Common Ground Travel

The Western Meditation Revolution

On our travels, we’ve partaken of the diverse spirituality that exists across the world, and in the last few decades have witnessed the remarkable growth of spiritual practices in the West, particularly yoga and meditation. We’re at a unique point in history: never has meditation been so widespread and commonplace, particularly in the West.

A Word on The History of Meditation

The subheading is a misnomer: we should instead talk about the histories of meditation, or its history in all the cultures that have discovered it. It has an extraordinarily rich, broad and deep history that far precedes modern civilisation.

This practice dates back thousands of years, and has been discovered and rediscovered time and again in different cultures. Buddhism, the tradition we at CGT are most familiar with, dates back to the time of its founder, Siddharta Guatama, who lived roughly in the 5-6 centuries BC. His own teachings have earlier origins.

All religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Sufism and Hinduism, have a contemplative, meditative strand, and their practices share remarkable similarities. Not only that, since these traditions have undergone several major upheavals, so too has meditation. Buddhism has had at least three distinct turnings or major upheavals. New elaborations continue to emerge.

The Meditation Revolution

It also has a long history in the West through Christianity: the contemplative kind, not the stuff you learn in Sunday school. Just read the works of Santa Theresa or Meister Eckhart. And now, meditation is remarkably common not only in obscure monasteries and contemplative orders, but in the lives of ordinary people.

This huge influx dates back to the 1960s. The Maharishi taught The Beatles how to do TM. The hippies were attracted to Eastern culture and its alternative philosophies and practices. Many Ivy League students, some of whom have become household names in meditation and neuroscience, went to India and the East to study contemplative practices and find material for their dissertations.

And that’s not to mention yoga, which is now synonymous with exercise, flexibility and well-being, and most people have at least tried it.

Slowly these contemplative practices have gained credibility and popularity, and the changes have gradually accumulated and snowballed.

The Current Situation

Now meditation and yoga are all over the place. Their effects on health and wellbeing are scientifically proven. Meditation is part of official clinical treatment in the first-world countries. Instruction books abound. Several hugely popular apps are available in our pockets. Mindfulness coaching helps meditators bring their practice into their daily lives and influence how they act, deal with difficulties, enjoy their moments, and tap into the deeper meditative territory in the midst of daily activities.

Though we see this as a hugely positive development, like all cultural phenomena, greater popularity can also bring greater superficiality. Some have come to believe that meditation is synonymous with relaxation, turning off, refreshing, and the super-popular apps perpetuate this.

We stand at an enormous juncture in human history: from contemplative practice and its transformative effects being reserved for monastics, to them being widely available. The spread of meditation is playing a huge role in this, but the dilution and distortion is having the opposite effect.

It’s the responsibility of experienced practitioners to continue deepening their practice and bring their insight into the world so that meditation doesn’t become diluted, a corporate cash cow milked of all its lifeforce and profundity.

That way, the meditation revolution will herald a new, more general one: the revolution of human consciousness.