Meditation For Non-Hippies

No hippiesI’m hoping I haven’t offended anyone (too much) by that headline.  Does anyone self-identify as a “hippie” anymore, anyway?  We’ve all got a picture in our head, though, right?

What I’m thinking of are people that are a little bit out there:  they might play a little too much hacky sack or burn a little bit too much patchouli incense, maybe they’ve participated in a drum-circle once or twice.  And they’re always going on and on about how it’s so great to take time out to meditate and “expand [their] consciousness, man”.  Does that ring a bell?  Maybe I hung out with too many stoners in high school or something…

The way I understand meditation to work is that a person essentially concentrates all their effort on not concentrating on anything at all (except for their own breathing, or a mantra or something).  The mind is to be emptied so as to allow some great revelation of wisdom to occur.

This never made a lot of sense to me.  I’m not much in agreement with the concept that’s implied here:  if you wait long enough without doing anything, something great is going to happen to you through no effort of your own.  That’s complete and utter nonsense, in my opinion and experience.

Change is what is required for personal, emotional, or spiritual development.  Without change, there is no improvement.  It requires work on your part.

That being said, I’ve recently begun doing some meditation of my own.  It’s quite a bit different from what I’ve already described, though.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to “Meditation for Non-Hippies”:

1.  Find a quiet place. This isn’t any different from what you would do in “normal” meditation.  You don’t have to turn off the lights unless you want to, you don’t have to light any candles or incense unless you want to, you don’t need any Enya playing in the background unless you want to.  The one thing you do need, however, is to remove distractions.  That’s why I said it needs to be quiet.

Now, my 18 year-old self would have said “I’m fine with music playing in my headphones while I do my homework; it’s not distracting”.  My 33 year-old self knows better, though.  If you need it quiet and dark, then make it quiet and dark.  Don’t sabotage yourself on this step.

2.  Lie down. I know some folks like to sit up, and are concerned that if they lie down they’re going to fall asleep.  If that’s you, go ahead and sit up.  Personally, I like to lie down on the floor in my office.  My floor supports my weight evenly without being comfortable enough to cause me to drift off to sleep.  When I sit up, I find that I have a little part of my mind that pays attention to the way my body is positioned.  It’s distracting.

If you really want to get into the lotus position, I guess that’s your prerogative.  Just don’t ask me to join you; I’ve never been able to bend like that.

3.  Think about something that’s truly important to you. Here’s where we turn meditation on its head.  Rather than focusing on “Om Shanti Om” or on the rhythm of your breathing, you need to focus on your most pressing challenge.  Notice I didn’t say “WORRY about your most pressing challenge”.  You need to approach the situation head-on, with the confidence that you can come up with a solution.  Allow your thoughts to go where they will, as long as they remain focused on the issue at hand.  If you start thinking about the laundry you need to do, gently push your thoughts back to where they belong.

What you’re doing here is allowing your subconscious mind to work on the challenge, as well.  This is when truly creative problem solving occurs.  I know that so many times when I’ve tried to “distract myself” into creativity by doing something else, I’ve never gotten back to the issue I was concerned with in the first place.

What if you don’t have anything really pressing at the current time?  Well, then this is the time for you to get ahead of the game by filling your thoughts with positivity.  For some (like myself), meditation is a time to focus on finding out what God would have that person do with his or her life (Joshua 1.8).  For others, you may want to focus on your daily affirmations, what you want your future to look like, or just on whatever is most important to you.

Look, I’m not trying to pick on people who sincerely believe in the type of meditation I’m opposed to.  I think you’re wrong, and I’ll be willing to discuss it (civilly) and attempt to convince you of your error if you’d like, but I don’t hate on you.  I know you think I’m wrong too, but I’m hoping that we can all agree to disagree and still focus on what we do have in common.

However, I do get a little tired of the “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” crap that I hear a lot of today, and I think other folks do, as well.  It comes off as insincere and trite, as well as demonstrating that the person who said it doesn’t have a basic grasp of the English language.  If you believe in and revere a set of beliefs about some reality that can’t be quantified or demonstrated, you have a religion (or a “faith”, if you will).

For those of you in that boat with me, I hope that you’ll consider that meditation as I’ve described it above is a great tool for use in your personal development, as well as in your problem solving.

