems in the world. Indeed, they are probably using those practices to avoid problems in themselves. I doubt that mindfulness is necessarily the opposite of emotional awareness though. There are ways to do mindfulness as a way to increase personal (emotional) awareness. Mindfulness also has the function of a shut off valve for emotions, and thoughts, but sometimes this is necessary. I agree that there are probably plenty of meditation masters with serious, unaddressed emotional issues that they would be much happier if they dealt with. At the same time though, I know that it is possible to think circles around emotional issues without ever helping the problem, and it is possible to get so caught up in emotions that they become habits rather than something that can be effectively used on a real problem. Emotions are there for a reason, and I agree that they are not problems in and of themselves. However, emotions are also complicated, and sometimes it is necessary to find a way to deal with them other than thinking at them or acting on them.

Charlie May 8, 2012 at 8:15 am

I am curious as to your view on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (I’ll just say MBCT) for sufferers of anxiety disorders, or really any mental disorder where threats and bad feelings are not based in reality. You make the remark, “It’s escapist. Illusory. Apparently trending in mainstream psychology in the U.S.,” Implying that mindfulness training is absolutely not something that should be used for coping with certain mental illnesses. Mindfulness seems to be extremely helpful for people affected by excessive worrying, though, since it brings them back to and allows them to experience reality, instead of suffering fear from false threats. MBCT is not escapist in regards to real world problems, or emotions provoked by real world experiences. I completely agree with you that if it were being used to negate all negative emotions, this would be a very bad thing. Again, just wondered your opinion.

Melissa Karnaze May 12, 2012 at 8:40 am

Charlie, here are some previous comments you might be interested in.

L June 4, 2012 at 6:22 am

hi Melissa, i found your blog a couple days ago and have been reading through as many of your posts as i have time for. living in the San Francisco Bay Area, i have been struggling lately with forming an opinion on the meditation/mindfulness/yoga trends that are so huge here. it seems like everyone is doing a practice, and while i recognized that people seem to have good intentions, i have also felt uneasy about the level of popularity and apparent simplicity of doing a practice. something about this trend seemed too good to be true, or too saccharine perhaps. everyone seems to have The Answer to Happiness.
your skeptical analyses are really helpful to me and i think facilitate great critical thinking about these subjects. you are able to spell out the intuitive concerns i feel about using tools like meditation for dissociation and evasion. i acknowledge that these tools have value if you use them, as you say, for direction toward mindfulness.
anyway, thank you for making me feel less crazy for feeling doubt rather than diving head-first. i feel much more able to think critically about this subject and use its tools in an advantageous manner.

Moon June 14, 2012 at 4:47 am

I have not read all the comments and I know I am repeating some points made by others.
There is currently a discussion of “Mindfulness” going on among American Zen teachers. One faction believes it serves as a way to introduce meditative techniques to a wider audience for the good intention of it being beneficial. The other side realizes it is only one part of the Eightfold Path stated by the Buddha.
A long term practitioner encounters his/her conditioning and practices to remove that conditioning (habit) from influencing their life. There is no escape from the emotional content of one’s experiences but a fuller experience of life, pain included. The distinction is in the end of suffering, defined as what one does to him/her self, e.g. personal comparisons, anger, feeling of inadequacy, etc. Before that happens, one experiences a lot of mental chatter that has to be quieted down (let go of) before the real work can begin. And that is not to say, quieting the mind in itself is not highly beneficial.
I am not going to comment on the cultural experiences of your grandfather. They were accurate for him in his time and place. That may not be what is happening now. I am opposed to the marketing of “Mindfulness” but that is the culture we live in.

SeanG July 3, 2012 at 4:28 am

I just found your site, and I love it. It’s like you’re voicing all my personal experiences I hadn’t put into words. Thank you!

