Author Topic: Your Opinion?: NY Times: Actually, Let's Not Live in the Moment  (Read 858 times)

Antigone

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I've read various papers and books on meditation, and it appears that there are significant differences, albeit small and inconclusive differences, in wellbeing between those who meditate/are mindful and those who do not. So this article is confusing me and making me dubious:

Here is the article link: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html.

And an excerpt from near the end:
Quote
In reality, despite many grand claims, the scientific evidence in favor of the Moment’s being the key to contentment is surprisingly weak. When the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality conducted an enormous meta-analysis of over 18,000 separate studies on meditation and mindfulness techniques, the results were underwhelming at best.

I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts!

Frightful

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Re: Your Opinion?: NY Times: Actually, Let's Not Live in the Moment
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2017, 09:23:26 PM »
I'll bite!.... ;D

This actually happens a lot....non-scientifically trained writers writing on scientific topics and not really checking with science advisers before publishing.  Thus, the author of the NYT article, Ruth Whippman, offers on her website: "Before becoming a full time writer, Ruth was a producer and director at the BBC making numerous documentaries and current affairs shows for BBC television including working on several BAFTA winning series. - See more at: http://www.ruthwhippman.com/#the_author"

She uses a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the US Dept. of Health and Human Services as a 'prop' for the NYT op-ed, without, in my mind, reading much into the study's findings in any depth.  An executive summary of the study can be found here:

https://www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/ehc/products/375/1830/meditation-executive-140106.pdf

What is worth noting is that the study is a "meta-analysis"....it is a review of already-published (peer reviewed) scientific literature, rather than an independent study of those meditating and those not.  Secondly,....and for me, crucially.....the authors of this literature review study state

"The literature search identified 17,801 unique citations.
During the title-and-abstract screening, we excluded
16,177 citations. During the article screening, we excluded
1,447 citations. During KQ applicability screening, we
excluded an additional 136 articles that did not meet one
or more of the inclusion criteria. We included 41 articles in
the review.31-71

Most trials were short term, but they ranged from 4 weeks
to 9 years in duration.
Since the amount of training and
practice in any meditation program may affect its results,
we collected this information and found a fair range in the
quality of information. Not all trials reported on amount
of training and home practice recommended. MBSR
programs typically provided 20–27.5 hours of training
over 8 weeks. The mindfulness meditation trials typically
provided about half this amount. TM trials provided
16–39 hours over 3–12 months, while other mantra
meditation programs provided about half this amount. "

The study authors did not state how many of the experimental investigations were 4 weeks versus several years....so the bulk of the data may have been collected on studies done within 1 - 2 years at the most.  Just an opinion, but I don't feel that is long enough time to evaluate the positive effects of a meditative practice.

Under the "Limitations of the Study" section, the authors conclude

"We were limited in our ability to determine the overall
applicability of the body of evidence to the broad
population of patients who could benefit from mindfulness
meditation because the studies varied so much in many
ways other than just the specific targeted population; that
is, they also varied in characteristics of the intervention,
comparator, outcomes, timing, and setting.
Also, the
studies generally did not provide enough information to be
able to determine whether the effectiveness of mindfulness
meditation varied by race, ethnicity, or education."

So irrespective of the criteria used to determine "increased wellness", the fuzziness within each experimental trial combined to create an even greater fuzziness in the interpretation and comparability, broadly, of the results.  Again, in my opinion, the study is simply inconclusive based on insufficient data and experimental design.

There could be more to address in the author's approach within the NYT article alone, but wanted to address (mis?)-use of a scientific study to make the point.

Goofaholix

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Re: Your Opinion?: NY Times: Actually, Let's Not Live in the Moment
« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2017, 02:25:57 AM »
From a quick skim read I can see that the author is working on the assumption that being in the moment and the fruits of mindfulness is an end in itself, whereas in fact it is one factor in eight of the eightfold path.

