Chances are that you’ve either heard or seen (or rolled your eyes at) the idea of meditation in recent months, as studies, celebrity endorsements, and even apps continue to make headlines. Based on Buddhist traditions and described as “the non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment” — a skill which claims to offer inner equanimity once purposefully honed — mindfulness meditation is having a moment in the West.
Its lessons are those trite, self-righteous sayings we grow up hearing precisely when we don’t want to: Things are only as good as you make them out to be. Face your fears. Be in the moment. Try looking at it another way. They are the aphoristic phrases we find inside fortune cookies or on the tags of Yogi tea bags that seem to have no feasible application when it comes to the mess of real life. As they say: Easier said than done.
And yet, people are doing it. Millions of them, whether as part of a medical treatment, in group classes, or alone in the privacy of their homes. But like with regular juicing or weekly acupuncture appointments, the question isn’t whether beneficial physiological change is possible, but rather, how far can such change go to help us?
It goes without saying that some time to ourselves, quietly sitting and slowly breathing, will prove to calm us down after a stressful day, but when it comes to life’s most mentally taxing episodes — death, disaster, disease — how much good can mindfulness meditation really do?