Steve July 30, 2012 at 8:29 am

I’m disappointed that there are so many people who are, out of their ignorance, misusing and misapplying Mindfulness. I’m also disappointed and saddened that so many people have been injured by this ignorant approach. But I am mostly disappointed that Melissa Karnaze reinforces and spreads this misinformation about Mindfulness meditation. Here is a sample of Ms. Karnaze’s misrepresentation of mindfulness (from her article “17 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Can Cause You Emotional Harm”):

“(W)hen it comes to stress, physical pain, emotional pain, discomfort, or any other undesirable sensations. (sic)
“You’re supposed to get rid of them (or ‘defuse’ them) by:

“1. ‘Observing’ them
“2. Avoiding actually experiencing them so you can continue to ‘observe’ them (also known as resistance)
“3. Telling yourself that they aren’t real
“4. Telling yourself that they aren’t necessarily accurate
“5. Telling yourself that they aren’t you
“6. Detaching from them as a result of telling yourself that they aren’t to be experienced, but rather ‘observed’”

I’m not sure where this comes from. Has she made this up? Does this come from those who have been emotionally damaged by an ignorant approach to and application of Mindfulness? In that sense, are these hearsay? So far, I’m unclear on from where all this comes.

Yet, rather than educating herself to enter into a correct understanding of Mindfulness and how it functions as one *indispensable* component in a family of meditative practices, she continues to reify a bastardized and harmful perception of what mindfulness practice really is. Yet it is doubtful that she will educate herself. If Ms. Karnaze would like to explore this, I would be happy to provide legitimate — and secular — sources, if desired, toward this end.

But the question remains: Why would it be doubtful that she would educate herself on what Mindfulness practice really is? Why might she do this?

One answer MAY be because she benefits from her practice of ignorance and misrepresentation. She benefits in that she can take into her own care and counsel those who have been damaged by a broken, unskillful approach to this practice. Although those who have been hurt by this approach may initially find solace in Ms. Karnaze’s reification of their perception, it is arresting in that it serves to calcify a stance (based on misperception) against Mindfulness. Those who come into Ms. Karnaze’s counsel will not grow beyond a permanent hurt toward a misused and misunderstood shadow of mindfulness practice. Insofar as people align themselves with Ms. Karnaze’s version of mindfulness, they will forever be against a false-construct, spread false teachings about what Mindfulness really is, and warn others away from what amounts to the Shadow of their own misunderstanding.

Although others who teach their own version of mindfulness might misrepresent and misapply this method, it does not serve to insist that this IS actual Mindfulness practice. In point of fact, it is a disservice not only to Mindfulness and its purposes, but it is also a disservice to truth.

So yes, there are, arguably, many dark sides to mindfulness, and certainly one of those dark sides comes out of the darkness that Ms. Karnaze imports into a misrepresented form of mindfulness, which Shadow-form benefits her sense of mission and possibly her sense of self; this is a darkness from her own Shadow that seeks to systematically misrepresent, and by that lie, draw others to follow her.

ahhhhn July 30, 2012 at 10:45 am

Sounds like your grandfather choose scapegoat some monks he might have known for all the oppression rather than the political system and class structure. I’m not sure what mindfulness has anything to do with this discussion. You may want to discuss your grandfather’s prejudices or the reason he developed them. That would make a more interesting essay.

Melody August 4, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Sounds to me like Melissa is spreading the precise opposite of mindfulness, which is dissociation.

Steve August 7, 2012 at 7:26 am

Melody,

I have read Melissa’s other essays and would not go so far to charge her with spreading dissociation; in point of fact, I think that she is combating dissociation.

Yet in order to do that, she must take advantage of those who have had negative experiences in Mindfulness practice, — due to inexpert instruction in the method and *misapplication* for when and where this technique is appropriate. I feel that Ms. Karnaze’s method here is either disingenuous or merely ignorant.

In short, her method is not merely bad or destructive; it is a mixed-bag which relies on misinformation in order to thrive and doesn’t correct (or present a correct picture of) Mindfulness so that those who are hurt by those incorrect methods might continue to (wrongly) blame Mindfulness itself rather than its inexpert teachers.

Nicker August 16, 2012 at 10:27 am

It seems to me that your problem isn’t with Buddhism per se, but the interpretations of certain teachers. Have you ever looked into the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh? His interpretations of key Buddhist teachings seem to be very similar to your ideas on mindfulness and how it should be applied. The meditative techniques he advocates seem to function as a way of calming yourself so you can experience your emotions and perceptions clearly. They function also as a reminder to remain composed so you can gain insight into the underlying causes of our suffering.

