Has Silicon Valley Got Meditation All Wrong?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The ambitious, productivity-driven folks have made meditation their tool of choice.

It’s inspiring to see meditation make its way through all aspects of life. Whether it’s the high-tech life of Silicon Valley or the silent kitchen of a monastery, mindfulness has gone mainstream.

However, in this journey of the science of meditation out from the monasteries and the Himalayas, it seems to have lost an important aspect.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Salesforce, and many others are going big on mindfulness. Thousands of Googlers have been through the “Search Inside Yourself” training for meditation and other classes like Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy.

Meditation, is the new caffeine for Silicon Valley, promising creative outbursts and heightened productivity. No doubt, meditation offers both of those things. But it also offers so much more than the region is willing to take.

No More Hippie Bullsh*t

Meditation has always been a sacred practice with several connotations attached to it. It’s been a way to not only live a better life but to transcend the pain and suffering inherent in life.

In the valley, however, as Wired writes, “There’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as ‘hippie bullshit’. Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity.”

Apparently, the companies are not taking the Eastern practices as is — they’re taking these millennia-old traditions and putting them into the context of the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, and largely atheistic culture.

They’re looking for an ROI from meditation. Kenneth Folk, a meditation teacher in San Fransisco says “All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde. This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.”

What seems more concerning to me is the fact that people are looking at meditation as a way to make money. Since meditation makes employees perform better and work well with others, of course, it will lead to better results. But what we need to question is our motivations for pursuing it.

If our motivations are purely monetary and transactional, then it defeats the purpose.

One of the many reasons mindfulness has become so popular in the west is that the initial proponents have stripped away its dogmatic and religious trappings — which is awesome.

However, it’s hard to ignore what we might’ve lost in the process. While there’s a lot of science behind meditation, a thorough understanding of what goes inside us is way beyond what science is currently able to tell us.

In our effort to take out the ‘woo-woo’ stuff, we focus only on the technique and get rid of the philosophy around it. Any philosophy that teaches meditation — Buddhism or Yoga — is much more than only the techniques they teach.

There’s a whole system of living and right attitudes given by eery philosophy which are to be used along with the techniques. This, however, is disregarded by most people.

When these techniques are stripped of the teachings, meditation becomes increasingly mechanistic and dull. If we’re only thinking of what we can get from the practice (more money, more work done, etc), we’re still living in our little egos.

In reality, however, meditation is best done in a spirit of self-offering and selflessness. As we make meditation a means to attain our material ends, it will continue to reinforce the uglier qualities inside us.

Wisdom 2.0, which is an event around the role of mindfulness in using technology, has people from all parts of the industry promoting meditation. These include Arriana Huffington, Jeff Weiner, Evan Williams, and so on.

While events like these are good to spread the word, one can’t help but think if this too is just another way for people to pursue their egoic desires.

“There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.”

So What Am I Trying to Say?

To be honest with you, this article is been in my head for months but I couldn’t find the right words to explain it. All that I’m saying is to stop making meditation so transactional.

To stop bringing an attitude of “What will I get?” and instead look to connect with yourself on a deeper spiritual level. Pursuing spiritual growth doesn’t make you a hippie. Nor does it make you any less of an engineer or a CEO.

Instead, it helps you better navigate the world by improving our emotional, mental, and physical health in tandem with our spirituality.

Every philosophy that’s taught meditation has taught basic principles like love, compassion, devotion, service, selflessness, humility, and acceptance.

Let us bring all those ideals back into our lives and approach mediation with the right understanding, so we can rise to our true potential and not be entangled in merely rearranging the material realities of life.

As I’ve said time and time again, meditation alone is not the answer to your problems. But if you approach it holistically, it might just give you a new perspective on life.

Because meditation never plays solo, it’s part of a larger orchestra inside our own being.

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Written on August 9, 2021