Sam Harris on How to Meditate

From time to time, I like to pass on any interesting articles on the topic of meditation. As I’ve written many times before, meditation is a very useful adjunct to psychotherapy – and like psychotherapy is a practice that has the potential to improve quality of life. (I would not recommend it as replacement for psychotherapy – that would be just as silly as recommending psychotherapy to someone interested in meditation.)

I would add one caveat for anyone struggling with depression: Meditation may make you feel more intensely what you are already experiencing. If you try meditation and find it distressing, this is not a good time to meditate. You can come back to it when you are less depressed, or feeling better.

I’m not that familiar with Mr. Harris, but he’s written a number of books with intriguing titles and I was immediately struck by his clear, straightforward, pragmatic and informed meditation instructions. He strikes a very nice balance of both committed and skeptical, one many writers on the topic should be envious of.

Here’s the link to his article, How to Meditate. Definitely worth a click.

And here’s a brief excerpt in which he compares learning to meditate with learning to walk a tightrope:

As every meditator soon discovers, such distraction is the normal condition of our minds: Most of us fall from the wire every second, toppling headlong—whether gliding happily in reverie, or plunging into fear, anger, self-hatred and other negative states of mind. Meditation is a technique for breaking this spell, if only for a few moments. The goal is to awaken from our trance of discursive thinking—and from the habit of ceaselessly grasping at the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant—so that we can enjoy a mind that is undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present.

“My unhappiness precluded all else; unhappiness is a kind of narcissism, in which nothing that does not resonate with your unhappiness can interest you.” Caroline Kettlewell

Trauma is Relative

One’s person trauma can be shrugged off, perhaps with some effort, but shrugged off nevertheless. Why is that? Robert Stolorow, well known within the psychoanalytic community offers this:

It cannot be overemphasized that injurious childhood experiences in and of themselves need not be traumatic (or at least not lastingly so) or pathogenic provided that they occur within a responsive milieu. Pain is not pathology. It is the absence of adequate attunement and responsiveness to the child’s painful emotional reaction that renders them unendurable and thus a source of traumatic states and psychopathology.

So, what exactly does that mean? If someone is there for the child during or after a traumatic experience, and can demonstrate empathy and respond appropriately – then the child has a chance of processing the experience without it becoming traumatic.