As to the concept of No-self, it seems he takes a less “ego-killing” stand point by describing “No-self” as referring to the impossibility of a self existing in separation from the environment that sustains and makes life possible. For example; Joe and Paul are having a conversation, Paul disagrees with Joe on a key point and makes a cutting remark at Joe’s expense, Paul seeks gratification by demeaning Joe, at this point it seems that Paul believes that he is his own “self” existing in complete independence of Joe, and that he can gain gratification at Joe’s expense. This kind of thinking leads to problems for everyone because we are all connected, we all share our environment and we are all dependent to some degree, on one another. If Paul continues to act this way he will cause suffering for himself and others, he will gain a reputation for being a disagreeable, violent fellow and this will inhibit him from carrying on healthy, happy relationships. Paul is operating under an illusion, the illusion of a separate, intrinsically existing “I”.

The ego is our sense of self, yes? We are self aware, it is one of the key traits of a Human being, and is indicative of our highly evolved intelligence. It seems to me that we should not be looking to extinguish the ego, we should be trying to gain insight into our true being.

Many people, without knowing it, seem to have this static concept of themselves and who they are, they say “I am an easy going person”, “I am an impatient person”, “I am undisciplined, this is the way I am”, these are not rare statements, I would say we all do this on some level. If we look deeply, we can see that we do indeed have a personality, but it doesn’t appear to be a static thing, but rather a collection of habits and traits that are in a state of flow and flux, everything changes, perhaps we put up this static concept of self as a defense mechanism, a way of dissociating from negative emotions and bad habits by labeling them, consciously or not, as inherent traits. If I am “just undisciplined” I don’t have to worry about employing right action, right view, and right mindfulness in order to become more disciplined, my lot is already decided.

But; back to Thich Nhat Hanh.
I’ve read in one of his books that Buddhism teaches that there are “Two Truths” the truth of conventional truth and ultimate truth. We are individuals, we each have differing cultures, we seek happiness, we have concepts that we use to describe phenomena, we are separate individuals, each walking the path, I suppose this is conventional truth. We are also ultimately connected; one persons suffering is the suffering of many, we are all connected and are empty of intrinsic existence, we are one, ultimate truth. Both are truths, both are real, we are one and we are separate. Conventionally, there is suffering and there is pleasure, there is hot and there is cold, there is wrong and right, but ultimately pleasure cannot exist without pain, we cannot know hot without cold, and if there is no wrong, what is right? They are both part of the experience, they are separate, but they are one. I suppose this is dualism/monism. Yin is in yang and yang is in yin, yin is yin, yang is yang, yin is part of yang, yang is part of yin, both complement and complete each other, they are separate and they are one.

Mindfulness, as mentioned elsewhere in this site, is remembering, being mindful of the truth and acting accordingly. Buddhism teaches the eight noble truths, right view, right thinking ,right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, right concentration; to practice one is to practice them all, being mindful you will remember to practice skillfully, yes? Right view will allow you to practice right view through right thought and action, and you must be diligent to do this. So I guess being mindful is important, this you don’t deny. So I don’t think it is Buddhism that is the problem but more the wrong interpretation of the teachings, too much negation and talk of suffering being everything perhaps? I’m still learning about this stuff so who can be sure? I’d like to hear your response.

Moon Meyers August 17, 2012 at 10:30 am

“Mindfulness and equanimity are not enough” Ryushin Sensei

Jacob October 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Mindfulness wasn’t never a meditation technique Buddha recommended. He always spoke in terms of samadhi (ecstasy/absorption). http://rightabsorption.wordpress.com/
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/concentration.htm

This leads to jhana which leads to a permanent state of bliss. Patanjali spoke of eight stages of samadhi (reflecting the eight stages of jhana) and articulated the roots of bliss also.

That said there is a “Dark Night of the Soul” that can arise from mediation. St. John of the Cross, a Christian mystic, spoke of this also.
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/commitment.htm

Steve October 24, 2012 at 11:51 am

I’m sorry, Jacob, but you’re misinformed about the nature of the Buddha’s teaching on mental culture or “Right Meditation.”

You are correct in that the Buddha taught “Calmness” meditation (i.e., shamatha — which you call “ecstasy/absorption”). That meditation leads to jhana — but, the Buddha taught that those are not permanent states of existence. Those indeed are what we may call the apex of samsaric existence, but none of them are ultimate as Nirvana is. Shamatha (or “ecstasy/absorption”) meditation was a pre-existent contemplative technology when the Buddha came on the scene and was well know for at least several hundred years. The Buddha did not invent this technology. He did use it and stress its importance, but it was not a complete path.

