Mainstreaming meditation, social media and shifting world-views

The word “meditation” conjures in most an image of seclusion and self-reflection. The word evokes thoughts of detachment and other worldliness. Whatever the perception may be, those who indulge in the practice of meditation know that this is far from the truth. Meditation is to be practiced in this world and its benefits accrue in this world. Its “other-worldly” effects may or may not take place but its positive effects can be seen and felt while living. Reality and perception usually have a gap.

However, if there was one communication medium that has helped to bridge this gap and to expand knowledge on this practice across cultures, it is social media. Meditation and related practices like yoga were previously seen in western cultures as a part of eastern mysticism. Treated as unscientific by nature, it received step-motherly treatment in the same basket of “traditional” medicine, occult rituals and alternate knowledge.

The western interest in eastern or alternate knowledge arose as a gradual realization of the limitations of Newtonian mechanics. The pillars of western scientific knowledge were laid down by mainly two people – Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Popularly known as the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview, it envisaged the world as a giant machine that could be understood as a sum of its parts. In this mechanistic model, divisions led to sub-divisions and then on to further divisions until each division specialized to the extent that the understanding of the whole was submerged. e.g. Biology became Botany and Zoology which were gradually divided into molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular genetics, cytology, microbiology etc. Engineering became civil, mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical, computer etc. The human body was divided into mind and body with the understanding of the processes of the body assuming primacy over an understanding of the mind. Physicians became cardiologists, gynaecologists, neurologists etc. with the lowest rung occupied by the psychologists. Even until the latter part of the 20th century, medical professionals were arguing whether psychology was a science!

In the early 20th century, two developments in physics began to shatter this worldview. Einstein’s theory of relativity and the advent of quantum physics led to a fundamental revamping of the western understanding of our universe. This thought revolution resulted in a shift in certain basic understandings (such as the notions of space, time, object, relation etc.) and the arising of a number of hitherto unimagined possibilities. e.g. The notion that at a quantum level waves can be treated as particles and vice-versa (wave-particle duality), that dimensions of space-time are curved and we are actually moving in a curved space, that as we sub-divide matter there is a proliferation of particles rather than one fundamental particle, that these particles seem to instantly communicate with each other at enormous distances (EPR experiment), that there can exist multiple universes or multiverses, that a butterfly snapping its wings in Toronto can cause a cyclone in China (chaos theory) etc.

In the world of multiple possibilities of the 20th century, Aristotelian two-fold logic began to break down in favour of the more holistic four-fold logic of the East (will write more on that later). This prompted certain intellectuals in the western world to indulge in a “scientific” study of eastern epistemology and its holistic world-view (as opposed to a mechanical model that could be understood by the sum of its parts). Thus began a trend of viewing the world in terms of relationships as  opposed to objects which was immensely popularized by physicist Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics which sought to create a fusion between the knowledge systems of the east and the west. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLiRXM2oZ_U .

It is this trend of thought that sparked interest in the west on eastern practices such as meditation and yoga, first among the intelligentsia and thereafter percolating down to the masses. With the advent of social media, different practices of meditation in different eastern traditions are readily accessible on YouTube or other platforms. Those seeking an introduction or a deeper understanding need only to find the time and patience to sit down and listen or read. The health and other benefits of meditation and yoga (from reducing blood cholesterol, risk of stroke and heart attacks, improving bodily functions etc.) are studied and mainstreamed. (See “7 Reasons you should meditate” http://www.livescience.com/20920-mindfulness-meditation-health-benefits.html ). Social media has served to replace Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” with a “Fusion of Civilizations.” In the milieu of this fusion, new knowledge is created and the paradigm of western worldview has begun to shift. This shift would begin to show shape and form as the 21st century unfolds.

For now, I end with a quote from Werner Heisenberg of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle fame and reproduced in Capra’s The Tao of Physics:

“ It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet. These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of human culture, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions: hence if they actually meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new and interesting developments may follow.”

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