Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality.
– Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
When thinking about the role that meditation plays in our culture I am often reminded of what Dan Harris has referred to as the ‘marketing problem’ of the practice. He is referring to meditation being repellent to many people due to the ideas that are typically associated with it. The basic imagery conjured up by the word ‘meditation’ is generally suited for glossy yoga studio brochures and propagated on social media by those looking to blend their version of Eastern spirituality with a desire for approval. You are already familiar with this imagery – pools of calm water reflecting the rising sun, looked out upon by even calmer individuals, their faces adorned with the peaceful half-smile so typical of your standard New Age guru. All is well with life and the world, if only you could meditate. This seems to be the message that has been disseminated into the culture. Such imagery goes beyond mere annoyance if this ideal is to form the basis of how we think about the practice. Rather than genuinely internalizing and growing from meditation and its attendant wisdom we instead risk doing the opposite – externalizing it as another material adornment which will only serve to perpetuate our obsession with the superficial. Further, the implication of this message is that meditation is a shortcut to calmness and a way to circumvent problematic issues in one’s life. What meditation can and should offer us is a way to look within, to be honest with ourselves, and to take the difficult, often unglamorous path toward growth and realization.
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Does meditation have an image problem? And if so, does it matter? Share your thoughts on Reddit or in the comments section below.