The complete expression of “Right Meditation” was of three parts, not one as you suggest: It consists of 1. Shamatha (Right Concentration) 2. Sati (Right Mindfulness, Vipassana and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness) and 3. Right Effort. What the Buddha DID teach is that upon access concentration (Access to the First Jhana and absorption IN the First Jhana) one should apply Mindfulness then. In the extreme calm of this state, when one investigates various phenomena, one sees that they are not-self, impermanent, and attachment to which are causes of suffering, that contemplation — the union of those three shamatha, sati, and right effort — brings about liberation. Jhana meditation alone does not bring about Nirvana. Despite the fact that its importance is crucial to the whole of mental culture, Jhana meditation is not enough in itself in the Buddhist Path of self-inquiry and self-transformation/transcendence.

Best of luck on your path.

Jacob October 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

You are correct in that the Buddha taught “Calmness” meditation (i.e., shamatha — which you call “ecstasy/absorption”). That meditation leads to jhana — but, the Buddha taught that those are not permanent states of existence.

I don’t mean a permanent bliss that exists after death. But the paranibbana is a state of permanent bliss on earth – and this is cultivated by meditation.

The Buddha did not invent this technology.
I never said that he invented them. However lets look at this sutta:

Mahaasaccaka sutta
Aggivessana, then it occurred to me, whoever recluse or Brahmin experienced sharp, rough, unpleasant feelings, in the past, he did not experience anything more than this. Whoever recluse or Brahmin, would experience sharp rough unpleasant feelings in the future, would not experience anything more than this. Whoever recluse or Brahmin experiences sharp, rough, unpleasant feelings, at present, he does not experience anything more than this. It occurred to me: Doing these difficult exertions, I will not attain, any noble distinctive knowledge and vision above human. There should be some other method for the realization of enlightenment. Then Aggivessana, I recalled the experience under the shade of the rose apple tree near my father”s field: Secluded from sensual thoughts and secluded from thoughts of demerit, with applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára) and with joy (sukha) and pleasure (piiti) born of seclusion, I attained to the first jhana. Then the awareness arose this is the path to enlightenment. I thought, why should I fear this pleasantness, which is other than sensual pleasure and away from thoughts of demerit.

and

Jhanasamyutta, SN 9.53
“Bhikkhus, just as the River Ganges slants, slopes and inclines toward the East, so too a bhikkhu who develops and cultivates the four absorptions (jhanas) slants, slopes, and inclines toward nibbana.”
(Samyutta Nikaya tans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)

What the Buddha DID teach is that upon access concentration (Access to the First Jhana and absorption IN the First Jhana) one should apply Mindfulness then. In the extreme calm of this state, when one investigates various phenomena, one sees that they are not-self, impermanent, and attachment to which are causes of suffering, that contemplation — the union of those three shamatha, sati, and right effort — brings about liberation.

Buddha never mentioned the term “access concentration.” He also NEVER spoke of a mediation technique whereby one tries to use “insight.” http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/accessconcentration.htm

Neo November 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm
Sam Shapiro December 18, 2012 at 6:23 am

Dear Melissa,

I’ve been enjoying reading your work online. I was, actually, blown away by your perceptiveness about the dangers of mindfulness practice. I’ve studied/practiced mindfulness and Buddhist psychology and philosophy for a while, and you did an amazing job of shinning a light on the way these practices can lead to destructive self-delusion and escapism. I was however, dismayed to read the posting in which you referenced your grandfather’s critique of monks. Not so much dismayed by the critique, but by the very simplistic generalizations you made about India and China. It was sadly ironic that you seemed critical of Westerners for generalizing about “Eastern” culture and philosophy, and then went on to make such sweeping generalizations yourself. (I also wonder if you noticed that your criticized India for homeless and poverty, and did not acknowledge America’s own painful realities. For your grandfather’s point, I would just ask you to consider whether all the majority of people who are “in the world” are really contributing positively? Are all the commuters and consumers who are “in the world” always healing or at least neutral as forces, or are they often destructive? On the other hand, monks who minimize their impact—why is that necessarily so bad?).

