On Friday evening I went to the meditation flash mob outside the town hall in central London.
It’s a beautiful setting, right by the Thames, with the Tower of London in the distance. Boris has a nice office.
And lucky him! He had a bunch of enthusiastic meditators outside spreading peaceful, loving thoughts and intentions. And we didn’t even charge him nothin’.
You can see a couple of photos of the event on the My Buddhist Life Facebook page.
If that’s whetted your appetite and you’d like to experience it in 3D, why not come to the next one?
What’s the point?
A couple of comments on the flash mob Facebook page were pretty scathing of the whole idea. After all, meditating for an hour on Friday night doesn’t stop one war or even feed one hungry person. So what’s the point? Isn’t it just a bunch of idealistic hippies patting themselves on the back for being nice people?
I’ve heard this kind of thing a lot – particularly from political activists.
What’s the point of meditation. You’re basically closing your eyes to the suffering and injustice in the world. Meditation is a fundamentally self-absorbed and selfish act that doesn’t change anything. By meditating to make yourself feel better, instead of getting active to fight the wrongs in the world so that everyone can feel better, you are inadvertently part of the problem.
I think there’s something to be said for this position. If all you do is meditate and think ‘That’s it, job done’ you’re missing the point.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese meditation master and the first person to coin the phrase ‘engaged Buddhism’, was very aware of this during the Vietnam war.
How can you sit in the monastery and meditate while people outside the walls a being killed?
He became a stretcher bearer. A non-violent way to engage with the war he found himself in the middle of.
He also said that you need both meditation and action if you want to be able to keep going. As many activists know, fighting the fight year in year out leads to burnout. The injustice keeps on coming. The suffering continues. You do your best, and after a few years of giving up your life for the benefit of others, the injustice is still there. It’s a tough life. If you’re not careful you end up ill, bitter, broke and depressed.
Meditation can be a healthy way to replenish your energies and to keep a breadth of perspective while working for the benefit of others.
And speaking personally, I’ve certainly been a lot more active and cared a lot more about the plight of others since I started meditating. Before then I was pretty emotionally blocked. In order to feel empathy, you must be able to feel.
But that’s not really what Friday evening was about.
Meditating for world peace?
Meditating in a circle, in public, outside a government building is a symbol. Symbols have power. They illicit emotions. Emotions lead to action. Action leads to change. The kind of emotions that arise have a strong impact on the kind of actions that result.
When you shout and judge and call people assholes, what tends to happen? Do they say “Oh, yeah, sorry I hadn’t realised. I will change my ways immediately”?
Or do they get defensive, withdraw, and stop listening to the person who’s shouting?
Granted, they may also pay no attention to someone sitting there meditating. Some people only understand force.
But to say a public group meditation is pointless and does no good is to misunderstand the power of symbolic acts.
The other (slightly more far out) reason for doing it, is the idea that what you do with your mind can affect the wider world. There’s a book called ‘The Field‘ which has some interesting sciencey type things to say about this. The law of attraction works on this kind of premise too. When quantum physicists say it, it doesn’t sound quite so woo-woo. And of course there are a whole bunch of models of reality that include the flow of energy beyond the limits of the physical body (check out this video of chi projection).
I’m not going to try to defend that position here. I’ll just say that if things like prayer never had any impact, I reckon theyd’ve died out a long time ago.