• Don Salmon

    September 10, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    Perfect. Better than perfect.

    you’ve hit on what is perhaps the single most absurd, impossible, frustrating thing about the whole modern mindfulness/meditation movement – that it is taught in a way to REINFORCE our sense of separateness and disconnectedness from each other, from the world (and if I may add, from the Divine).

    This is all an essential part of ALL traditional contemplative traditions. However, our modern arrogant borrowers of ancient contemplative practices have long felt that we need to “leave aside” all that primitive stuff and only take “what works” scientifically, and what can be shown to be intellectually respectable. One of the things they left aside is the central importance of “sangha,” the spiritual community.

    Well, it turns out that you cannot find ANY contemplative practitioners anywhere on the planet where the entire practice is seen to involve a separate individual (I’m even including those who do month or years-long retreats – they just don’t have the sense of themselves as utterly cut-off separate points the way most modern people experience themselves).

    I would say that the single most damaging thing in the whole modern movement is that the way mindfulness and similar practices are taught, it can reinforce individual separateness, narcissism, obsessive compulsive tendencies, even schizoid tendencies!!

    Owen Barfield has a beautiful image for this. He says prior to the modern era, most people felt the sky to be like clothing that is an essential part of their being. With the emergence of what Jean Gebser called “the deficient mode of the mental structure of consciousness,” (Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” and Galileo’s casting away of all experiential qualities as illusory), the world is placed – as Kierkegaard once wrote so beautifully – as some kind of alien thing into which we are placed without having a clue as to how we connect to it or even why we’re here.

    This has resulted in an incoherent, parasitic, nihilistic view being attached to the whole of our modern science – what is called variously “physicalism,” “Materialism,” or “positivism.” As one physicist noted, we take this in “with our mother’s milk,” and until we examine it closely, we have no idea how much it has affected our entire political, economic, military, scientific, artistic, systems AND our very mind and body. Meditation potentially can undo this, but if we take a physicalist approach to meditation, it will be just one more instrument of our destruction.

    You can get a sense of this if you talk to any conservative evangelist and ask them what St. Paul meant when he told the Athenians, “As your wise folks of ancient times knew, God is that “in which we live and move and have our being.” I once asked a graduate student at Bob Jones (fundamentalist Christian) University who had read the Bible in Greek about why conservatives feel the need to put God so far away from us, and he said, “Oh no, the King James translation is wrong. God is He “BY” whom we live and move and have our being. we don’t live “IN” God.”

    Interestingly, one of the most common pieces of advice my Kriya Yoga teacher, Roy Eugene Davis, used to give about prayer was “Don’t pray TO God. Pray IN God.” Something similar was meant by the old Taoist sage who told Buddhist writer John Blofeld, “Nirvana does not just involved ‘the dewdrop slipping into the shining sea,’ which seems to involve the complete loss of individuality. When you realize the Tao, you – the apparent finite – BECOME the infinite but WITHOUT LOSS OF INDIVIDUALITY.’

    This is very important, because so many of us feel oppressed by our separateness, we are inclined to try to escape with psychedelics, or inappropriate use of meditation, or following authoritarian leaders, or obsessing about patterns of eating, or any number of ways.


    It’s hard to put that all together when I’m introducing practices, but you know what? Your comment is just the perfect counterpart to what I’m saying. All of these ways of “being” (these different mode of practice and attending are all ways of be-ing, which is why I included the BE logo next to the name of this group) are intended to assist us in seeing past the “exclusive concentration” or “separative” consciousness which is so characteristic of the modern age.

    I’ll close with a story, one of my favorites about the profound nature of attention, and one which emphases the journey from disconnectedness to what Vietnamese Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.”


    Paula was a nurse on 12 hour shifts, and the stress was so intense that over the years, she had developed crippling migraines, severe stomach cramps (both chronically painful) and sudden, overwhelming panic attacks as well as generalized anxiety.

    She went to Dr. Les Fehmi, who treated pain, depression, anxiety, relationship problems – and even trained Olympic athletes – simply by teaching them to attend differently to their experience.

    In Pam’s case, he noted that her habitual mode of attention was to grip experience as if it was made of discrete, separate elements, each to be manipulated and controlled. All he taught her was to shift her attention frequently to notice the space around objects (as well as the “space” between and around thoughts). She did individual closed-eyes practice about 45′ twice a day, but the most important thing (as you rightly observe, Elspeth) was to make this shift in the midst of activity, in the midst of interaction and connecting with nature, with others, with the world.

    In just three weeks, ALL of the symptoms – from which she had suffered for years – were completely gone.

    And she also said, in three months, there were major improvements in virtually every area of her life.