But, my main point in writing you is to offer this in the spirit of friendship and suggest further resources for learning:

1. Check out Pema Chodron’s (one of perhaps the most popular Western Buddhist teachers right now) teachings on fear and negative emotions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVRT-y2wTBY&feature=related

2. As a book recommendation, I really hope you’ll consider reading her book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.” Not only will it expand your sensitivity to Buddhist teachings on working with pain and negative emotions, but it will give you, in really open-hearted, accessible language, an understanding of Buddhist thought that I fear is lacking in your writing: you are writing often about a practice that is truly rooted in Buddhist philosophy and psychology (i.e. mindfulness/vipassana), but seem to not have enough background/context knowledge. And…since you are presenting yourself as expert enough to publicly critique it, I’d like to suggest you have a responsibility to become a bit more informed. http://www.amazon.com/When-Things-Fall-Apart-Difficult/dp/1570623449

3. This text, “Feeding your Demons” actually focuses on a Buddhist meditation technique that is “shadow work”; so, far from disassociating with negative emotions, it actually involves personifying and working with them A very powerful text and practice. http://www.amazon.com/Feeding-Your-Demons-Resolving-Conflict/dp/0316013137

4. Finally the work of New York psychiatrist, Mark Epstein, in his book “Thoughts without a Thinker” is especially relevant to your critiques: http://www.amazon.com/Thoughts-Without-Thinker-Psychotherapy-Perspective/dp/0465020224/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355840313&sr=1-1&keywords=thoughts+without+a+thinker

Again, thank you for offering your teachings and ideas in an open-hearted and generous way. You have much of great value to share, and your critiques of the danger of dissociation through Buddhist meditation practices and communities is a valid, necessary warning.

Sincerely,

Sam Shapiro

Bobby Hodosi February 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I found this to be a very judgmental outlook on Westerners. Do you not practice tolerance and compassion for all? Isn’t it more important that some predestined relationship has brought them to “yoga” or mindfulness meditation. If you truly believe in reincarnation, you should know you picked your parents, life, etc. This life is as it should be for your lessons. In the next life maybe we trade places. So be it.

Eugene March 16, 2013 at 9:58 pm

I’ll keep this brief.

Great article, this is the first time i’ve read your articles , because i am in the midst of searching for information about mindful meditation, and i can tell that your mind is one of LOGIC and PRACTICALITY.

anyways, i love to look, as some would put it, “at both sides of the argument”, and come up with my own conclusions. this article is really informative and educational, helps me to understand better the ideas behind mindful meditation. i particularly like the word u use, BALANCE.

thanks for your opinion, its really helpful.

Ray September 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Hi Melissa,

I appreciate your critical examination of mindfulness meditation. I always enjoy a well thought article and writer able to convery complex ideas such as this one.

HOWEVER mindfulness is not about evading or silencing emotions. Mindfulness is not about “doing nothing” or “thinking nothing”. Mindfulness is not about disconnecting people from society or anything else.

Mindfulness is about observing emotion and accepting it. It is a non-judgemental practice organically designed fully to promote emotional intelligence and awareness. Mindfulness practice is difficult and can be uncomfortable. These practices help you remain connected with every moment, as well as the people around you and the world/environment in which we live.

Mindfulness dates back into many civilisations across cultures. It is in no way new, or religious. It is secular and multicultural – Zoroaster practiced in the caves of Ancient Persia, Buddha practiced amoung the trees of India and Confucious practiced all over the great Chinese civilisation.

I truly believe you have been misguided on the topic and I was a bit shocked to see how many comments you have recieved in favour of the article, despite the lack of evidence and the amount of misunderstood information.

You surely will encounter many people explaining mindfulness in a disfigured way, but this is not a reflection of the true sentiment of mindfulness.

All the best, thank you for your article and the deep thought it cultivates!

Regards,

Ray

Quiet October 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

My experience ended in “transcendence” followed by complete silence, existing in a beautiful altered state, my therapist yelling desperately to me as I told her I was cured and leaving, “but now we have to rebuild your ego!!” My identity was gone. Probably for the best. But then I was alone. 12 years later… I do wish sometimes I could stay in a hotel room all alone reading into forever. It has been hard to be in both worlds. Still not much of a steady identity.

Quiet October 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm

But then I’m also a much better person now. I am a person now. So there’s that.

