AUTHOR: Michael W. Taft
Meditation has the intrinsic connotation of being an exquisitely subjective experience. How could a skeptic tackle it in a positive way, bringing it on the forefront of objective investigation?
Being a meditation practitioner myself, I intended to find any critical rebuttal of the practice. After getting to know some of the ultra-skeptics like Horgan and getting my head around meta-reviews – the tool that even ultra-skeptics are willing to embrace, for their overwhelming amount of data – I dwelled upon Taft’s work with renewed interest. Renewed, because my view on meditation resulted from some personal experience – which a healthy skeptic wouldn’t take into special account – and non-secular texts, with the exception of Krishnamurti. Having found out about the book on You Are Not So Smart was sufficient to give me a sound reason to look into it.
Taft offers an understanding of meditation inspired by computational language – i.e. conceptualising a technique as an algorithm, and meditation as a technology – and secular jargon, attaching a ton of scientific articles in support (don’t worry: some of them are meta-reviews, too).
He lists a long series of benefits, all supported by scientific evidence (although John Hopkins’ meta-review doesn’t show relevant evidence in support of stress reduction, or attention and sleep disorders benefits).
He clears the field from any misunderstanding by saying what meditation is not; specifically, it is not a practice to empty oneself from thoughts, rather a practice of close attention. What it is here described is a meditation practice generally known as mindfulness meditation.
Taft recommends to pay attention to three main ingredients for a good practice: concentration, sensory clarity, and acceptance. Whenever one of them is present, that would be a signal of a good practice. No space left for self-judgement whatsoever 🙂
Simple techniques – algorithms – are provided for relaxation, focus on body sensations, emotion awareness, positive intentions (yes, seriously) and open awareness.
Of course, none of this would give you an real glimpse of what meditation actually is. There is nothing like practice to get to it; but I can understand that some may need to clear their mental pathways first, since an informed, non-judgmental approach is pivotal to the success of the entire following practice – much like beginning to squat in the wrong manner would be harmful and hard to correct.
If you find yourself among those geeks who have been fascinated by why in the world Steve Jobs wanted to become a Zen monk – although he didn’t, and now we know how – then The Mindful Geek is an awesome place to start.