Meditation and Social Movements.

Yesterday I responded to a post on FB that warned of right wing influences that are occurring in what appear to be left wing and New Age groups. Today, I would like to follow up with another warning and that is groups who actively engage in meditation. Meditation is like a kind of therapy. In fact when meditation is directed towards an object, figurehead or any form of visualization that requires a script it can seem exactly like speaking to a therapist. Meditation can create a sense of calm and well being and it opens up the mind to ideas. Psychotherapy and mediation can help a person direct their life more effectively, but there are profound differences between them. In psychotherapy, the answers to questions come from without. In meditation the answers come from within. If the person is healthy in meditation any answers will reflect the individual’s values and aspirations much more accurately than if they are aided by a therapist whose ideas and values might be quite different. Meditation might also encourage a person to learn more from without by offering what is a safe place to retreat to when necessary. However, safety is not a simple issue, a lot depends on a person’s well being. Psychotherapy deals with the mundane, while meditation goes deeper and connects the mind to another dimension, sometimes called spirituality. Importantly, this shift to another dimension is also a shift in consciousness and an opening up of the unconscious, which leaves the meditating individual in a very vulnerable and gullible position. Such a person can be receptive to ideas which might not necessarily be in his or her best interest. Just as advertisers use subliminal messages to capture our custom, so too can meditation be used to indoctrinate the minds of innocent people. Clearly, this is not the purpose of genuine mediation, but in my lengthy experience of social movements, I have seen meditation used numerous times to enforce beliefs. Indoctrination is so much easier in a feel good environment and when the individual is led to believe they are in control of what is happening. Meditation induces the condition of self that appears holistic and in stasis. Psychotherapy is a way of working out problems along general lines of thinking. Meditation is a way of experiencing another dimension in life. Psychotherapy is life. The two should not be confused. There are many ways in which mediation can seem like therapy and it has all the same dangers therein. In therapy a person sets out to uncover deep and unresolved problems. In therapy the role of the therapist is to guide the person through these difficult situations in a way that the patient comes to his or her own safe and self determinations. In meditation when problems arrive there is no guide and the problems can seem insurmountable and in some cases they can invoke a breakdown and/or leave the mind open to alternative influences. The trends towards meditation in New Age groups is common and many are using meditation as a form of therapy and/or to change peoples’ thinking towards that of the group. Sigmund Freud noted this danger in the 1930s when he described how the ego of the individual is introjected into the leader of the group. We see this happen in cults quite clearly, but it is not so obvious in the movements that appear more democratic and progressive. We live in a world of discursive politics that find their way into various movements and practices and we need to be vigilant of the pitfalls and clearly invoke the appropriate checks and balances.
To be clear, I am not against meditation, indeed it can be a very powerful tool for healing and for bringing peace to mind, but like everything, motivation should always be open to question. The way to stay safe is to ask questions and to be completely satisfied with the answers. To conclude that meditation is useful because it is spiritual is not a satisfactory answer.