Meditation: The End of a Journey and the Start of the American Way

John Yu

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The woman on the cover of the January 2003 edition of TIME Magazine sits in a full lotus position – a commonly known meditation pose typically associated with Buddhist monks who regularly practice meditation.

The visual elements of this cover portray the new stages of the “Eastward Journey” narrative – or more accurately, how the “Eastward Journey” has come to an end and is now in the process of settling in at home in the United States.

Firstly, I’d like to start off with the less obvious by pointing out what is absent from this cover. This cover is void of religious garments, electrodes, or fancy computers [in contrast to p 238 of The Cure Within]. The woman’s outfit suggests how modernized meditation has become; long gone are the days of the experimentation and investigation of meditation. We have successfully removed it from its Buddhist origins and have dissociated it into a secular experience. When you look at it this way, it becomes less of a question of how a religion might save your soul, and more of a question of how your mind can save your body.

Secondly, a more obvious observation is that the woman sits in the midst of a minimalistic backdrop. This could mean a couple of things, of which the latter will be further discussed. One interpretation is to view her surroundings as a representation of her mind. The implications are rather straightforward from this perspective, as the sub-title suggests: Clearing your mind is how you heal your body.

Another way to look at the backdrop is to view it as a representation of her living environment. It begs the question that maybe clearing the mind starts by clearing up our lifestyles? Maybe it starts by cleaning our personal spaces, removing the clutter from our lives, so we can be more at peace with ourselves?

This “Eastward Journey” narrative started in quest of an antidote to the stresses that characterize our modern lifestyles. We are stressed because we make expectations for ourselves; we place too much value in how productive we are. We are stressed because we want to stay busy and we grow uneasy when we are not busy. We have become overly concerned with being connected to our world, and our brains have been rewired to live in frenzy — but at what cost?

I wonder if we have been looking for an antidote in the wrong places? I mentioned earlier how removing the religious elements of meditation have made it entirely secular. While this is true, to take it a step further, I suggest that the aforementioned facets of this American magazine cover show how meditation will continue become very much an American experience. It has become a trademark of our culture to get six-pack abs with six-second abs, or cook a scrumptious dinner feast in 30 minutes or less. We basically try to fit more and more into our schedules to keep up our rapid lifestyles, without taking the time to slow-down and reflect on our lives.

I wonder if we have made meditation a five minute (or less), American thing too? Instead of finding peace within our minds, maybe it would help to try making peace with our surroundings or our schedules first? Or maybe it is only when our bodies start crying their final maydays that we think to take the time to reconsider what our priorities in life are?

 

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