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[dupe] Much of the research around meditation and mindfulness has serious flaws (newsweek.com)
83 points by DanBC 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments

I'm shocked that a relatively new clinical practice with only moderate evidence behind it would be overhyped to sell magazines. Shocked I tell you.

I was introduced to mindfulness practice as a therapy for depression several years ago at my university. They were clear it was a new approach for clinical use (though building on a long history of meditation) and that although the initial research results were promising it was still very much a developing area. For what it's worth, I've personally found it one of the more effective techniques I've been taught for relapse prevention. I support both its ongoing use and a robust attitude to demanding high-quality evidence for/against it.

The article is just describing the hype cycle for technology as applied to psychological therapy: "hey, I've a new idea" -> promising early results -> hype -> "this new approach will solve everything" -> ["actually this sucks" NOW HERE] -> "well, perhaps it's helpful for this area (for some people) (some of the time) -> "hey, I've a new idea" -> ...

The "trough of disillusionment". Great term! http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/methodologies/hyp...

In this particular case, the effect may be amplified, because expectations (the y-axis in the graph) may have an effect on meditation/mindfulness.

A hype-based placebo effect perhaps?

> I was introduced to mindfulness practice as a therapy for depression several years ago at my university. They were clear it was a new approach for clinical use (though building on a long history of meditation) and that although the initial research results were promising it was still very much a developing area.

It would be great if that's the approach other people were taking. Not everyone does this. Some of them will push mindfullness as being risk free (for a small number of people it increases risk of self harm or death by suicide) and effective for most people (it's effective for some people, but we don't know how many people).

> For what it's worth, I've personally found it one of the more effective techniques I've been taught for relapse prevention.

Yes. This is why it's important to be honest. "This seems to work, and work well, for some people. It might work for you. You should try it, and if it doesn't work we'll talk about other options." is fine. But I know people who are being denied any other option.

> But I know people who are being denied any other option.

Am I correct in guessing you are talking about a work setting, where the situation is similar to something like: "if you're overworked we're not going to address the root problem by lowering the amount of work to a sensible load, we're going to make you do more work in the form of mental exercises to strengthen your resilience, so we can burden you with more work!"?

No. I'm talking about an English NHS health settting.

Oh wow, I would expect a situation with proper health care professionals to be better than that. That sounds pretty bad.

I completely agree, and would like to highlight one part of your comment and build on it a bit:

> I was introduced to mindfulness practice as a therapy for depression several years ago at my university

Compare that to the other scenarios described in the article, or how another commenter here mentions "mindfulness events for executives and corporate". I think that just shows how mindfulness is not the real issue, but how it is applied (or worse: how things that are not mindfulness being sold as mindfulness).

To give an illustration of effective mindfulness that (hopefully) does not come across as pseudoscience, I'll describe how my anger would explode in the past, and how mindfulness helped me solve that (note that "anger management" was not listed in the article).

Mindfulness was suggested to me by a therapist (so not a magazine selling snake-oil), and despite my extreme skepticism at the time, it was very effective when I actually sat down to do it. And if you look at how my angry emotions would run away from me, this makes a lot of sense.

One cause was a reinforcing loop: upsetting thoughts causing hyper-focus on other upsetting thoughts and memories, causing more anger, bringing up more thoughts/memories. So basically, what we all have, but the feedback loop was amplified and out of balance (years later I have been diagnosed with ADD, and hyper-focus is one of the symptoms - I would not be surprised if this was the main cause of anger management issues that many ADD/ADHD people suffer from).

The other issue was me trying to control these escalating emotions, which was so frustrating that it became another source of anger in itself.

As others noted, mindfulness is mostly about becoming consciously aware of where attention is drawn to, being able to step back, and guiding attention where you want it to go to. This is different from trying to directly control the emotions triggered by whatever I end up paying attention to; I can let my emotions freely sort themselves out, as a result there is no frustrating self-inhibition.

That is all that the ten-minute-breathing exercise is for: practicing the ability to step back from the thoughts as they appear to you. That is what lets you take control of where your attention goes, allowing you to guide it elsewhere. I don't think the meditation does much else, except maybe letting out bottled-up emotions.

The funny thing is that practicing this awareness for myself has also helped me to be more aware of what others are saying and thinking during conversations, and making sure that we are actually talking about the same things. So my inter-personal communication has improved too.

Anyway, my point is that yes, mindfulness has helped me tremendously, and there is nothing mysterious about why it did: the main source of my anger was the way I processed my thoughts. Mindfulness can be great for helping with problems caused by that. However, if the main causes are external factors, like a lack of social interactions, or being in an abusive relationship at home or at work, then what would the problems be that mindfulness can solve?

I normally wouldn't weigh in here, since I am the furthest thing possible from an expert, but after even a little dabbling in meditation I can see some major misconceptions in the other comments.

It isn't about being bored, or about any of the benefits that may or may not occur.

Meditation is a useful discipline because it is about training the mind to (a) become conscious of and "reify" individual thoughts and sensations, and (b) direct and maintain attention consciously, rather than the usual unconscious process by which our minds flit from thought to thought.

Once you have these skills you can (presumably) use them for other things and to achieve various effects. But it starts there.

> become conscious of and "reify" individual thoughts and sensations

Those reified concepts (such as the 'Self') are useful in daily life. They are just concepts, abstractions that don't perfectly model reality, but they have their utility. Even the meditation practices need to be explained conceptually first, a paradoxical situation because we need concepts to go beyond concepts. Approximations are useful.

By the way, an anecdote: there is one meditation where you just ask yourself "Who am I?" and then wait and sense what you feel is your I-ness. By being mindful of that during all activities, it leads to a state beyond conceptual thinking, where the question "Who am I" becomes meaningless.

>Once you have these skills you can (presumably) use them for other things and to achieve various effects. But it starts there.

They said the same thing about brain exercises like Luminosity. The brain is way more complex, and you can't just hack your way to becoming the ultimate programmer. Perhaps there are legitamate factors that lead to unproductive and stressed out workers.

Well there are at least two differences:

- There are a lot of scientific studies (however dubious, see the original post) about the effects of meditation: there are none about Luminosity.

- Meditation has been practiced for millennia with entire cultures and philosophies built around it. Luminosity is a 6-year-old app with a good marketing team.

Neither of these things are definitive proof of course. But I think they are evidence (in the Bayesian sense) that there might be something there.

The cool thing about meditation though, is that while I'd want to wait for scientific evidence before "prescribing" it broadly, there's no barrier to an individual trying it out themselves. You'll either get something out if it or you won't. If you do, sure, it could be the placebo effect, but as has been pointed out, even if meditation is nothing more than a deliberate activation of the placebo effect, that's a pretty cool result.

Just don't make your life about feeling a placebo effect, however cool, it should be just a curiosity, not a life purpose. If the meditator wants just to meditate and doesn't care to improve his studies, career or to have a family, 20 years later it would lead to a sad realization. You can't fill your stomach with prana and emptiness won't be your wife. We're living, breathing bodies, not just pure consciousness that is one with everything.

...what are you even responding to?

