April 16, 2015

Cutting Through the Mindfulness Hype.

eric klein how long meditate

The other day, we were meeting with a corporate client to talk about a meditation mindfulness program we offer organizations. We asked the group of managers and employees—most of whom had no meditation experience—what the benefits of meditation might be.

Their answers?

Greater ability to focus

More emotional balance/less reactive

Reduced stress

Clearer communication and decision making

Greater self‐awareness & understanding of others

“Who wants these benefits?” we asked. Everyone raised their hands. (We did too!)

“Who knows someone at the company who doesn’t want these benefits?” Hands down.

Everyone loves the qualities of calm, clarity, compassion and creativity.

Everyone wants them and, like most people reading this article, everyone believes in the power of meditation. They’ve read the articles, and seen the overwhelming data; they’ve heard the news, and watched Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes; they’ve understood the benefits of meditation, and want some of that for themselves. Which is a problem.

What makes wanting the benefits of meditation a problem?

All the benefits of meditation—peace, clarity, balance, enlightenment—are wonderful. When these states of mind and heart arise, life is beautiful. Even when we’re facing challenges and obstacles, these qualities soften the edges and reveal deeper blessings.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that focusing on the benefits diverts our attention from something more fundamental: practice.

Peace, clarity and reduced stress are results, by-products of practice.

Of course, these states can arise without practice. And they also swiftly pass away.

No matter how much we may want to hold on to the bliss, peace and clarity, they pass.

Raising our hands isn’t enough.

Wanting the benefits doesn’t integrate these precious states into our natural way of being. That takes practice—skillful practice without straining.

The skillful practice of meditation shows us how to create the inner conditions that support the realization and embodiment of meditative awareness in daily life. Skillful practice builds the psychological and neurological structures—the inner conditions—that support mindful, meditative presence.

It’s all about the practice. 

With a bit of consistent practice, it becomes clear that these priceless qualities and others are always present and available, and yet often seem frustratingly out of reach.

With a bit of consistent practice, we recognize a paradox: that while the qualities of meditative awareness—calmness, clarity, compassion, etc.—are not separate from who and what we are, our capacity to realize, embody and express these innate qualities is limited.

This paradox is enough to make us laugh and cry at the same time.

All that we seek through meditation is ever-present.

It’s who we are. And our capacity to live this truth is limited. But limited by what?

The mind’s tendency to identify with patterns.

The mind’s tendency to identify with patterns limits our capacity to embody innate wisdom and well­‐being. The patterns aren’t the problem. It’s the identification that gets in the way. Identification impinges on the innate flow of well‐being, wisdom and loving awareness.

Every pattern has its usefulness in the right context.

The pattern of doubt has its place as much as the pattern of certainty. Fear as much as courage.

That’s true for any and all patterns. They all can be useful, serviceable and functional when they arise from uncontrived meditative presence; when they are natural expressions of innate wisdom and loving awareness.

It’s when the mind identifies with a pattern to the exclusion of all other possibilities and perspectives that it becomes limiting. Then the pattern becomes a prison. The mind locks itself in memories and throws away the key.

Meditation practice puts the keys back into our hands.

It gives us a method for gently releasing the mind from reactive identification with patterns. What happens then?

The benefits arise.

The longed­‐for qualities of calm, clarity, compassion, courage, etc. arise and infuse our lives. Practice clears the way. Practice dissolves the tendency to identify and the benefits dawn. The benefits don’t arise through striving. They arise through skillful, wise and loving practice.

During the corporate meeting, one person asked, “Can I get the benefits if I practice once a week instead a few minutes a day?”

We can’t skip steps.

It’s a tantalizing idea, one that weaves its way into much meditation sales copy. But really, we all know there’s no skipping steps. Practice unfolds at the pace of integration. In the same way a weight lifter, swimmer, or gymnast builds her athletic capacity, we build our inner capacity.

To do what?

To let go of identifying with patterns.

To realize, embody and express the wisdom and well-being that is our nature.

Practice loosens the mind’s identification with patterns, including the pattern of wanting to skip steps!

Through practice, we discover a state of being prior to thought, emotion and conditioning. 

We discover (really rediscover) that which is prior to patterns. By returning again and again to the un-­patterned awareness beyond thought, the mind naturally relaxes its grip on limited identities. We build our capacity to reside as presence without the compulsion to identify with patterns.

It’s a learning process, a practice.

With each letting go, the mind is simultaneously filled with a palpable, grounded awareness of un‐patterned peace and fulfillment. The mind learns, recognizes and gradually trusts that with each release of identification there is an influx of energy, insight and bliss.

Thus, the mind is freed from patterns and remembers its deeper identity. So what happens to the patterns?

The patterns do not go away.

They return to their natural state. As identification releases, we see, with humbling humor, that we were never the patterns. And amazingly, they never limited us.

Patterns are just patterns of thought, emotion and energy. They are configurations of awareness itself, shaped by conditioning and reinforced by identification.

As the mind lets go of identification, conditioned patterns are transformed from prisons to possibilities.

The hoped-for benefits of meditation are no longer hoped for.

Hope, as a pattern of identity is released. Ah…and the nourishing, life‐enriching states of being are recognized as ever­‐present. Now, who wants that? Hands up!



Author: Eric Klein

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Illustration: Eric Klein


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