Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Secular Meditation – BionicOldGuy

Meditation is a scientifically verified technique for lowering stress, improving health, and making positive changes in the brain. But it is often associated with religion, or has a “new-age” air (like sitting in an exotic position and burning incense). There is certainly nothing wrong with religious-based or exotic techniques, which work fine for many people. But some are turned off by it or it makes them skeptical of meditation. For the latter group, Rick Heller has written Secular Meditation, a useful down-to-earth guide.

Rick is associated with the humanist community at Harvard University, where he teaches meditation. I enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it for anyone who has previously been skeptical of meditation. Rick admits that some people are critical of trying to come up with a secularized version that extracts it from religious roots. That is why he uses the more generic term secular meditation instead of something like secularized Buddhism. I think the important question is whether the secularized version is still helpful. It is possible to lose some value if you pick and choose only what you want. For example, one could practice mindfulness and calming the mind diligently but still not be a very nice person. But I believe this is avoided if you maintain a minimum essential set of components like meditation, mindfulness, and cultivation of loving-kindness, as I discussed here. Loving-kindness or equivalent compassion trainings are an important aspect that is sometimes omitted.

So I was happy that Rick’s guide starts with loving-kindness practices. He describes these and other helpful practices in detail in the book. It was also good to see him cover a secularized version of mantra meditation. While many people find breath-based techniques to work well for meditation, I personally have had more success with mantra meditation.

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