>even if meditation is nothing more than a deliberate activation of the placebo effect, that's a pretty cool result.

You are misunderstanding the placebo effect.

In regards to (a), isn't it more about not reifying your thoughts and sensations? This might be semantics though; I do agree that the path of not becoming a slave to thoughts and sensations starts with acknowledging them.

Semantics or not, that's actually a very important topic. From my limited understanding, the meditation approach would be to firstly notice the thought or sensation, but then to neither repress nor necessarily express the emotion further or get carried away with it.

The rationale being that repression is a short term band-aid that does not allow for resolution of the issue, and can also be a way to conveniently trick yourself into ignoring important things (which you might want to be considering / processing). On the other hand, you also don't want to get further into the emotion, as it may add fuel to the fire (like getting carried away with stories in your mind about what you should have responded with during an argument, etc). So, there's some kind of balancing act there.

So reify might actually be a good word, although it may go to far, as you pointed out.

Drawing parallels between meditation and reinforcement learning, I have realized that those thoughts we are supposed not to sustain (about the future and past) are simulations. We do model-based RL in our heads, simulating (imagining) future events in our minds, in order to adapt. So mindfulness is telling us not to simulate, and instead, just to perceive.

Yes, I meant acknowledging thoughts as "things" which you can observe, pay attention to or ignore as you will.

Perhaps I reified my interpretation the word reify a bit too much :-).

Yes, my thoughts exactly (not an expert as well). It was eye-opening for me, if only for just the technique to understand how the mind works and how it can be directed more productively

> Major commercial players in the meditation space

The sheer insanity of this phrase astounds me. There's an industry devoted to meditation. For such a thing to exist, you have to start by convincing people that they're not meditating right. Which means some people are better at it than others and you should worry about not being as good. What's next, competitive meditation?

Guided meditation is a big deal. I know a number of people who use Headspace. Also, obviously, some people are better at meditating. I think most meditation practitioners tend to sort of remove ego, not add to it. So I don't see anyone being competitive about it. But I do see people desperate for the benefits and looking to those good at it to show them the way. There are worse things people could be trying really hard to get good at :)

A lot of meditation and mindfulness encourages an active focus on other people and how they are feeling. I think it is generally wholesome with a side industry trying to take money from people who heard it was good.

> obviously, some people are better at meditating

This is not obvious to me. This is the message the meditation industry is trying to sell, and I'm not buying it. We have a long history in the West of selling pre-packaged individually-wrapped enlightenment products and claiming they come from the East, where enlightenment was invented. But that's marketing, not reality.

> This is the message the meditation industry is trying to sell, and I'm not buying it.

Why do you find this hard to believe? Meditation and mindfulness is a skill, there are in fact various techniques or approaches one can take to improve the effectiveness. Being opposed to charging money for this is one thing, denying its existence is something else.

It really is a skill. You can get good at it in a very short time, or in a lifetime, or never.

> There's an industry devoted to meditation. For such a thing to exist, you have to start by convincing people that they're not meditating right

The second sentence does not follow from the first. Why do you think it does?

Well, I think I'm meditating just fine, thank you very much, and I don't need a meditation industry to help me. This is a problem for the meditation industry, because it means they can't sell me meditation products. They need me to believe that I could be meditating better if I had their product or service, so there's a huge incentive for them to try to convince me that I'm meditating wrong.

Good for you.

Just because a person can do something fine by themselves doesn't mean that a service can't help other people. Some people can work out fine by themselves. Personal trainers help others. The existence of personal trainers doesn't stop anyone from working out themselves, and they do provide a benefit to some people.

Why does a, say, app have to be telling you're doing it sub-optimally?? Why can't it be something that provides things like convenience or assistance?

> Why can't it be something that provides things like convenience or assistance

Because the experience and practice of meditation is so entirely subjective as to make these claims absurd. What does convenience mean to meditation, when all that meditation requires is for you to be present?

Do you consider this book to be snake oil?


> What does convenience mean to meditation, when all that meditation requires is for you to be present?

Reminding you to remain present. A guided meditation app can do that. That's convenience, but it won't meditate in your place.

A convenient way to learn how to be present, or to bring you back to being present when you're drifting.

Competitive yoga exists, so meditation isn't far off

Fun comment, but you know, people are paying to run in rooms so ..

As somebody with clinical anxiety, I have been prescribed CBT and Mindfulness on the NHS, I think this piece misses several key points.

For one thing, NICE (the UK NGO responsible for analysing evidence and making recommendations on the efficacy of treatments and their cost effectiveness) and an all-party Parliamentary group found signifcant evidence to recommend Mindfulness as a treatment for anxiety and mild depression along with traditional cognitive-behavioural therapy and SSRIs.

Secondly, mindfulness feels, to me, closely related to CBT, a tried and true therapy. It appears to be very closely related to CBT in what it helps to control: intrusive thoughts. The increased focus on meditation is why it's more effective for anxiety and mild depression.

It's most certainly NOT recommended for serious cases of clinical depression. As often, selected application of evidence and over-generalisation is the problem here.

Mindfulness can help with a range of relatively-minor mental health issues, and it can also help prevent relapses in those that have recovered. For those of us who have been helped that's really not something to diminish.

It's not that there's no evidence for its effectiveness at all. There is.

(Disclosure: Mindfulness helped my anxiety a lot. I believe it to be more than placebo, but then I would, wouldn't I?)

I agree. But one of the problems NICE finds is the variable quality of what "mindfulness" actually is. Can an app deliver mindfulness? Can an MP3? Can it be self-delivered? Is there a difference between group work and solo work? If a mental health professional gives a patient a link to HeadSpace has that MH professional delivered a mindfulness treatment?

And NICE are sometimes giving DO NOT recommendations for mindfulness, eg here:


> Do not routinely offer mindfulness-based interventions[3] or supportive therapy to treat social anxiety disorder.

The supporting evidence for that is here: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg159/evidence/full-guideli...

I'm not surprised they recommend against it for social anxiety. I've dealt with (relatively low levels of) social anxiety myself, and I also do mindfulness meditation, and while I thing mindfulness can be useful in understanding the mental impulses ("why did I not say hi to that person even though I badly wanted to?") and have made me a lot more acutely aware of the impulses driving how I act in social situations, it alone has done nothing to alter that behavior or the anxieties around it.

In my case my anxieties were limited enough that while I won't say I've completely gotten rid of it, I got over most it by applying my own gradual exposure - I spent months setting myself challenges of e.g. getting eye contact with and saying hi, or "how are you?" in "low stress" situations like to cashiers or other "captive" audiences. It not only reduced my anxieties but was a big eye opener in terms of social interactions in general (peoples responses changed dramatically). [note: I don't recommend people do this if they face severe anxiety - see a therapist; it worked for me, but probably largely because my anxiety was mild]

I'd think mindfulness might be useful for someone with social anxiety after they have the actual anxiety under control, though, as a way to further improve social skills, just like for people without anxiety. But I'm not surprised it's not a good choice as a replacement for other therapy or drugs to get the anxiety itself under control.

