In the competition for attention, one means of attracting and maintaining interest is to adopt a position that is contrary to either the so-called "conventional wisdom," or a trendy view. Now, that's not to say that contrary positions are illegitimate; indeed, they are often more legitimate than the prevailing view, the war in Iraq being one example (The original view of the George W. Bush administration. Not the current view, which has the benefit of hindsight.). Nevertheless, sometimes it is applied to much less significant matters, often to do little more than attract some attention.
I thought of this today as I read an opinion piece in the New York Times, Can We End the Meditation Madness? Note the alliterative provocation, "meditation madness."
In his piece, Mr. Adams, says he is "being stalked by meditation evangelists." He concludes by writing,
"Evangelists, it’s time to stop judging. The next time you meet people who choose not to meditate, take a deep breath and let us relax in peace."
These "evangelists" that are troubling him are not people who meditate. Meditation, when practiced regularly, fosters a robust sense of equanimity. Even infrequent practice, by someone who has previously meditated regularly, will sustain an awareness of equanimity and mindfulness of the futility of judging.
The people who he's criticizing, assuming they are not merely straw men, are not people who truly meditate. They are people in the throes of desire, undertaking a new activity seeking something and, having done so, also seeking to have their choices validated by others. One might say, were Mr. Adams to practice meditation, he wouldn't find these individuals so troubling. As it is, he might be grateful to them for providing him something to write about, and presumably earn some modest remuneration from the NY Times.
What one learns in meditation is to observe and let go. One "observes" one's own thoughts arising unbidden and then, through conscious effort at focusing on one's breath or some other object, choosing not to engage with those thoughts, instead noticing them pass away, replaced by another unbidden thought, again to be observed and allowed to pass away.
One is cultivating the "conscious" ability not to engage with the random chatter that occurs in the reactive mind. Judgmental thoughts may arise, but unless one engages them, they merely pass away. Engaging with them seldom changes anything for the better. Dr. James Vornov, I believe, called this "widening the space between stimulus and response."
Mindfulness is choosing to inhabit the space between stimulus and response.
Something worth thinking about in the age of social media, internet "shaming" and the like.