You know what to do.  Some may rip me to shreds, and others might back me up with the first group.  Just keep it respectful, folks, and steer clear of Godwin’s Law, shall we? Let the comments begin…

5 thoughts on “Meditation For Non-Hippies”

  1. I've no argument with having another type of meditation. Not having done much myself, I couldn't say which would personally be more useful, though obviously people get some mileage out of both and hey, whatever works. I was more troubled by the bit on 'spirituality' as being automatically the same as 'religion.' It probably doesn't make sense if you haven't had to differentiate them within your own life, but many people have.

    The word 'religious' is where things get tricky, Religion in modern parlance (though I can't be sure of the roots) indicates an organized group, look again at your examples in the link and you'll see the term 'group' and 'order' turn up a lot. A lot of people don't like organized religion after their initial traumatic introduction. Also religion implies belief in a particular god/goddess/pantheon, whereas spirituality has a bit more room for people who do believe in auras but don't have an altar to Gaea. How else does one say "I do believe in things beyond the physical, but I'm not part of a coherent religious group"?

    So yeah. Not trying to fight, I just think there's some stuff you aren't taking into account when dismissing non-religious spirituality as trite or false. Just because the dictionary puts them together doesn't mean they're completely interchangeable, finer distinctions of meaning and context apply.

  2. Hi, Avy. Thanks for taking the time to comment! I want to explain my view point a little bit. Don't know if you'll agree or not, but that's why we're having a discussion, right? I'm not trying to pick a fight, either, but I do have very strong opinions about this topic.

    Here's how Webster's Dictionary defines "religion" –

    religion – 4 dictionary results

    –noun 1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

    2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

    3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.

    4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.

    5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.

    6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

    7. religions, Archaic. religious rites.

    8. Archaic. strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one's vow.

    —Idiom9. get religion, Informal. a. to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and practices.

    b. to resolve to mend one's errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products.

    Definition #1 is what I'm addressing here. I'm saying that people who believe in something that can't be empirically verified have, by definition, a religion. They have a set of beliefs about the way the world works, and how forces that can't be verified interact with it (or not). By this definition, even skeptics, atheists, and scientists are religious.

    What bugs me about the "spiritual, not religious" crowd is that they don't take the time and effort to really understand what it is that they think. They (at least in my experience with these folks) drift through life, not questioning anything, which tends to lead to misunderstandings and inconsistencies.

    Do I have EVERYTHING figured out? Not at all. However, I do my best to intentionally eliminate inconsistencies in my belief systems. I think that the "spiritual, not religious" mantra is a cop out that people use when they don't want to ask the hard questions. More than any other topic I've dealt with on this blog, I've tried to push people to act intentionally, and understand why it is they do what they do.

    Again, thanks for commenting. We may agree on this issue, and we're just caught up in semantics.

    1. I agree that it can be a quick answer for those who just don't really want to figure out what exactly they believe, though that's never really bothered me. As far as I'm concerned eternal truths are either nonexistent or overrated, and generally as long as people are civil (and a strong, consistent moral code doesn't stop people from being jerks) I don't care what they believe except as a potentially interesting conversation.

      However, I also think sticking to 'spiritual' can simply be a way to indicate that your beliefs do not align with a known religion. Like you said, we may just be arguing semantics here, but that particular bit of semantics can be very significant if, say, you're talking about karma as a neat idea that you've incorporated into your worldview rather than karma as a part of Hinduism. Science could just about be called a religion by that definition (though most people would still insist a religion must have a metaphysical aspect which screws that up), but it doesn't work for skepticism or atheism. Nether is a set of beliefs, just one belief or attitude. Similarly a person's spiritual ideas may have nothing to do with their behaviour. An atheist can still have strong morals as can someone like me who doesn't give a toss about the truths of the cosmos but maintains certain behaviours for practical reasons. Spiritually or religiously I don't think too hard about what I believe or whether I'm right, because I don't think it's important as long as I treat people well. And that's not even moral, it's based on improving my environment and a somewhat pavlovian response to making other people happy which is hardwired into most humans.

      But I digress… "A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe" is too vague to be useful in general conversation, and the stuff added on with words like 'especially' and 'often' are generally considered included unless they are specifically cut out. Spiritual beliefs also don't have to encompass all three, and often don't. This could indicate someone is being lazy, or that they haven't found a viewpoint they agree with or that they've actively decided it is not worth sorting out.

      Sorry this isn't terribly well-organized as an argument. No time to edit, exams to study for.

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