While it can certainly help you to de-stress to keep bringing yourself to present moment awareness when your caught in obsessive thinking about the past or future, that's a short sighted goal.  The real benefit is when one practicing continuously enough to gain momentum to the point where it becaomes mostly effortless, and the real benefit is when it operates together with the other factors of the eightfold path.

dharma bum

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Re: Your Opinion?: NY Times: Actually, Let's Not Live in the Moment
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2017, 02:45:02 AM »
i think it's fair to say that meditation helps those who are helped by meditation. :). it might not help everyone so the writer is probably correct in suggesting that mindfulness is not a panacea. she's also correct in saying that many creative activities that humans engage in require you to dwell in the past or the future. writers and artists for instance spend a lot of time in an imaginary world.

the trouble with scientific studies on meditation is that it is hard to characterize something like peace of mind in physiological, measurable terms, especially as benefits of meditation happen over the course of several years.
Mostly ignorant

stillpointdancer

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Re: Your Opinion?: NY Times: Actually, Let's Not Live in the Moment
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2017, 10:07:09 AM »
Wow, this article is so full of hatred and negative statements that it's hard to know where to begin analyzing it. For a start, it's designed to put anyone off from even starting meditation. The language contains things such as "Constantly policing our thoughts" and "Self improvement hell" which set the scene for the constant tirade which is the article. It's a common strategy; find some information which seems initially to be positive, so you can't be seen as being unreasonably negative, then lay into it for all you are worth.

The truths in the article are then used as a basis for brought-in assumptions and half-truths to continue the attack. She lumps everything together, mindfulness, yoga, and presumably meditation, whilst proclaiming them to be all about concentrating on what you are doing in the moment, without thinking about what has happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, and so on. See the strategy? Take a pinch of truth, and then move it on to something that you want people to believe, no matter what the fact of the case are.

The two main examples she cites, corporate mindfulness practice and US armed forces mindfulness, have hard evidence for the positive effects of mindfulness, which are well documented and show, to be materialistic for a second, a good return for your money. People become more resilient, more creative and benefit from numerous health improvements. Yet what does she do with this information? She uses phrases such as " monetized its folksy charm into a multibillion-dollar spiritual industrial complex". Again, using a smidgen of truth to run mindfulness down. She even goes as far as to say that unless you are wealthy- "Those for whom a given moment is more likely to be “sun-dappled yoga pose” than “hour 11 manning the deep-fat fryer.”"- mindfulness is not for you. That mindfulness doesn't have anything to give you in living everyday life.

Her attitude is summed up in her main points, "It’s hard to see why greater happiness would be achieved by reining in that magical sense of scope and possibility to outstare a SpaghettiO." and "What differentiates humans from animals is exactly this ability to step mentally outside of whatever is happening to us right now". This is a good one, "The implication is that by neglecting to live in the moment we are ungrateful and unspontaneous, we are wasting our lives, and therefore if we are unhappy, we really have only ourselves to blame." and so is this, "This judgmental tone is part of a long history of self-help-based cultural thought policing."

She goes on to continue to generate confusion between 'Moment' and mindfulness practice, reiterates that nasty people use mindfulness to help us forget that we are being exploited, and finishes with an exhortation to not be in the moment, but to remember who the real baddies are, "So perhaps, rather than expending our energy struggling to stay in the Moment, we should simply be grateful that our brains allow us to be elsewhere."

Sorry if this feels like a rant, but we should accept the article for what it is, an attack on all things to do with meditation, mindfulness, and so on. Strangely, though, I can see where some may think, "Hang on a minute, according to this there is real evidence for mindfulness", so some good might come of it.

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Antigone

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Re: Your Opinion?: NY Times: Actually, Let's Not Live in the Moment
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2017, 09:50:03 PM »
Thank you all for your helpful replies! (I'm also realizing that I should make it a habit to dig deeper into sources and more critically analyze new information I come across. I haven't practiced such skills nearly enough.)