This past Sunday I watched the segment on CBS Sunday Morning during which Dr. Adam Grant reminded all of us who meditate to avoid judging those who don’t, especially him. The irony of that request was a point well taken. Isn’t that what meditation is all about? Developing our ability to remove judgment and to see clearly?
The irony (again) is that Dr. Grant was making his own judgements about a practice that he clearly doesn’t participate in, and then used limited science to support his opposition. The intention behind the 2600 year-old practice of meditation isn’t necessarily to reduce stress—although many people who continue with the practice do report decreased stress, often due to their ability to relate differently to the vicissitudes of life.
The actual intention, first and foremost, is to bring awareness to our experience, and then to bring awareness to how we are relating to that experience, and finally to bring deeper compassion and understanding to those moments.
As Dr. Grant agreed, meditation can and does support us to develop a greater sense of presence, which according to research, could also be attained by becoming absorbed in a television show. Perhaps. But losing yourself in a Netflix binge doesn’t quite feel the same as what occurs when you sit silently and note what is occurring as it arises.
And while becoming absorbed in a television show may be a beautiful distraction from life and can even touch our hearts, it is hardly a substitute for becoming more in touch with your body and noticing the moment-by-moment experience of your mind.
Dr. Grant goes on to describe other methods in which we can relax and “avoid the world of distractions” with more “planned laziness.” But in his quest to defend himself against the “meditation evangelists” that he is regularly encountering, he missed the mark of actually explaining that there are a thousand skillful means to reduce stress, be more present, and incorporate greater mindfulness into our day.
Mindfulness is actually comprised of three specific areas of practice from the Buddhist perspective. It is worth noting that this is where most of our western meditation practices have hailed from and that much of that has been disconnected from it’s traditional roots. Regardless, one of those is generosity, or giving of ourselves as best as we can which is likely the most overlooked practice in mindfulness. The second is using our best discrimination in all situations. And finally, developing the practice of concentration, or meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is simply one of several ways to practice being mindful in our everyday lives so that we can develop the ability that includes, “not thinking less of yourself” but instead, “thinking of yourself less.”
An understanding of the full practices of mindfulness points us in the direction of pro-social concern, which Dr. Grant has discussed at length in previous research and even in his book, Give and Take. Yet, his understanding of meditation (which is likely limited since he finds it “boring”) seems to be that it serves only as a stress-reliever.
So, the next time you’re tempted to explain to Dr. Grant why he should meditate, take pause. Ask yourself if this is really wise and if it may be more generous to simply acknowledge his experience. If Dr. Grant finds meditation boring, who are we to tell him to try it?
However, we might suggest that he take a closer look at why it’s so difficult for him to be with the experience of boredom.