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Meditation as a Form of Violence

Everyone loves Buddhism. Being spiritual, trendy, and successful all at once — who wouldn't like that? This somehow became the image associated with Buddhist practices. Yet, when combined with the promise of effectiveness and success, the practice of self-compassion turned into a practice of self-violence.

The confusion is understandable. Buddhists explain that if you let yourself feel your emotions and take the time to look at them close up, they will lose their power. Highly effective people striving for successful success hear "meditation is the way to get rid of inconvenient feelings."

Indeed, feelings are pretty inconvenient when you are trying to do things you dislike, befriend people you are not interested in, or keep going when you are exhausted — all the things "highly effective people" seem to do. So, the promise of dispelling them is attractive. And some people say they even succeed at that.

So what's the problem? Well, there are a couple of them.

First, this approach, of course, turns Buddhism into its opposite. Buddhist practices start with allowing yourself to feel exactly what you feel, with no intention to change it. Buddhism teaches us to experience our feelings without running away from them: zoom in and feel what exactly it is like to be "sad," with any thoughts, fantasies, images, and bodily sensations that go along with it. When you let yourself experience a feeling, it eventually goes away — because everything is impermanent. (A similar idea underlies humanistic psychotherapy and Rogers's unconditional positive regard: exploring things exactly as they are with no attachment or aversion makes change possible.) Thus, suppressing your feelings is exactly anti-Buddhist.

Second, despite positive reports, the practice of talking yourself out of emotions eventually comes back to bite you in the ass. Of course, inconvenient feelings don't go too far away and come straight back when you loosen control (when you are tired, drunk, asleep, etc.). The same happens after cognitive-behavioral therapy: all the exercises and "coping skills" that are designed to change your thoughts and feelings soon break down and uncover deep wounds that were never dealt with.

Yet, the idea of controlling your emotions holds a definite appeal for those who value success more than their human nature.


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