All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

 — Blaise Pascal


Loyal followers of this space (Hello? Anyone?) may recall that I’m addicted to meditation. Or, if not actual meditation, talking about it. Writing about it. Critiquing it. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s free, it can be done alone or in groups, no one is checking if you’re doing it right (hah!), and it just might be really, really great. That, at least, is the feedback I’ve gotten the few times I’ve encountered someone on the “outside” who reminds me they were in our (a small, devoted group of facilitators) jail meditation program. “Saved my life,” I’ve been told. Who am I to argue?

Why do I meditate? Honestly, I don’t know. I just do it. I think I used to have goals — my wife tells me I’m a better person for the years I’ve been doing it, but it could be that she’s a better person — hence more forgiving — and so is confused about who is actually better. 

(The Simpson’s episode where Homer and Marge both are nearly unfaithful. Homer is upset when he finds out about Marge’s dalliance, to which she says, “But you were doing the same thing.” Homer’s response — how I understand! — “But you’re better than me!”)

Anyway, the genesis of this rant is that I was asked recently, “What’s the goal of meditation?” I dunno, I just sit quietly — is that meditation? Maybe something about getting my creative juices flowing? Letting go of the small stuff? Remembering I’m alive? You’re probably asking the wrong person — I used to know, but I’ve forgotten.

When all else fails, go to Plan B, i.e. Google. Here are some of the responses there to the question, What’s the goal of meditation? With my comments.

The Fool (Pamela Coleman Smith, Rider-Waite-Smith 1909 tarot deck. Public domain.

To cultivate inner peace

Well, yeah, it can do that, and Zen, certainly, has acquired the stereotypical reputation for promoting mental tranquility. But it can also make you crazy. Or both, within seconds. The mind is a squirrely player, and aiming for calmness is a bit like forcing yourself to go to sleep. I like how this guy, Bon Ryun, puts it: “Trying to make yourself have a clear mind is like trying to make muddy water clear by stirring it.”

To unlock the source of inspiration

Sounds good. Right after I’m done, I often dash off to find a pen and paper to help remember stuff — good stuff, original stuff — that came up unbidden while I sat quietly. I recommend it for writer’s block, or any time you’re stuck for knowing what to do. The genius of meditation is its spontaneity, never knowing where it will lead.

To go beyond the mind and experience our essential nature

Problem I have with this sort of “going beyond” talk is that, in my world, awareness requires a mind. What’s there to recognize my essential nature (whatever that is!) when there’s nothing to do the recognizing?

In many ways it’s basic self honesty

Yeah, it’s hard to hide from “myself” when I don’t have access to all my distractions.

To control your thoughts to have good character and destiny…

Which is where I part ways with some of my past teachers. For me, meditation is the opposite of control, and the opposite of a self-improvement program.

The ultimate goal would be Enlightenment

What’s that? Ah grasshopper, enlightenment is enlightenment. Which sort of gets us nowhere. How’s this: Enlightenment is knowing it’s never going to get any better.

Which is why, IMHO, the whole “What’s the goal?” deal is DOA. A goal is saying, “This isn’t enough, I want more happiness/peace/understanding/ something else becomes the focus. If this is as good as it gets, what’s the problem?

Novelist Lawrence Shainberg in his autobiographical book Ambivalent Zen nailed it:

“…the degree to which my mind is always involved in escape, lurching toward the future or clinging to the past…any time but this, anywhere but here…things will never be different from this moment. Nothing will change. The sound of my mind won’t change, my ignorance, my pride, my confusion won’t change, impermanence won’t change, even the hope that all of this will change won’t change.”