Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Meditation for a secular audience





From The LA Times 


by Mary Macvean

"Meditation, primarily a 2,500-year-old form called mindfulness meditation that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment, has gone viral.

The unrelenting siege on our attention can take a good share of the credit; stress has bombarded people from executives on 24/7 schedules to kids who feel the pressure to succeed even before puberty. Meditation has been lauded as a way to reduce stress, ease physical ailments like headaches and increase compassion and productivity.

Religious practitioners have long claimed that, adopted by enough people, meditation could bring us world peace. Now we hear that from Chade-Meng Tan, a Google executive charged with making the company more mindful. You needn't even put down your phone, with apps like Insight Timer, which has guided meditations and ways to track your stillness.

It has moved from its Asian, monastic roots to become a practice requiring no particular dogma on a path not necessarily toward nirvana but toward a more mindful everyday life. Some serious advocates worry it's becoming another feel-good commodity.

The practice of mindfulness meditation has become more widespread at a time when the fastest-growing group demographic is made up of people who say they are unaffiliated with a particular denomination, said Varun Soni, the dean of religious life at USC, which has launched a university-wide effort toward mindfulness.

"Every religious tradition changes when it moves to a new place," Soni said.
It fits a lot about the American spirit. You don't have to join anything. It's very private. It's a very direct answer to an awful lot of stress and confusion. - Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society

In the case of meditation, it's also moved full force into the academic realm. Aside from the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the UCs in San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley are among universities that also have meditation programs. Hundreds of research papers have been published. At Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., students can earn a master's degree in mindfulness studies.

"It's mind-blowing," said Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts and one of the people who brought Buddhist meditation to the United States in the 1970s.

"It fits a lot about the American spirit," she said. "You don't have to join anything. It's very private. It's a very direct answer to an awful lot of stress and confusion."

Marturano was one of those modern jugglers: a spouse, mother to school-age children, daughter to aging parents, president of an arts board in the Twin Cities and a top executive at General Mills.

"Every day I juggled faster and faster, and on most days, most of the time, most of the balls stayed in the air," she told the hospital group.

You know where this is going: What goes up must come down.

She was put in charge of a protracted buyout of Pillsbury by General Mills; failure would have meant 10,000 layoffs (as she put it, 10,000 families losing an income, some of them people she knew). Then, within months, both of her parents died.

Marturano was depleted; a friend suggested a spa — not really her thing. Her friend insisted, and what finally lured Marturano was that it was an "intensive" retreat to study mindfulness. She figured, if it was intensive, then it might be OK.

And so she found herself at a spa in Arizona, studying with Jon Kabat-Zinn, pioneer in bringing meditation to a secular audience. She was hooked...."    more

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