[EDIT: As an example of the awareness it brought to me, one thing I hate is making phone calls, and mindfulness has not stopped that, but one thing mindfulness has done was making me aware of avoidance behaviors, such as letting me more easily "catch myself out" when I use silly excuses for going to pointless lengths to e.g. seek out information online instead of making a two minute phone call; it didn't make me feel less anxious about the call but may have had a limited effect in making it more easily apparent to me which things I are worth addressing using other methods]

> Secondly, mindfulness feels, to me, like an offshoot of CBT. It appears to be very closely related to CBT in both its approach and what it helps control.

Really? When I meditate I need to turn my thoughts off. With CBT you reframe your thoughts by a process of what I'd like to call creative thinking and empiricism. So for me, it's not an offshoot of CBT, since mindfulness is not concerned with thoughts but with being mindful on whatever your object of mindfulness is (in 95% of the cases it's your body).

Also, mindfulness was ripped out of Buddhism. Mindfulness was "Buddha's" invention on top of Hinduism -- as I understand it. Hinduistic meditation focuses on concentration (note: I stand corrected if I'm wrong), whereas Buddhistic meditation shifts (eventually) towards mindfulness and depending on the tradition you have like 4+ different forms of mindfulness.

What psychologists/neuroscientists did was take these techniques out of their contexts to see if they were helpful for therapy. And apparently -- according to their studies -- they were.

I just know from personal experience how mindfulness damages me, I also know how it can heal me. I prefer to use it for healing purposes. For me, when I need to be more connected to my body and to other people I use mindfulness and loving kindness meditation (metta) as a practice. Metta makes me more connected to people and mindfulness acts as a multiplier towards that connection (since I am more aware of all my feelings). Whenever I need to code, focus and analyze more I tend to be less interested in meditation practices.

I'm noticing it's not a hoax. I've meditated 500+ hours and my baseline level of being aware of my feelings is slightly but noticeably higher. Even if I don't meditate for months.

> When I meditate I need to turn my thoughts off

Good luck with that! From my experience and the teachings I received, meditation is not about turning thoughts off (which is practically impossible) but becoming aware of them in a way that you don't get lost into them, the goal being to understand hands-on how the mind works.

> Mindfulness was "Buddha's" invention on top of Hinduism

That's completely wrong AFAICT, although I concede that the term "mindfulness" can be perceived as a lay version of "meditation", without religious or philosophical connotation.

Mindfulness meditation indeed is not about turning thoughts off.

Concentration meditation on the other hand can involve turning thoughts off. Mindfulness meditation involve a certain degree of concentration practice (e.g. the use of breath meditation - anapanasati) to maintain focus, but too much concentration is directly detrimental to mindfulness meditation.

> is not about turning thoughts off (which is practically impossible)

It depends on the person probably. I can easily shut the "loud" thoughts down, what remains is muted "flashes" of concepts in the back of the mind which almost lack vocalization. I can shut down those too, then only awareness of sensory experiences remains. I was never able to feel pure awareness of existence of self though. Maybe it's just one thing.

> When I meditate I need to turn my thoughts off.

Mindfulness meditation is very explicitly not about turning thoughts off, but about letting thoughts arise and fall away without getting caught up in it.

Concentration meditation practices do involve turning thoughts off.

That said, I also find the comparison to CBT curious.

> (in 95% of the cases it's your body).

In mindfulness meditation, while it can be your body, it is not generally nearly as dominant a focus unless you want it to be. The "baseline" tends to be mindfulness of breath (anapanasati) because it is a convenient basis for a necessary level of concentration, and while it may involve the body peripherally as where you will notice the breath, is not about the body (indeed, while mindfulness of breath is simple as a starting point, people have written 500+ pages of books just on that one subject, and that involves e.g. the selection of other meditation objects to use while practising mindfulness of breath to achieve specific effects, such as dulling distractions, and a lot of that seems to be down to draw attention away from your body, because your body is a rife source of distracting sensations).

Mindfulness of the body is a separate aspect which tends to explicitly involve letting the sensations of part of the body fill your mind and diffuse outwards until it feels like that part of your body is all there is. When you do it with sufficient concentration it produces very curious sensations. It can also be a useful practice to reduce physical pain (I've had success with it but to very varying degree) - I see that as a trick of the mind where you basically seek to "spread the pain around" mentally so that it feels like it dissolves; sharp pains feel like dull aches. Nevertheless when successful it is a very useful trick of the mind (as a skeptic it feels to me as intentionally seeking out a placebo effect, but if it works it works).

Mindfulness of mind and and mindfulness of emotion are other separate aspects, and purely disassociated from the body, though you will tend to use mindfulness of breath to bring the concentration needed for it.

Most beginners mindfulness practice tends to focus first on mindfulness of breath to attain base levels of concentration and then mindfulness of mind.

If you focus only on the body as the object of meditation, you miss out on many aspects.

"and fall away without getting caught up in it"

I'd agree that thinking of mindfulness as turning thoughts off is not quite right - but I think he means what you mean when you say "fall away". He probably thinks of letting a thought fall away and not following it as "turning it off".

Thank you for educating the discussion on what meditation is and isn't. Western culture/medicine seems to have fixated on meditation being only mindfulness which is just one facet of the journey inward.

Well, CBT is about recognising and stopping intrusive thoughts before they become too harmful. Mindfulness extends this idea to using meditation to create an environment in which it's hard for intrusive thoughts to occur.

The focus on meditation as a treatment for anxiety and depression is relatively new, the focus on reducing or eliminating intrusive thoughts isn't.

I'm quite excited about CBT, but I think it's kind of a half-way-there step towards meditation/mindfulness, and in my personal case it actually was counter-productive in a way that meditation hasn't been.

The core difference, I'd say, is that with CBT there is still too much emphasis on your thoughts. You're taught to use your own thinking to counter those thoughts, which is a bit like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

In my case, that made an anxious mind more anxious, because the anxiety itself is usually irrational and caused by thoughts.

Again, I'm quite excited by CBT because I do think it can be very effective. But I'm even more excited about some of the 'newer' approaches under the CBT umbrella that don't suffer from the flaw of still relying on your irrational mind to solve irrational problems.

> But I'm even more excited about some of the 'newer' approaches under the CBT umbrella

Can you give examples?

It's a while back that I did my research, but I think it was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy that struck me as a kind of progression toward even more of the mindfulness/observational approach, and away from using your thinking to solve your thinking.

I also find https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_ther... an interesting approach.

Either way I wouldn't argue that those approaches are better in all cases, but rather that they appear to draw even more from (Zen?) Buddhism than CBT does, and that for an atypical, anxious mind like mine they seem to work in a way that CBT doesn't. In fact, I've found that my anxiety was often worse when I actively applied CBT when I was in therapy.

There are some modified versions of CBT that some people use with more of a focus on mindfulness. There's one called DBT, dialectical behavior therapy. For me, this was like all the benefits of CBT but with a much easier way to get to there. Although, I'm not sure what the research evidence is like for DBT. But I definitely agree that CBT feels extremely similar to mindfulness. Mindfulness is just sort of another approach to the same end result, and certainly might not be the right approach for everyone.

