Depictions of meditation, or spirituality, have evolved in media throughout the years. Gone are the days when Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhi or Jim Caviezel’s Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ inspired a kind of spirituality that can be practiced by people from all walks of life.
Yet here come novels like Eat, Pray, Love, a memoir where a rich and successful lady named Elizabeth Gilbert suddenly feels empty despite her life being far better off than most. She initiates a divorce from her husband, rebounds on another man, goes through heartbreak in that relationship, and—with much difficulty—finalizes her divorce at last. After which, she goes on a year-long journey to Italy, India, and Indonesia and enjoys herself by indulging in food, meditating in exotic places, and falling in love all over again (with a businessman, no less!)—all amidst her ‘soul searching.’
What is it? It’s the act of training the mind or inducing a state of consciousness in order to realize a certain spiritual benefit. According to the journal Stress Medicine, the act of meditation has been practiced even in prehistoric times in the form of repetitive chanting, known today as mantras. Furthermore, meditation is used to develop personality traits such as compassion, love, and patience. It is often used to ease many internal health concerns as well.
Several religions also include meditation in their practices: Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Christianity allow meditation as a way to reflect on oneself. There is no manual or blueprint for meditation and each culture has slightly differing ways of achieving what is essentially the same goal of achieving ‘emptiness’ of mind.
Buddhism, in particular, teaches that desire for material wealth—or anything else, for that matter—is the primary cause of man’s suffering. Hence, Buddhist monks live very simply, only bringing with them what they need. The degree of their poverty differs between monastic orders.
Other Buddhist monks, depending on their monastic practices in the country of residence, even beg for food and supplies. It is akin to the differing practices between the priestly orders in the Christian tradition. Despite all this and the limitations this kind of life may impose, Buddhist monks still manage to practice meditation without talking about it or sharing on social media—if they have any accounts at all. It is, for all intents and purposes, truly a spiritual practice.
Glamorizing peace of mind
While it’s certainly not a crime to visit and enjoy exotic places as well as engage in meditation at the same time, it risks glamorizing the act of meditation and soul-searching, most especially when evidence of such is shared all over social media. Spirituality has fractured and this branch of ‘yuppy’ spirituality has become far more popular in pop culture. It’s now a common sight these days to see pictures taken from behind, showing silhouettes of people sitting in the lotus position, facing a fiery sunset and “meditating” underneath a twilit sky. Captions are peppered with hashtags like #blessed, #zen, #yoga, #meditation, #peace, #insertnameofexoticplacehere, as well as the location tag that specifies which snazzy resort they’re staying in.
This is not to put down or guilt-trip those who post their acts of meditation and soul-searching online, as everyone is free to do as they please with their own social media accounts. Instead, this is to increase understanding towards what meditation really is, and how it’s not meant for the rich and privileged alone or that it is a one-size-fits-all type of activity, since at its core, meditation is a very personal experience.
Nico* (V, MGT) has a neutral stance, saying, “People who glamorize meditation or spirituality are, I believe, merely expressing themselves. In one way, they feel rewarded when people notice what they do to achieve spirituality, while others merely do so to stand out from a crowd. I think that’s okay, so long as it hurts no one.”
An internal experience
Sophia (ACM, ‘13) says, “To me, meditation and spirituality is about taking time to take a quiet, honest view of oneself. Spirituality is more about being one with your calling, and adding a personal touch to it. I don’t feel the need to travel and share on social media when I meditate. I think that the need to travel is a very first-world solution.”
Thus, meditation is primarily an internal experience more than it is external. One does not need to be in a tranquil lake or beach in some far-off exotic island that incurs an exorbitant travel expense. In fact, meditation can be done pretty much anywhere, as it takes practice and discipline to truly clear the mind from all the noise and mental clutter one experiences in life.
Even a series of short breaths and a quiet mind make for a good meditation session. It just shows that real spirituality and peace of mind comes from within, and it’s one of those things that money can’t ever buy.
“It’s essentially about being in touch with God, and finding a deeper meaning and aligning all of this into the person you are in your everyday life,” Sophia adds.
So if you ever feel like your world is collapsing around you, you don’t need to make a massive change and uproot your whole life. Meditation does not have to take place in meditation studios or far-flung locales with picturesque landscapes. Look into yourself and find that place of calm and silence that we all escape to every now and then. Don’t be afraid to take a minute and find some peace and quiet within yourself and head back out there better than ever.