Mark October 31, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Similar to many commenters here I’m also searching for information about Mindfulness meditation. I’m quiet puzzled about Melissa’s statement concerning mindfulness has its “dark root” in the once poverty stricken country of India and China. It sounds like Melissa made a direct causal statement that China and India’s societal problems are caused by mindfulness. This is a ludicrous statement. The majority of people in China are atheists and they don’t practice mindfulness. Although this causal statement is evident in Melissa’s writing, she flatly denies it in one of her replies to a commenter: “No. This is not a causal statement”. I wonder how Melissa can deny such an obvious fallacious reasoning after many commenters pointed it out. Perhaps this is due to Melissa’s obsession with her view of “self-love”. Melissa seems to be loving her own opinions to the point that she ignores any rational discourse. In this case, loving one’s ego excessively could cause more serious problems than even the worst forms of mindfulness meditation. Even if I decide not to practice mindfulness I better stay farther away from such opinion as Melissa’s.

And please don’t tell me that I am making a personal attack as you did to another commenter. This is both unreasonable and unfair, as you made a rude generalization about monks being escapists. Isn’t this also a personal attack?

goutham January 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm

i am an indian. i also went to vipasyana meditation.our ultimate target is gaining knowledge and survive.what about abnormal people and lower IQ level people and diseased people.WE SHULDNT MANIPULATE OUR MIND and NATURALITY OF LIFE STYLE(SYSTEM).NO ANIMAL SUICIDE.animals are living as their nature.they are not doing meditation.but living conciously.we shuld focus on outside not inside..focus on world.you r not one and only world.MEDITATION IS COMPLETE SELFISHNESS WHO DOESNT BELEIVE HIMSELF TRYING TO GET CLARITY.WHO DIDNT SATISFY. BUT MORE TRYING MEANS TILL DICREASING SELF TRUST.

j j ries May 27, 2014 at 9:07 am

an old man from the East was serving tea to his friends and was joined by a western student who asked him about his philosophy; when the old man began to talk he was interrupted by the westerner several times by comments, oh yah we got that, yeah sure we do that too, i got that, i get it now, sure thing, sounds great… until the old man finally stopped talking and began serving the westerner his tea; he was pouring the tea until the cup started overflowing – enough, once again interrupted by the westerner he finally paused – indeed that was enough, noted the old man: how can you taste my tea before you empty my cup first?

when i was hungry, my parents smiled and gave me a hug, took me to the garden and showed me how to grow things, when i was beaten at school, my parents hugged me and told me not to do the same to others. when others were shouting and wronging us my parents taught me to be still and quiet. when i was in my teens and wanted a better education my dad gave me a compassionate look and said we do not have enough money for a ticket to the destination, let alone for the tuition fees; I did not ask why, just wondered about the meaning of my life and destiny; my dad said it is better to learn from honesty and modesty than from corrupt teachers, and that it is better to go hungry with clear conscience then have a stomach full of stolen food or spend the day ranting and blaming others for my ordeal…

it take guts to accept one’s destiny, but it takes stillness of heart to see it.

to meditate is to be still in order to be able to see self and the world around me as it is. to meditate is to seek the natural way in the world to busy to even admit it has been chasing the wind and blaming others for mishaps

Denis June 1, 2014 at 9:48 am

I think that that which is written is very thoughtful and shows insight.

Dragos September 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I feel that there’s a slight miss understanding of what meditation is. The goal of it is simply to control the mind. Control it in such a way that what ever situation one faces, one may not run away from it, nor hold on to it. It is not an escape from thoughts. The Buddha did not escape thoughts. He reached the purest point, where he had the ability to approach all situations without a hint of aversion, clinging, or anxiety. He reached full confidence. Such confidence that allows one to die at any moment and while still extending loving kindness to all.
Also, monks are a very important part of society. They show us a different way of living, as does a banker, athlete, writer, janitor, etc. The is no such thing as bad mindfulness, for mindfulness is an path one takes to become more conscious of the world, and self.

Leave a Comment

By clicking "Submit" you understand that your submission may be edited or rejected at my discretion, and/or used in upcoming articles or publications. Unconstructive criticism, personal attacks, and requests for personal advice likely will not be published. Please refer to my Disclaimer if you have any questions.

{ 4 trackbacks }