> (Disclosure: Mindfulness helped my anxiety a lot. I believe it to be more than placebo, but then I would, wouldn't I?)

I don't see why this would need to be dismissed as a placebo. A placebo is something that works by tricking the mind into have an effect on the body, right? The key being that there really is an effect. So couldn't mindfulness be seen as purposefully harnessing the placebo effect?

> Mindfulness helped my anxiety a lot. I believe it to be more than placebo, but then I would, wouldn't I?

Even if it improved your quality of life just because you think it did, so what? A reliable way to placebo yourself with actual results would be amazing.

There is no need for scientific proof. I observe that being mindful changes things for me: The way I listen to people, the way I eat, the way I handle rejection or anger or any other feeling. I realize that being mindful (vs mindlessly and blindly doing things) sharpens my senses, makes me think clearer, makes me change perspectives, create more categories or realize that I think within categories.

I got in touch with mindfulness by reading one of Jon Kabat-Zinn's books ("Wherever you go, there you are"). That was almost twenty years ago. Shortly after that I read Ellen Langer's book "Mindfulness", which is more about the negative effects of mindlessness.

I think that the pure process of observing something (mindfully) has the potential to positively influence the results. Whether I sit down quietly and observe my feelings and thoughts (things that happened in the past or things that'll happen in the future) as they come and go. Or as I interact with people, or as I walk, travel or engage in any type of activity.

I don't need scientific evidence that all of this has a measurable positive effect. My own observation is enough evidence for me.

Edit: typo

Scientific proof is always a good thing. Many self-improvement stuff only have function of being placebo and you could as well be delusional that things are working as it was promised. I am curious about mindfulness, especially because different people claiming to practice it haven't been able to define it consistently. It's also hard to trust anything that is designed to be sold at executive retreats and leadership programs.

Anyway, so how do you define and practice it?

See, the problem is in trying to understand it all, with the thinking mind: the mechanisms, the effects. This is what Zen masters have been trying to teach us all the time: That we are not our thinking minds, neither are we are thoughts. There is a level beyond that. Meta. Holistic. Where you grasp intuitively.

I do understand that every charlatan could argue like that. And the self help genre has turned into a huge industry in the US alone. With coaches, gurus, teachers who want us to buy yet another book or seminar to get rich, to find inner peace, etc

The essence of Mindfulness meditation - the way I see it - is pretty simple: Being mindful in many situations. Hitting the pause button regularly. Taking time. Being more aware.

What does this have to do with the article?

Proof is important for something used in a clinical setting when potentially suicidal people are involved. Proof that these things are safe and effectve is literally a life-and-death issue for some people.

Similarly, laypeople prescribe these things for a vast array of problems, and we need to know if that practice is harmful or helpful.

Whether it works for you or whether you need proof is irrelevant to whether proof is needed more broadly.

If you need a book to meditate, you are probably doing it wrong.

How else is one supposed to learn without access to a teacher?

If you read the proper book on meditation, you would be meditating on why your mind holds that belief.

Not really surprised. How do you even do measurements in a brain to see if it has any effect?

It's already quite tricky to make sure anti depressants work, so I would not trust meditation.

At best you just make people believe doing it will make them better, so as long as they believe it, it might be reassuring enough.

I don't tell people to do meditation, I tell them to go to a quiet place outside, in a park or woods, to sit and do nothing and let their thoughts go around. No phone, no book, no toys. The mere act of doing nothing is already doing a lot to relax you, and people have lost the simple habit of relaxing. Stop being busy, that's what people need.

>It's already quite tricky to make sure anti depressants work, so I would not trust meditation.

That's an odd comparison to make given these are two radically different therapies. One doesn't follow from the other.

>Stop being busy, that's what people need.

Relaxing and meditating aren't synonymous. Simply reducing one's workload doesn't necessarily address the issues that might indicate meditation as a course of treatment.

>I don't tell people to do meditation, I tell them to go to a quiet place outside, in a park or woods, to sit and do nothing and let their thoughts go around.

I consider that to be a form of meditation, even though many seem to think that meditation is strictly limited to sitting in an uncomfortable position in a dark room with your eyes closed.

> to sit and do nothing and let their thoughts go around.

Pretty dangerous if those thoughts are "I am worthless and no-one would miss me if I die" or "my family would be better off if I kill myself".

And this is where one needs wisdom that should be part of a healthy meditation practice.

I have practiced meditation for 20 years but I still don't understand what is the purpose of emptiness (I mean I used to think I did but now I'm not so sure). What would be the purpose from a reinforcement learning point of view? A state where I have no likes or dislikes, no goal, no reward signals, where I feel no attraction or repulsion, where the distinction between self and other disappears. An uprooted agent drifting in the world, trying to be 'nothing'.

Would that make me better? I have had many colleagues who dedicated their life to meditation and ended up alone and without a career. I don't think they are particularly happy now, and that is because they prioritised the spiritual ideals above anything else, ignoring other legitimate needs. Is it even a good idea to exist as a pure witness detached from anything around you, or to think that you are not really a person?

What I approve of is being more aware, in the present moment. This practice clearly has a purpose. It can lead to less impulsive reactions / more adaptive actions, without so much internal struggle. But the rest is just playing with your mind - mantras, chakras, Kundalini, they are just side effects of the nervous system. They feel transcendent but are just a bunch of feelings.

>"Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. And, therefore, if you meditate for an ulterior motive – that is to say, to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life – you’ve got your eye on the future and you are not meditating. Because, the future is a concept; it doesn’t exist. As the proverb says, “Tomorrow never comes.” There is no such thing as tomorrow; there never will be, because time is always now. That’s one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves and stop thinking; there is only a present – only an eternal now.

It’s funny then, isn’t it, that one meditates for no reason at all. Except we could say, ‘for the enjoyment of it,’ and here I would interpose the essential principal that meditation is supposed to be fun. It’s not something you do as a grim duty. The trouble with religion as we know it, is that it is so mixed up with grim duties, ‘we do it because it’s good for you, it’s a form of self-punishment’. Well, meditation when correctly done has nothing to do with all that. It’s a kind of digging in the present; it’s a kind of grooving with the eternal now. And it brings us into a state of peace where we can understand that the point of life, the place where it’s at, is simply here and now."

~Alan Watts, The Art of Meditation

I know that high level meditation is supposed to have no practical purpose, but that is exactly what is bothering me. What would be the utility of that, from an evolutionary point of view, or from a reinforcement learning point of view (where we divide the world into agents and environment, with goals and rewards).

The spiritual utility, as it is presented in tradition, is related to attaining some sort of freedom and realization, a subjective feeling. But I am thinking (devil's advocate) that all are just patterns of activation in the brain, in other words, just perceptions and emotions. And from a practical point of view, there is nothing useful about it - I am referring only to emptiness, not to mindful attention.

The emptiness you're referring to, if I understand you correctly, is that of sunyata[1], wherein we realize precisely what you have stated: that there is no thing besides patterns and activations, and that assuming these things construct a whole person that has some sort of "centerpoint" is fallacious. Your devil's advocate point arrives at the truth precisely.

