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Education Bookcast

Nov 2, 2020

Mindfulness is a concept originating in Buddhism, but has in recent years spread like wildfire in the UK and elsewhere. Aside from its adoption by enthusiastic members of the general public, it has come into UK schools and even the National Health Service. Yoga and other forms of meditation have also placed themselves firmly in the mainstream. As I myself became interested in these practices, I spent some time looking into the academic research on them. Luckily I found this book - Drs Farias and Wikholm had done my work for me.

Subtitled "Can Meditation Change You?", The Buddha Pill is an investigation into the science behind yoga, mindfulness meditation, and transcendental meditation. Both psychologists of religion and spirituality, the authors have their own extensive and positive experience with meditation.

The first time I read the book, as I was halfway through, I found myself doing a double take. How could people who were so invested in the idea of meditation also spend so much time discussing its limitations and outright negative aspects? The book almost felt like an attack on these practices, although a measured and fair one

Upon second reading, while preparing this episode, I realised that the shock I had experienced was in fact due to my unrealistic (but not uncommon) expectations - that meditation does nothing but good, brings nothing but calm, and is more effective at improving your quality of life than any other activity that you might engage in. Drs Farias and Wikholm merely show their readership the extent to which these practices have been "hyped up" by the underlying assumption of the perfection of exotic Eastern ideas, and a misunderstanding of their philosophical basis and context.

Overall, the message of the book is a "yes, but". Yes, meditation can be beneficial, but it can also be harmful - it can lead to mental disturbances, including, in extreme cases, psychosis, mania, and suicidal ideation. Yes, meditation can be therapeutic, but more "standard" methods tend to work just as well - things like CBT or exercise. And yes, meditation can make you happier, but that's not what it was originally designed or intended for - the original purpose was to destroy your sense of self, to reveal the illusions that permeate your psyche and your life, to better understand yourself through a radical undermining of your ego.

Enjoy the episode.