Over several thousand years, different cultures around the world have discovered how to nurture the seed of a specifically human capacity for mentally stepping outside the rat cage of our own survival impulses and attachments in order to escape the whirring agitation of our minds. Over the past couple decades, these meditative disciplines have become something of a national indoor sport, at least among a large segment of the American middle class seeking to quiet their minds and in our overstimulating and stressful world. The January issue of the Networker—Mindfulness Goes Viral: What Would Buddha Say?—examines the growth and achievements of this mindfulness movement as well as what some of its critics claim are its excesses, blind spots, and limitations.
As many of us have learned, meditation is a deceptively simple practice, easy to start but not so easy to maintain. Take me for example. I believe in meditation. I’m thrilled that meditation is going Big Time. Given that I regularly display every aspect of “monkey mind” that meditation is intended to address, it’s just too bad that I don’t do it more.
But one of the advantages of being the editor of a publication like this is regularly confronting the limitations of your habitual ways of approaching life. So one day toward the tail end of getting this issue together (the most hectic time in the cycle), I decided to sit down and try out my usual imitation of somebody meditating, something I’ve done many times in the past, but usually with a half-hearted sense of fitting it in between other more pressing activities.
Perhaps it was the result of something in this issue finally communicating to a slow learner like me what’s distinctive about the experience of being truly mindful, but when I opened my eyes, I felt an unusual sense of calm. Instead of seeing the world through a veil of deadline-driven exhaustion and distraction—a kind of glaucoma of the soul—I saw the familiar sight of my own living room again with fresh eyes, as if appreciating for the first time the handiwork of a cosmic interior decorator. It wasn’t the same world of rote routine, but another one in which I was unquestionably alive in a different way—well, at least for a couple of hours until the veil descended again. But I’d been reminded that it was within my power to awaken myself and, to use one of the favorite expressions of this year’s Symposium keynote speaker, Jon-Kabat-Zinn– “live life as if it really mattered”—if I so chose.
If your own level of mindfulness could use an upgrade, you might consider attending the Networker Symposium this March at which Kabat-Zinn will offer an all-day workshop on the power of fully-engaged awareness. But even if you can’t attend, here’s an interview in the January Networker with Kabat-Zinn focused on making the transition from understanding mindfulness as a general concept to an immediate and embodied experience. If you’re anything like me, it’s certainly worth a try.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.