The freedom arises when one accepts this fact wholeheartedly. This realization isn't "supposed" to help you, or bring you anywhere, since that would be assuming that the actions that are taken have some internal guidance mechanism that bring it to fruition and bestow benefit on the actor. But no such thing exists. It just happens, is, and you are ok with it (or not). The utility doesn't need to exist because it can't exist: if all there is, is now, utility has absolutely no goals or targets, and thus the only thing supporting its "existence" is an assumption about what may yet does not exist.

[1] http://buddhanet.net/cbp2_f6.htm

Why does it need a utility? When one spontaneously begins dancing, they aren't thinking of some practical purpose or end goal, they're just doing it because it's fun and they're enjoying themselves in the moment.

Anyone who has felt the flow of music come through them and freely improvised, either as a musician or a dancer, is in what I would deem a meditative state. In that moment, they aren't thinking about anything other than what they are doing right then and there, and they're having a wonderful time doing so.

It's an interesting question, too rarely asked.

I think that emptiness is sort of brain hacking, not something we evolved into. but on the other hand, evolution might not optimized us for happiness either.

As for what the experience is , while living in a modern context, this interview with Gary Weber, who once led big r&d organizations, and is now "enlightened", is great:


As for you colleagues' being unsecsseful, sadly, one of the bigest lies told/implied by some parts of buddhism, is that "if you're dedicated, you will become englithened". But if you look at the statistics, this is not the case at all, and rarely few get enlightened.

What are they missing ? my guess is that:

(a) our training technology isn't good enough, yet, but there's a lot of hope in that front in recent science/tech

(b) Enlightenment may require certain level of psychological development. so maybe certain types of psychological work might be better at the early stages.

(c) Genetics play a role too. For example, if you're someone with bipolar disorder, meditation may trigger mania(and than comes depression). maybe.

Personally, i wonder if another type of brain hacking, instead of enlightenment, is better for happiness, for the masses: teaching people how to achieve a flow state at will, combined with helping them with standard tool of ego based psychology.

I think emptiness can serve as a sort of reference to keep things in perspective, but I'm just as unsure as you are how capable emptiness is as a philosophy. I think, mainly, it can be a tool to help you get closer to detached awareness of the present moment. If you aim to go from "a self who is being aware of the present moment" to "some poorly defined state of emptiness who is exists in the present moment", you sort of get closer to "being more aware of the present with less impulsive reactions" by default. But, like many things, you can take it too far and the idea kind of falls apart somewhere.

In the literature there are several degrees of emptiness, but emptiness is something that you "find" as you progress through the path. People make this mistake where they think the quest for emptiness where one does not feel anything.

From my understanding, the closer you are to emptiness the less afflictions you have. This is extremely useful. To bring your point home, the happiest people I know are the ones who are less afflicted, mostly due to their meditation practice.

Of course, meditation practice varies wildly across the board, as well as the quality of the technique, teachers, practitioner, etc.

I share your opinion, but it's not a very popular one in the community, especially among those new to it in my experience. :)

Kundalini is a bunch of feelings?!?!

I haven't had a full-blown conscious experience, but I have been woken up in the middle of the night feeling like I've been connected to the mains, so much energy surging through me. I've had experiences in meditation where the energy was overwhelming and I've had to stop.

Could this be the gateway to some more profound experience? I certainly find it believable and intend to find out.

Re 'the purpose of emptiness' - I completely agree it's a difficult subject and I certainly don't claim to be all the way down the path or have all the answers. However, I've had glimpses. See my other comments.

Emptiness can have this negative pursuit of denial, but in fact I believe that's not the correct practice. Of course a person is a person, and trying to deny that is a fallacy. I think it comes from misunderstanding teachings. It can be useful to have a knowledgeable teacher to discuss questions like this so we don't stray too far from the path. Meditation is a difficult thing to put into words so it's easy to get the wrong end of the stick and sometimes stray a bit, especially when you take into account the confusion of translating subtle concepts between languages, and a lot of parroting from people with little direct experience. Still, the good news is there are more and more Westerners having experiences who can help clarify things.

Meditation should make our lives richer. Looking at my own past behaviours, I realised I do what I do because I want to feel amazing. Some part of me believes I should be able to have peak experiences, and meditation has given me some. This begs the question - is this yearning to feel amazing because it's possible to live like that permanently, and I intuitively know this? That'd be a game changer. I mean, if I naturally just felt totally contented and ecstatically happy (incidentally I didn't understand what 'ecstasy' meant until just a few weeks ago when I began to experience that too), how would I live?

I certainly wouldn't drift trying to be 'nothing'. I'd have to share it. Or enjoy it. Or do something with it I imagine. But it would certainly make my life richer and more enjoyable.

Right now there are a lot of people who claim to teach yoga but just know a few postures. Also, if we look to the past, many of the traditions have been kept secret for hundreds of years. I've heard rumours that some schools of Zen eventually secretly teach the microcosmic orbit to their higher-level students after decades of practice. I've heard of Eastern Taoists being astonished at some of the practices that Westerners know, saying that some of them are still highly secret in the East.

So one problem is in the traditions. You were expected to take this lifelong pledge to a guru who drip-fed you (partly because the student could be seen as the guru's 'pension'), and that doesn't work for us now. Some of the more effective practices should be taught earlier to give both sides of a practice, energetic and meditative, and so we are rewarded with improvements in our lives which stimulates more desire to practice. I put a link to the excellent AYP in my other comment and I really suggest you check it out for a complete resource.

But one thing is certain: Kundalini can in no way be classified as "just a bunch of feelings". You only need to read Gopi Krishna to learn that.

Maybe we should have listened to the people who are Zen Buddhists about how reaching satori is incredibly difficult?

I don't think most people are expecting to get to that level, though. You can get benefits without getting that deep.

But the key is you can get benefits rather than have a guarantee that you will get very specific sets of benefits. It's not a wonder-cure for every mental problem around.

People should be aware that this does not mean you shouldn't meditate. At least give it a shot. The risk/reward ratio is so heavily skewed toward reward (what are the risks, really?) that you'd be foolish not to try it.

So like Pascal's Wager for meditation?

Exactly. And to paraphrase some other comment read in this thread: "It's 1000s years that people practice religion, so it must imply that it is good for them". Mindfulness or meditation is just the usual wave of religion or spiritualism or whatever you want to call it mimetized as something more exotic and powerful. The peculiar thing is that for the most part the self-professed atheist are the most fervent proponents of this. So maybe it is true that spirituality is an innate need of the human race...

Eh.. no? Mindfulness is something for which the results of trying it are testable. Pascal's Wager is a gamble about what happens beyond the verifiable. They are fundamentally different.

Tell this to someone that committed suicide because of mindfulness.. Oh wait.. they look exactly the same to me in this case.

This is you right now: https://xkcd.com/1901/

EDIT: Ok, fine, I'll bite: exactly the same how exactly?

