Monday, June 24, 2013

Answering the meditation mailbag

So, in response to my last post on meditation, I got the following comment from someone named Anonymous. He/she said:

"Truthfully, I still don't get it. Your analogy doesn't work for this reason. If I'm a fat slob, and I eat paleo, I'll get better. It might be hard, it might be really hard, I might not have enough willpower, etc. But if you locked me in a metabolic ward and gave me nothing but paleo food, I'd get healthy.

What about meditating? If I stare at a wall for 15 min/day, I *can* do it, but will it accomplish anything? Will I get (mentally) healthier? Or will I just be wasting 15 min/day doing an unpleasant activity that gets me nothing.

It took me years to learn to stop craving sugar and to eat well, but even when I doubted if I could do it, I never doubted the goal itself. The reason I don't meditate is that I doubt that even if I learn to be able to stare at a wall 15 min/day without hating it that I would have actually improved my life. That's what you need to address to convince somebody like me. Because all I ever see is pablum like "meditation teaches we make ourselves miserable with our negative thoughts". I know that already, and have managed to improve that a lot. Will staring at a wall really teach me that, or anything?

It's about opportunity cost. Do spend 15 min/day doing something unpleasant, I have to expect that it'll pay off adequately. The meditators I've met have not lead me to believe that. I'd *love* to know why I'm wrong, because if it really is a beneficial activity, I'd like to do it."

I was going to respond with another comment, but I decided, oh what the hell... let's make it another post. So let's go....

1. First of all, Anonymous, you think that I want to "convince someone like [you]" to meditate. I don't. I said it in my previous post, and I have said it with respect to paleo eating, and I would say it with respect to *anything* you might do as long as it doesn't hurt other people: I don't want you to do anything. And I am not here to convince you to. I am here to write and, if I am really lucky, maybe some of that writing will help people who want to be helped. My guess, from your note, is that you aren't interested in being helped, but I don't want to assume that, because that would shut us down right here, so we'll move on to ....

2. You use the phrase: "I'd *love* to know why I'm wrong." In 50 years on the planet, almost 51, I have run into few absolutes, but I think this is one of them: I have never heard anyone use that phrase who: (a) would actually love to know why he or she is wrong, or (b) is even open to discussion on the issue of whether he or she is wrong. But again, if that were true in this instance, I'd just walk away now because further conversation wouldn't be productive, so let's indulge the notion that you are the exception to the rule on either or both of those counts, and that, indeed, you would love to be shown why you're wrong....

3. It's your lucky day. You're wrong. And here's why. You say that my analogy "doesn't work" because you "know" that paleo works to help fat people get thin while you have no reason to "know" that meditation works to empty the mind and reduce stress. Let's think about that.

How do you "know" paleo works? Either: (a) you tried it for a while, maybe 30 days, like Robb Wolf suggests and you saw improvements in how you look, feel and perform, or (b) you read things that told you that good things would happen if you ate paleo. Well, we can immediately throw option (a) out the window as somehow disproving the value of meditation because you haven't tried meditation yet. That's the whole point of trying it... to see if it works for you. So it must be option (b) that you find lacking in meditation. But that can't be it either. Like almost any self-improvement program (like, oh I don't know... paleo?) you are going to find proponents and naysayers. Surely you have run into both with paleo. Well, with meditation, you could, first of all, accept my assertion that, yup, it will help you if you actually do it. But never mind me. You could go here or here or here, and see lots of examples of its being a pretty great thing. Successful even. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find anti-meditation articles with any of the zeal, doom and gloom of the anti-paleo crowd. But yet, you "know" that paleo works despite all the hostility to it that is out there. Me too, but that's ultimately because I worked my way through the pro and con articles, tried it for a while and liked it. If you were interested in trying meditation, that's what you would do too. Try it for a month, every day for 15 minutes.

4. But, unbelievably, you are actually finding a "cost/benefit" analysis that weighs *against* 15 little minutes of meditation per day for a month to see if you feel better at the end of that month. Dude, if you are seriously declaring that 15 minutes a day of something so simple as sitting down and shutting up while focusing your attention on a blank space on a wall is that unpleasant, you may have done more with that statement to prove my overall point than I did. Remember what that original point was: that if your mind is so cluttered that you "can't" meditate, you probably need to unclutter it, and what does that? Meditation. If you can't stare at a wall for 15 minutes a day because it's too "unpleasant," you desperately need to unclutter and uncomplicate your cortex. And what does that?

I think you "know" what my answer is. But I'll say it just to be sure: meditation.

And maybe here's the ultimate point: do you have a better idea? Surely you don't contest that most of our minds need to be emptier and more uncluttered by stress than they are? The only method that I have run across to do that is meditation. If you have another, go for it. Or don't do anything at all. But stress deeply affects digestion, sleep and overall health. If you meditated for 30 days, 15 minutes a day, with an open mind, that is -- not with the unduly crabby attitude you are currently sporting -- you could make some progress toward happiness through lower stress. But, in the end, really, it's totally your call.


  1. Just saw this article today on Breaking Muscle... "How Meditation Can Heal Your Adrenal System" Good stuff!