Do You Need To Be A Buddhist To Practice Meditation?

Meditation is, for many people, synonymous with spirituality. It is inextricably connected with mysticism, often connected to Buddhism and supernatural beliefs about perception, energy and knowledge.

But why is this? Is there anything about meditation that requires a belief in any of the tenets of Buddhism or Hinduism or any other spiritual ideology? Sam Harris doesn’t think so:

One problem is that most of the people who teach mindfulness…are still in the religion business. They’re still propagating western Buddhism or American Buddhism, the connection to the tradition of Buddhism in particular is explicit. And I think there are problems wait that.

Because if you are declaring yourself a Buddhist, you are part of the problem of religion sectarianism that has needlessly shattered our world. And I think we have to get out of the religion business. That whatever is true about mindfulness and meditation and any introspective methodology that will deliver truths about the nature of consciousness, is non-sectarian. It’s no more Buddhist than physics is Christian.

I think that last analogy really nails it. Attaching a religious ideology to a practice like meditation is exactly as harmful as it would be to attach one to physics. Many people who could benefit from the advances that physics makes possible would be put off for fear of offending their God (as happens amongst Christians who fear that meditation is somehow heretical), and many others who are non-believers would be put of by the prospect of having to adopt a belief system in order to reap the benefits (as is the case with many atheists who worry that meditation is some kind of gateway drug to religion).

I think Dan Harris put it best when he said:

Despite what you may have heard, meditation does not involve joining a group, paying any fees, wearing any special outfits, sitting in a funny position, or believing in anything in particular. 

It is simple, secular, scientifically validated exercise for your brain.

"If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion."
The Scientific Power Of Meditation

In a talk on his excellent meditation app, Sam Harris points out that he would recommend that people meditate even if there were no scientific evidence that it was good for them. I’ll quote him directly here because that’s the kind of statement that could get a meditation teacher in trouble:

There are studies that suggest that meditation improves immune function, or reduces stress. Or that it’s associated with less age-related thinning of the cerebral cortex.

Well, having a good immune system, and reducing stress, and not suffering neuro-degeneration are good things, in general. But those studies might fail to replicate tomorrow, and should that happen, my recommendations in this course would not change at all. 

There really are deeper reasons to meditate. And to live an examined life in general. 

Sam goes on to make an analogy with reading. Reading certainly can reduce stress, but depending on what you’re reading it can also increase it. But framing the benefits of reading as stress relief is an odd way to talk about it in any case. Reading would be worthwhile even if it was somehow actively bad for you.

Luckily, meditation isn’t bad for you. In fact, the list of scientifically recognised benefits is surprisingly long. In the video above, AsapSCIENCE lays out an extensive breakdown of the benefits of a regular meditation. From the expected changes in brain chemistry, function, and mood, to more unexpected changes such as improved immune and cellular function.

I’m always wary of presenting meditation as a panacea. Meditation won’t fix all of your problems or make you rich or make you more attractive to your gender of choice. But it is a uniquely powerful way of exploring your relationship with the world. And that, in turn, provides the opportunity to make choices which improve that relationship. This is the true value of meditation. All the health stuff is just a cherry on the cake.

Stop Procrastinating Today With Behavioral Science

Procrastination is the bane of most of our existences. It’s not just about putting of the book we’ve been meaning to write or letting dishes pile up in the sink.

Procrastination has material costs on our finances (I haven’t had time to set up that savings account), our health (I’ll go to the doctor about that Mike next week), and even our happiness (I’m waiting for the right moment to ask out the love of my life).

Art of Manliness brings us a deep dive on procrastination. How to combat it, what it costs is, and, of course, what makes it so tempting in the first place:

Why do we humans almost universally experience a mighty struggle with procrastination? It’s because we’re seemingly hardwired to favor short-term pleasure over short-term annoyance/effort, even if the latter leads to greater long-term gains. We like to do whatever feels good in the moment.

Well worth a read. Don’t delay!

The Success Secrets Of Putting On Your Socks

Stephen Guise on the trials and tribulations of sock donning:

This is a true story. Today, I attempted to put on socks. As I sat on the bed, I brought the opening of the first sock to the toes on my right foot, and dropped the sock. I sat on the edge of the bed and cried for two hours.

Okay, it was true until the crying part. I didn’t cry, or would never admit it. YOU CAN’T PROVE ANYTHING.

Why is it that it’s so easy to pick up a dropped sock and not as easy to apply for another job, to go on another date, to live another day with health problems, and so on?

This question seems facetious at first. Of course we persist ini putting our socks on. It’s a small, trivial task that we do every day. Putting on our socks isn’t in the same league as going on a date or facing a job interview.

But it’s easy to forget that putting our socks wasn’t always an easy task. When you were one-year-old, you might well have reacted in the same way that Stephen (allegedly) reacted in his story. The reason putting on your socks is an afterthought today, even you occasionally fail on your first attempt is that you persisted until it became ease to do.

This persistence, like so much of the effort we’ve put into our lives, is lost in the dim and distant past of our childhood. So it feels like it doesn’t count. It feels dumb to compare the efforts we’re asked to make now with those we made then. But the process is exactly the same. Try, fail, try again, improve. That’s the game until we die.

It’s tempting to look at those around us and wonder at how they make success look so easy. To try to replicate their success, fail to achieve it straight away, and conclude that there’s something wrong with us.

But that would make no more sense than a one-year-old feeling like a failure as they watched us effortlessly put on our socks. All we’re missing is persistence.

How To Defeat Negative Thinking

We all have negative thoughts and self-doubt from time to time. We’d be disastrously over-confident if we didn’t. The problem comes when these negative thoughts overwhelm us, or worse, become our default way of thinking.

The video above from Happily, presents two strategies based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to defeat negative thinking.

10 Less Stressful Ways To Be Productive

Why does work make us stressed? Think about it. Most of the work we need to do is well within our capabilities, we usually have enough time to do it (even if we do procrastinate until the last minute), doing the work will lead us to something we want.

Work stresses us out because we are overwhelmed, not by the work that’s in front of us, but by all the other things that are piling up around us. Stress is more often a problem of focus than a problem of ethnic work itself.

Henrik Edberg at Positivity Blog offers this list of simple tips for being more productive whilst also staying sane in the process, starting with this very Zen approach to focus:

1. Do just one thing at a time.

It will help you to get your task all the way to done, to feel less stressed and confused and you’ll do a better job compared to if you multi-task things.

And if you feel stressed and overwhelmed during your day then you can tell yourself this simple thing to regain focus and inner clarity again.

How To Be More Present And Alive In The Moment

We spend most of our time sleepwalking through life. Which is a shame, because it’s short. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits brings us a great list of practices to help us be more present. My favourite was the very first on the list:

Practice fully pouring yourself into every act. This is a Zen practice — being fully in every task you do, every act. If you’re sitting in meditation, be fully in your seat, not have your mind be somewhere else. If you’re brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth — and be completely immersed in that. This is a practice, of course, which means we’ll forget to do it most of the time, but it’s an incredibly rich practice. Fully express yourself in everything you do.