Anti-depressants can cause suicide too: some people are too depressed to even commit suicide, and the anti-depressants give them enough mental energy to commit to that.

That doesn't mean anti-depressants are pseudo-science or a bad idea, it just means their usage must be determined on a case-by-case basis

I believe there are only 2 way to reach truth.

1. experience your truth 2. do statistically sound study to show if your truth is in fact the truth of majority.

to challenge and test the use of , meditation and 'Mindfulness', JUST TRY IT on yourself. this won't kill you or cost you fortune. find your own truth.

P.S. - I think this magazine Article to be somewhat hocus - pocus. I can't pinpoint what's wrong1 except something just doesn't seem right!

Number two seems not right. For the path you’re talking about to be useful, shouldn’t it still work even if you’re the last person on left on Earth? Number two also assumes that the majority of people are also searching for truth (seems they aren’t, currently) or have already found it (which would require that they’d been already searching).

If, i am the last person on earth. I can still find my truth, by experiencing it myself. it's not 1 and 2. it's 1 or 2.

You can't "reach" truth. Truth is a quantum state. I think "finding your own truth" is just a euphemism for "be comfortable with your interpretation of reality". (unless you meant to say "peace", in which case you can probably achieve a kind of peace and reasonably observe it)

I think, your truth is your (interpretation of) reality. I believe, any and every thing else doesn't matter.

Avoid using words never, always, ever, all, none, only. Most sentences containing those words are not true given enough space and time.

i think 1 is no good. human perception has too many bugs.

Would argue that your own experience is the only thing that matters.

Psychedelic Therapy will be the next one.

Which is sad, because I get the impression that in the situations where it does seem to work (alcoholism for example), it's both very effective and one of the few therapies that work at all.

Is there a term to describe the outrage that we seem to be sharing towards the snake oil salesmen?

Between being a placebo and a straight up pseudoscience(if I even were to call it a “science”) in my opinion “mindfulness” is a type of pavlovian conditioning design to establish a self-empathy defense mechanism within our minds.

I’ve been to “mindfulness events” for executives and corporate, where people claim to let go of their ego only to look down on anyone who is not as “open minded “ as they are.

Overall is another balancing act between our “ego” and “super ego”. But I guess it does “works” for some individuals.

I'm trying, but I can't find a way to understand what you describe in terms of my experience with mindfulness practice.

Conditioning for what? Defense against what? It just seems entirely disconnected from my experience, which is "just" a combination of deep relaxation and a sensation of being more alert to (some) mental impulses rather than blindly following them (all the time). It is not a miracle cure for anything. It won't give you mental superpowers. But it offers a different way of looking at things that sometimes offers surprising insights.

I'm sure there are some incredibly poor events for executives and corporate, given the money you can potentially make, but that says very little about mindfulness and more about these types of events.

I agree with your argument discribing the fact that, I should not judge a single chronological event as means to an end. I should rather reason by first principle rather than by analogy.

Yet experiences are a often influenced by various psychological and environmental componets. The fact that we have different experiences is absolutely natural, thus I’m capable of comprehending your argument.

I was simply stating my thought analogy based on my past experiences.

Since is rather hard to measure such statements (in a quantitative way) I shall be skeptical of other people’s “experiences”. Thus staying true to my thought process, unless I manage to find a comon ground by truly “experiencing” what some call “mindfulness “.

>I’ve been to “mindfulness events” for executives and corporate, where people claim to let go of their ego only to look down on anyone who is not as “open minded “ as they are.

They're doing it wrong. Gloating about supposedly getting rid of one's ego is pure irony. As Alan Watts once said, "getting rid of your ego is the biggest ego trip going"

Try it! Sit down. Turn off anything distracting. For five minutes, close your eyes, don't move, focus on your breathing, and whenever you get a thought, let your mind pick it up, examine it, and then put it back down and out of mind. Let your focus come to rest on your breathing.

I’ve been to “mindfulness events” for executives and corporate, where people claim to let go of their ego only to look down on anyone who is not as “open minded “ as they are.

"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few."

--- Shunryu Suzuki

I don't get how that quote relates to the parent post, can you clarify?

Sorry, I should have added an explanation for my quotation.

The parent post (rightfully) pointed out that some teachers feel superior to their students. The core of buddhism (from which insight meditation comes) is that suffering is a result of attachment, since everything is non-permanent.

These teachers may be attached to their perceived accomplishments in their practice, leading to a feeling of superiority. This is a well-known trap in meditation practice.

Hence Suzuki's quote: mediation practice should be treated with a beginner's mind, with openness and no preconceptions. Feeling better than your students is a contradiction to that, it starts with the preconception that you are better/more enlightened.

I have to admit that I find it difficult to write this comment, since it is paradoxical or perhaps even self-contradictary.

I like mikekchar's answer as well ;).

The quote refers to an idea in Zen Buddhism called shoshin, or "beginner's mind". The general idea is that the more you believe you are an expert on a subject, the more closed off you become to new ideas and ways you can improve. Instead, shoshin encourages you to approach all things with eagerness of a beginning.

If you're interested, you should read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which is a short book collecting some of Suzuki's teachings.

I can second that recommendation. My brain prefers the more intellectual writings about zen, but I'm aware that this is somewhat counter to the whole point of zen. This book comes closest to getting me into the kind of mindset where I want to go and meditate. It's also just a really nice collection of 'sermons' to 'meditate' upon.

I understand the quote, but I still don't get the relevance to the first post, sorry. Can you describe it more explicitly?

Not the OP and not in any way an expert, but the way I read it: the original post is completely correct -- insofar as it has been written. One could think, "I have examined it and determined it to be completely without merit". Having done so, there is no further need to examine -- because it is without merit. This is obvious.

On the other hand, you can think of it like the proverbial box, of which we are often encouraged to think outside. You can examine the entire box and discover that it holds nothing. But if you never look at the outside of the box, perhaps you will never see what others find valuable.

To bring it back to more concrete terms, to the extent that the original poster is looking to find a pavlovian response, they will find it. And from there, the rest follows by simple logic. But if you are looking for something else (or, in fact, nothing), then perhaps you will find something else.

I often find this when I talk about more technical topics; TDD, for instance. TDD is often a waste of time when applied the way many people apply it. Having studied a lot about TDD, many people are wedded to the definition they have created. Eventually they get disillusioned when it doesn't work. When they examine it, they realise that it can't work. That is the expert's mind. But the secret is that they are not doing TDD. If they throw away the expert's mind (in other words, don't do it the way that doesn't work), they have a chance of discovering TDD that works.

Disclaimer: I meditate and enjoy it. TDD helps me be more productive. YMMV.

I see where you are coming from and I thank you for taking your time to answer in such detailed oriented form.

Is true that “if you look for it, you will find it”, Yet experiences are a often influenced by various psychological and environmental componets. The fact that we have different experiences is absolutely natural, thus I’m capable of comprehending your argument.

I was simply stating my thought analogy based on my past experiences.

Since is rather hard to measure such statements (in a quantitative way) I shall be skeptical of other people’s “experiences”. Thus staying true to my thought process, until I manage to find a common ground by truly “experiencing” what some call “mindfulness “.

