J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Subjective Benefits of Meditation, and a Rant Against Gurus

I usually meditate a few minutes a day, on most days. I’ve been doing this, on and off, since I was fifteen. Here’s a list of the benefits I notice from meditation:

  • lower pulse rate
  • feel more relaxed/body feels more “open” (lower blood pressure/blood vessel dilation?)
  • emotions seem less overwhelming and intense, with the option to disengage identity from emotion
  • worries seem more distant and less urgent
  • internal monologue dissipates, less “mental chatter”
  • remember to do things that need doing
  • think of more things to do, more ideas
  • immediate action path is clearer (what to do next)
  • emotional conundrums clarify (“oh — that’s what’s going on”)
  • libido increase (parasympathetic nervous system activation?)

Meditation is usually associated with the “spiritual” side of consciousness, and to some extent that matches my experience, at least in terms of increased emotional awareness and reduced reactivity, and “quiet mind”/enhanced attention.

Among other things, meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Among other things, meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Just as important are the physical and motivational effects. I’m not sure if it’s possible to directly perceive your blood pressure lowering, but that’s what it feels like. In terms of organization and productivity, I’m likely to remember things I might otherwise have forgotten during a meditation session, and afterwards I’m often able to get to work without delay, distraction, or procrastination.

These benefits are all from two to five minutes of sitting meditation, either repeating a silent mantra or observing my breath. Nothing fancy, and nothing deep or intensive. Barely scratching the surface, really, but still the benefits are notable.

I’m wary of any “culture” that arises around meditation, including Zen. To me this is as ridiculous as having a culture around brushing your teeth. In many ways meditation is simply “mental hygiene,” and it shouldn’t be ritualized or taken overly seriously.

Even more noxious is any kind of permanent master/student dynamic around meditation or “spiritual development” of any kind (and I would include psychological counseling/therapy in this category). It makes sense for a more experienced and/or wise person to share psychological/spiritual techniques and knowledge with a less experienced/wise person. But that kind of dynamic should have a definite end, where the teaching stops and the relationship either ends, or transforms into a friendship between two imperfect people.

U.G. Krishnamurti, the "anti-guru"

U.G. Krishnamurti, the “anti-guru”

The alternative is guru-dome, and all gurus are corrupt. It’s wrong to allow a young and impressionable person to “imprint” on you without at some point kicking them away into adulthood, self-responsibility, and individuated identity. Gurus, as far as I can tell, don’t do that. The relationship is expected to be permanent, with the “guru” constantly elevated and in judgement of the “student.” I use quotes because the roles are universal, the guru can be counselor, influential teacher, business leader, or even parent; the student a pupil, follower, child, or even customer. In the best case scenario, the student never fully trusts their own judgement and perceptions of the world. In the worst case scenario, the guru abuses of the student (financially, sexually, or in other vampiric ways).

My favorite spiritual philosopher is U.G. Krishnamurti, and if you are interested in meditation and higher awareness, but have distaste for gurus and any kind of “spiritual community,” then I would recommend learning more about him.

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10 Comments

  1. TM….went to the first session (1970 or so), got “my” mantra (almost anything will do, really), never had to go back for further “counseling”, still meditating. If you’re secure in yourself, you can be secure anywhere. Well-chosen nurturing friends and loved ones are incredibly enriching but, in reality, one is always a standalone entity. Too bad most folks find that so scary.

  2. I share your feeling here

  3. Nice writeup JD. At what time of day do you usually do this or is it throughout the day? Was it something you became better at over time or just suddenly “got it” one day?

    • Thanks Mark. At night before bed, and also right when I get up, if the morning isn’t too hectic.

      In terms of getting “better” at meditation, I think I leveled off a long time ago. I’m able to control and/or observe my attention for a few minutes, but I’ve never pushed it past the twenty minute mark.

      If at some point I become interested in personality transformation (rather than the day-to-day pedestrian benefits), I might consider some sort of intensive meditation retreat — some friends have done that and have been pleased with the results.

      For now it’s just part of the routine …

      • 20 mins. 2 times per day is the classic TM (Trancendental Meditation – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) protocol. The day I learned that technique, they put us in a quiet room for our first session, saying they would tap us on the shoulder when 20 minutes was up. I fell so deep into it, it seemed like 2 minutes had passed! Since then I’ve found, like J.D., that most sessions are pretty in depth (95%) and some seem distracted and more superficial. I never feel that I’ve wasted my time, however. In fact, the “busy” sessions may be the ones you need the most. I think you would find immediate benefit in meditation. This is not, in my experience, something that requires years of practice to perfect. You just have to carve out the time and make it part of your daily routine. Need a mantra to use? You can share mine. I have no idea how you would spell it, but phonetically it’s eye-ee’-mah. The function of the mantra is to give you a meaningless sound you can focus on to sort of clear your mind. I usually use it on my exhale. If your mind gets busy and drifts away from the mantra, just gently bring yourself back. They tell you it’s a big secret and that you can’t ever tell anyone your mantra – that’s just part of the B.S. that J.D. was referring to that can be used to control those who seeking enlightenment. Allow a minute or two to settle into your session and a minute or so to get back up to speed before you jump up and start doing stuff. There are websites that explain the whole process but there’s not much to it, really. Enjoy!

        • P.S. There are many techniques that go beyond the use of a mantra, but it’s a good starting point. HP

  4. And some objective benefits … students who meditated had less “mind wandering” and increased working memory http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/how-meditation-might-boost-your-test-scores/

  5. Janet

    Interesting timing. I just got this in my inbox. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/what-martial-arts-have-to-do-with-atheism/275273/

    Sam is also writing a book about Spirituality without Religion.

    Love the thing on the Cavities. Great blog.
    -JN

  6. This is an interesting rant. There are and, indeed, have been corrupt “gurus”. I put gurus in quotes because by definition no real gurus are corrupt. I postulate there are and have been non-corrupt, real gurus. You cite U.G. Krishnamurti. Curiously, J. Krishnamurti was another “anti-guru” in that he was also anti-establishment, and refused to be labeled as “teacher” or guru, etc., in that I think he truly was a guru. To the list of real gurus I would add, to name just a few: Ramana Maharshi, Swami Satchidananda, Eckhart Tolle, Swami Dayananda, Tenzin Gyatso, Siddhartha Gautama, even that radical from Nazareth.

    Guru is a sanskrit word, which translated simply means “remover of darkness”. Gurus always invite, if not encourage, students to have doubt, ask questions, push back on the teachings, in fact, that is an essential part of the process.

    I’ll also agree that it’s not necessary to always be connected with or indefinitely dependent or reliant on a guru. The metaphors of the a stick that is used to stir a funeral pyre in the end itself burned when its utility is no longer required, and ladder or stepping stones that you don’t carry with you when you have reached the next step or destination, come to mind.

    • Well said. I have no problem with “gurus” as long as they don’t label themselves as such to attract underlings and servants.

      It makes me think about the word “follower.” With the modern (social media) use, follower can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical (both parties choose). I can “follow” your output by listening to you and reading what you write and appreciating what you create, and vice versa, or maybe only one of us follows the other. Either way that aspect of the relationship is fluid and is not “baked in.”

      Imagine a triangle or circle or web of guru relationships, instead of a hierarchy. That makes more sense to me.

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