Friday, July 25, 2008

The "Just the facts, Ma'am" Approach To Meditation

TM-Free Blog reader and frequent Fairfield Life poster "Uncle Tantra" submitted the following article to TMFB. He's interested in the reactions and suggestions of the commenters in our community.

For those who didn't grow up American (or are young :-)), Joe Friday was a police detective on a TV series called "Dragnet." His approach was brusque and no-nonsense, and the quintessence of this approach was his signature phrase used when interviewing a witness to learn about a crime: "Just the facts, Ma'am."

For some reason I was thinking about Joe on my morning walk along the beach with the dogs, and got to wondering what the "Just the facts, Ma'am" answer might be about MEDITATION, the thing that we all have in common here.

What CAN we say about meditation that most of us can agree on as "facts?" No bullshit, no dogma, no assumptions, no theories, no assertions of "better" or "best." Just the facts, Ma'am.

Here is my start at such a list. They're not "facts" in the sense that I claim that they're comsically "true" or "truth." They're just me trying to make sense out of 40+ years on the spiritual path, and trying to write down a few of the things that are as close to "fact" about medi- tation as I'm ever likely to get. I am also NOT speaking of *only* TM, but of meditative practice as a wider phenomenon, in ANY of its many forms.

Other posters are invited to add their "facts" to my list, and to discuss it as they wish. I doubt I'm going to feel like defending it. Those who feel compelled to turn things into an argument can do so, if that's the only thing they see in this post to get off on. Me, I'm more interested in what the people without an axe to grind and without a crusade to fight have to say.

1. Meditation has been around a long time.

2. It exists in many forms, and has been associated with many different forms of religion and spiritual practice, but need not be associated with any of them. It can be practiced *as a practice*, with no associated belief system whatsoever.

3. Proponents of meditation have said that it has had subjective benefits for them -- increased clarity of mind after the practice, a feeling of restfulness or relaxation during the practice, and generally *enough* benefits for them in their personal lives that they practice it regularly.

4. Science has made a *start* at verifying some of the sub- jective claims made by proponents of meditation, but the extent of this verification varies from one form of meditation to another, and from one study of the same method to another. These scientific studies -- ALL of them, IMO -- have also been tainted by the associated belief systems *about* medi- tation that the people they are testing bring with them, and by the belief systems that the researchers themselves bring with them.

5. Many systems of meditation make claims that their tech- nique is "the best" or "better" or "more effective" than other forms of meditation.

6. So far, try as they might, neither subjective testimony by practitioners nor science has ever conclusively proved any of these claims of "betterness" or "bestness" or "most effectiveness."

7. The *mechanics* of these different forms of meditation vary greatly. Some may use mantras (the thinking or chanting of a word or words). Some practice meditation with eyes closed, some with eyes open or even during other activities. Some may use yantras or some other visual aids as a focus for their meditative practice. Some pay attention to the breath, or to just what is taking place at the moment -- mentally and in the environment. Some have no element of focus for their meditative practice at all. Some forms of meditation have a "goal," and others have no "goal" at all, except to meditate.

8. Again, so far science has proved none of these techniques or approaches to meditation definitively "better" than another.

9. Some proponents claim that meditation has benefits that extend beyond the benefits to the person practicing the medi- tation itself. That is, they claim that the meditation some- how affects the environment around the meditator in positive ways. These claims include reduction of environmental stress, lower crime rates, a more peaceful and settled environment, and even world peace.

10. Again, none of these claimed benefits have been conclu- sively proved by science.

11. One can come up with numerous examples of people who practice meditation who DO seem to exemplify positive traits in their daily lives. They are seen by most observers to be more flexible, more compassionate and caring about others around them, more capable of effective action in stressful situations, and generally happy with their lives and pleasant to be around.

12. One can come up with just as many examples of people who practice meditation who do NOT seem to exemplify these positive traits in their daily lives. We have seen meditators convicted of crimes such as fraud and rape and robbery and murder, we have seen numerous examples of depression and mental illness and even suicide among long-term meditators, and we all know people who have meditated for decades who do NOT seem to be happy with their lives or pleasant to be around.

13. We can find BOTH the positive traits AND the negative traits in those who do not practice and have never practiced any form of meditation.

14. Despite the claims of proponents, no form of meditation has ever universally produced the positive traits in ALL of its practitioners.

15. Despite the claims of *opponents* to meditation and medi- tative practice, no form of meditation has ever been shown to universally produce the negative traits in ALL of its prac- titioners.

16. Since the positive traits appear in people who have never practiced meditation, no conclusive link has ever been proved between meditation and these positive traits. Same with the negative traits.

17. For some, meditation practice is pleasant and even blissful. They look forward to each session because experience has shown them that it is enjoyable in itself, and that it produces benefits in their lives.

18. For some, meditation practice is not as pleasant. It may be perceived to be difficult or even unpleasant. Some who experience this may stop the practice of meditation as a result. Others experience this and continue to meditate regularly any- way, because the benefits they perceive in their lives outweigh for them the less-than-pleasant experience of meditation itself.

19. As a general statement, there is no evidence that meditation in ANY form is a panacea, and a universal "cure for what ails ya."

20. As another general statement, it seems valid to me that if you enjoy the practice of meditation and feel that it produces benefits in your life, there is nothing that anyone can or should say to try to talk you out of practicing it, or into practicing another form of meditation.

That's all I could come up with in the 15 minutes I gave myself to come up with this list. Please add your own "facts," as you see them, or otherwise react as you see fit.

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