> where people claim to let go of their ego only to look down on anyone who is not as “open minded“ as they are

These people are not practicing beginner's mind, and may be missing opportunities to learn.

Sorry but what are you talking about?

Mindfulness is a type of mental training for achieving a balance between attention and awareness and a strong concentration that can be used to study your mind.

It's a form of introspective psychology.

There's plenty of support behind cognitive behavioral therapy--mindfulness is the same thing, but facing westward. Where is the discrepancy?

Glad the title was updated.

Clinical psych graduate student and researcher studying, among other things, group mindfulness interventions in a clinical setting. Thought I'd weigh in.

While there is a lot of not so good research surrounding mindfulness, there is some decent research as well, some of which is mentioned in the original article. Mindfulness-based interventions like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Basic Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) do show, as stated, at least moderate effects for stress, anxiety and general well-being. The difficulty that I'm finding in my own research (mostly still unpublished) is that these groups don't do much more than just being in any group would, and actually my current work is on parsing group vs meditation-specific effects (outcome variance decomposition). Meditation-specific effects are, indeed, proving elusive.

But there are a couple of things at play here. The first is that, it's nearly impossible to separate the effects of ANY short-term treatment from so-called "group" or "therapist" effects. One of the major findings of the last 10-15 years is that a therapist or group-leader's ability to convey confidence, warmth and understanding and to establish rapport is a massively more important factor than technique, at least in the short-term. We're talking 80+ of treatment gains. Of course, to do that you generally have to have at least an effective-seeming technique, and one that you legitimately believe in, but it doesn't seem to matter which one. Again, this is in the short-term.

The second issue, is that virtually all studies in any clinical intervention are really quite short. MBSR is 8 sessions. How good do you think a person can really get at meditation in 20 minutes per day for 50ish days? The answer is, not very. And that's true for other cognitive and behavioral treatments as well. Studies limit the length of their tested interventions to between 8 and 20 weeks, and usually on the lower end, for funding and convenience reasons. Then they (we) find that group and therapist factors trump technique. It's really not that surprising when you think about it. It's not that the techniques don't work, it's just that it takes as long to master your mind as it does to master anything else, 100s to 1000s of hours. And that research, which would take years and be extremely expensive, just isn't done.

So yes, a lot of the mindfulness work out there is hype. But it doesn't really bear on whether mindfulness is effective, just whether a person can make massive gains in 2-4 months. My own view, is that mindfulness is an effective tool for teaching awareness and attention control. I use it in conjunction with other cognitive and behavioral techniques with my own clients.

Review paper on mindfulness effect sizes for anxiety and depression. I've seen others which found moderate rather than large treatment gains:


The "Dodo Hypothesis" that the bulk of therapeutic treatment gains are the result of "common factors" (therapist effects, rapport, empathy, etc.)


I think the second one is behind a paywall, but you should be able to grab the DOI and "find it".

Tangential, but has anyone else noticed a surge in newsweek links here and on reddit? I feel like they hired some consultants.

It's really easy to check if numbers of submission have increased.


Judge for yourself: https://i.imgur.com/yPUg6pC.png

Oops. Didn't notice it's cumulative.

Them and NYT

Few years ago, I read an article about mindfulness on HN, and it finally clicked with me, why some people recommended me to meditate, and I dismissed it because I was too skeptical. I have since understood it as training yourself to being bored, and through that, focus better on a single task that is boring but you have to do it.

It probably isn't a cure for everything, but looked at this way, it is still quite useful.

> I have since understood it as training yourself to being bored...

There is a vast landscape of meditation practices from numerous traditions that focus on different aspects, but I think your comment is an extremely poor characterization of them. It's bit like describing playing guitar or piano as "moving your fingers in some specific patterns." Uh, no.

I think OP is correct, it just wasn't stated as well as it could've been. Meditation (at least some practice forms) is an act of forcing boredom upon yourself AND exploring how your mind's default settings react in that environment. There is a reason why focusing on something like your breath is recommended vs. focusing on the television (breath is boring!).

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

> “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

A quote from Blaise Pascal, a philosopher who spent a lot of time sitting quietly, alone, thinking.

Great quote, but he was probably talking about thinking, rather than meditation.

Boredom is an emotional state, it is not the absence of stimulation.

And sitting down in a quiet, non-stimulated environment typically produces all sorts of emotions, does it not?

YMMV but for many practitioners meditation does not imply boredom.

Maybe refine it to training yourself to accept being bored. In the sense of paying pure attention to what your are doing without judging it. This is the core focus of some forms of zen practice for example. There are clearly meditation practices which seeks other goals, but mere judgement free acceptance is an important goal for some.

E.g. you're doing dishes. It may be boring, but boring is a judgement. Set aside the judgement and there is just the act of doing the dishes, which is neither good or bad in itself, it just is. The outcome may be good (clean dishes), but the act itself is just sensory input and muscular impulses that you let rise and fall in your mind.

As such it is a practice in not letting yourself be affected by things you do not want to be affected by. The feeling of boredom that may arise if you let it, is just another object to meditate on. Learn to set it aside, and a lot of objections to doing "boring" tasks falls away.

> As such it is a practice in not letting yourself be affected by things you do not want to be affected by.

Meditation can be a lot more, but yes, I agree that this is an important lesson that can come from it.

I like your description. It's similar to how I describe meditation to people who have no experience with it, although I usually say:

When you're focused on something interesting, you easily are able to follow the stream of your own consciousness. It feels like one solid river of focus. It's only when your mind is bored that your stream of consciousness unravels. It's that unraveling that we tend to avoid and disregard. We don't wish to carefully examine those moments between focus on interesting things. Meditation forces those unravelings and teaches us how to recognize them, observe them more clinically, and manage a higher (meta) level of control over them.

Meditation has massive potential for very real, profound experiences. There is much that science doesn't understand about our bodies yet but that has been empirically discovered over the millenia.

Meditation can certainly be boring, but it's not necessarily training yourself to be bored. There are many different facets depending on the style of meditation you practice:

* Zen might get you enquire into yourself why you're getting bored, why you always need to feel some high, and ultimately, who am I? This may then lead you to realise that you are not your personality. Then you may find your consciousness shifts a little to something more fundamental, where you can see your thoughts just as thoughts and not "you". That fundamental state (called by some 'no mind') is blissful, serene, calm. It's a truly wonderful state of being and I'm fortunate to have had a good glimpse.

* Alternatively, Buddhists may teach you to just observe your experiences, not getting caught up in them, leading to the above experiences too.

* Taoists and certain yogic schools might suggest you sit there circulating your energy around, so you're certainly not 'doing nothing'. This can lead to some states that are nothing less than ecstatic.

The most effective form of meditation I've done (in ~15 years) combines both - energy movement followed by meditation. It seems ultimately that most paths converge on these two aspects, it's just a question of efficiency.

The results are incredible. I feel confident they will shift my baseline level of happiness up.

