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Why Meditation Has Failed You

Why Meditation Has Failed You

The lotus positions, the chanting, the mudras, the breathing—it has all infiltrated the public mainstream.

Human beings are enamored with form. But form is simply the silhouette of function.

As with all things in life, sincerity is the lifeblood of transformation. When you sit in a pose that you believe to be correct, are you being sincere? Do you believe that taking ten or twenty minutes out of your day to meditate will bring about some miraculous change in you?

Has it worked?

Such things rarely work.

And the reason is because they are pursued and perceived as events that are independent of your daily existence. There is a period of time that you spend meditating. And then there is another (larger) period of time that you spend living your life. And as long as these remain separate, meditation will simply be a daily routine among others.

If all you seek is a bit of calmness. Or modicum of stress relief. Or a taste of mock spirituality—

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Then, by all means, carry on.

But if you seek transformation—

If you seek bliss—

Drop meditation!

And become meditative!

When you drive your car, when you do your work, when you wash the dishes, when you put on your clothes, when you brush your teeth, when you slip on your shoes—

Be Meditative.

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What do I mean by being Meditative?

Water is a beautiful example of a meditative element. If you pour it into a container, it conforms to the shape of the container. It does not resist the rock. It simply flows over and around it. It is meditative because it gives itself entirely to the situation in which it finds itself. And by giving itself to everything, and resisting nothing, it encounters no conflict. No trepidation.

Be Meditative. Lose yourself in the act that you are carrying out.

When you brush your teeth, feel the rhythm of the strokes. When you put on your clothes, feel the texture of the fabric. When you make the bed, snap the sheet and watch it ripple. When you drive to work, feel the rolling sensation as your car accelerates down the hill. When you do your work, watch the hands as they caress the slippery black keys on the keyboard.

Allow it all to be a dance. And your life will be one as well.

In doing this, you will have no need to meditate. For your very life will be a meditation.

In doing this, you will venture beyond your mind and become available to instinct. And when your work is carried out by the hand of instinct, it will be a masterpiece.

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There is no need to go to an ashram, a church, or a temple. Or for silent retreats. Or for holy books or sermons.

Such things are for those in search of prescriptions. An antidote. A smoky, green potion. Such things are for those who are looking to be shown The Way. Such things are for those enamored by form.

They are not for the serious. They are not for the sincere. For, if you are sincere, you will drop the words of others and take matters into your own hands.

And you will not do so when the time is right. You will not do so when the moon is in a particular orbit. Or when your sensibilities are ripe. Or when you feel a sudden urge.

You will do so right. This. Minute.

You will drop this side-job, this hobby, this concept of ten minutes of daily meditation.

And you will become Meditative.

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Why would you possibly have the need for these glossy magazine subscriptions if your very life is a masterful example of that which they espouse? Of what use is meditation to a person whose very life is a meditation?

In becoming Meditative, you will not be acquiring things. But losing them.

In becoming Meditative, you will not become more. But less.

You will float not toward somethingness. But nothingness.

In becoming Meditative, you will lose yourself.

And in losing the self that you have forever believed yourself to be, you will find the one you have been searching for all along.

Featured photo credit: Nickolai Kashirin via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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