As a specific example, this week I experienced that there is a point located above the soft palette in the mouth, that when touched by the tip of the tongue (under certain conditions) results in a feeling close to orgasm. I was literally laughing when I discovered this. It's an incredible, ecstatic feeling.

For anyone who wants to know more, check out the free lessons at https://www.aypsite.org which are the clearest and most complete I've ever found. The specific practice above is called Khechari Mudra. Don't take my word for it, or the word of the guy who wrote those lessons. There's only one way you'll ever convince yourself about this stuff... practice for yourself :-)

Good luck!

(1) is often mentioned as a benefit of mindfulness meditation, but it always puzzled me; first, it seems something everyone does to some degree - thinking "I'm being paranoid" is essentially that recognition, no?

Second, it's always missing the second part: and then what? One can recognize an optical illusion as one, but that knowledge doesn't make it fade away. I mean, it can help to know, but it seems there's step missing between that and feeling serene.

Consciousness exists on many levels with many co-processes. Without careful meditative practices, we tend to view our minds along a linear path as we change our focus from thought to thought. We are immersed in our stream of consciousness. That stream is our identity.

Meditation forces a meta-examination of that stream and recognize that it isn't the one flowing river that you normally feel it to be. Meditation allows you to exercise other levels of your consciousness that can recognize, observe, and even control those other parallel threads of consciousness.

I have read that there are possible pitfalls for people already suffering from paranoid schizophrenic-ish disorders. I think they're already dealing with an out-of-control sense of not having a single stream of consciousness that they always recognize as themselves.

I can only speak for myself, but I don't find the sensation of a multi-threaded "me" all that alarming. YMMV

The important bridge is to realize that the feeling (paranoia) is something you can choose to embrace or not.

Once the feeling is no longer something that automatically 'happens to you', one can start to explore it - at a safe distance, no rush. Why am I feeling in this way? Is there a good reason? If yes, what could I do about it? What would happen if I would just dismiss the feeling without doing anything? What would happen if I embrace this feeling/act it out? Once an idea of what strategy is most likely to give a good outcome, one makes the choice.

Its kinda like having a person with an outsider perspective help you analyze the situation in a calm and thoughtful manner. Just with much higher bandwidth, less communication challenges and the person is always there for you.

What you're describing can be helpful, but I'm describing a state where you fundamentally go beyond any involvement of thoughts including a countering internal dialogue. By many accounts, the key indicator of being in this state is one of peace/bliss/serenity/total contentment.

In fact, I should really say you operate from a place which is 'before thought', since 'beyond' suggests something after the thinking process. Actually it can almost feel like thinking is a strenuous burden in this state, which suggests you're 'before' the thinking process.

Observing thoughts while still operating from "within your mind", which it sounds like you're describing, doesn't necessarily lead to that experience.

Agreed, what I am describing is an introspective, not a blissful state. It can help to discard unnecessary bad thoughts, and to choose to pursue good experiences which one might otherwise not (be it due to fear, stigma or just not realizing it would probably be enjoyable). Have not been able to induce a serene state via meditation, still need to work on that.

This is a bit tricky to explain.

It's a shift in perception to something that lets you view thoughts without getting caught up in them. So countering one thought with another isn't it because then you're still in thoughts. However...

The reason this is tricky is because a logical process can be used to reach this realisation - indeed I experienced this state while working with the koan "Who am I?" on a Zen retreat. As I continued to ask myself that question I "took myself apart". I deduced that "I" wasn't my body (because when I sleep my body remains but "I" don't), that I wasn't my thoughts (because I can observe them), nor the other "aggregates" as they're called in Buddhism. The one that I'd struggled with was my awareness, but I realised "I" wasn't even that.

Through this process of logical deduction I realised on some deeper level that I just fundamentally didn't need to pay any attention at all to my thoughts. They became as insignificant as if someone had left a radio on. Note that this is different to just the usual meditative technique of observing thoughts. At this stage, there is no technique involved, it's just how you operate at that time.

So then what? I just ignored them! Totally. I didn't try to shut them off, I literally didn't care if they were there, and I didn't pay any attention to them. In doing so I just felt so at peace. I didn't need to do anything to reach step 2. There is no step 2 :-D.

This is called "non-doing" in Taoism, and this serenity is claimed to be our "natural" state - that's to say if you view our continual pandering to thoughts as "unnatural", which it did strike me as. More like a big, habitual mistake to be honest. I guess this is also called "transcending the ego".

So I'd stand around at this farm where the retreat was happening. I didn't care that there were sheep in the field, but there were. I didn't care when it rained or if it didn't. At meal times I could see when something needed doing, and I did it, but I didn't care for it. I just felt deeply contented.

So it's very different from recognising an optical illusion, unless it's at a level where the recognition goes to your core and causes you to absolutely ignore your thinking mind, and not feed thoughts on any level (even sub-vocally).

Now the tricky part is it's so habitual to fall back into listening to your mind. I haven't experienced that state since the retreat (although it did last for a couple of weeks). However, it proved to me beyond doubt that it exists. It also has made me re-evaluate my life, why I do what I do, and what's important to me.

The headline is very polarised and sensationalist.

Now that you pointed it out, I agree with you it primarily helps me with managing my boredom (and the frustration it causes). Although I have no measurables to quantify its impact, I've felt some benefits to 'mindfulness meditation'. Just because it's not a cure-all doesn't mean it has no merit.

> I have since understood it as training yourself to being bored, and through that, focus better on a single task that is boring but you have to do it.

I've been meditating for years (on and off, not much at the moment) and what you've come up with there is actually a very useful description of at least some of its aspects.

"Mindfulness" is an occult method. End of discussion. It can be, and has been studied not by science, but by people working with the occult.

And mindfulness is more of a byproduct of meditation, controlled breathing, or other techniques that Shiva told Shakti.

We'll eventually be able to analyse these things in the words of science. But not yet. If you're looking for proof, you will be looking for a very long time, unless you're willing to do the research on yourself. And then, N=1 research usually isn't looked highly upon.

EDIT: How nice. -1's and hidden by a moderator. Somehow, something I said was "wrong", or more likely disagreed with someone's world view. But instead of discussing, it's easier to hide. Pity. I expected better from a group of people who claimed to like science.

As we say in Brazil: "monkey that can't eat a banana will say it's unripe". Some people try medidation and succeed, some don't and think that the ones succeeding are faking it.

> And then, N=1 research usually isn't looked highly upon.


What's interesting is that "mindfulness" via what westerners think of meditation is only one of 110 different techniques. Some of them don't work now (wrong time), some wont work in the future, and some won't work for certain people.

When going this route, its best to try different techniques until you feel a change. Once you do, start working with the technique for a time. 3 minutes starting, then 3 days, then 3 months, then 3 years. That provides mastery... Then you can work on another one.

And no, meditation via breath doesn't work on me. I've tried with lamas. Nope. However when I started working with visualizations (think Hololens without hardware), I had other people near me that could tell me the shapes I was projecting. That was -- neat.

>As we say in Brazil: "monkey that can't eat a banana will say it's unripe".

JFYI and as a side note, more or less every country has the same, possibly derived from Aesop:


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