USA Today offers faith-free look at meditation, stress

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Journalists who try to cover the life and teachings of Deepak Chopra always face the same question: How much ink should they dedicate to the debates about whether his fusion of Hinduism and science are secular or sacred? In other words, is this man a religious leader who is teaching specific doctrines or not?

The skeptics at Sceptic.com state the issue this way, coming from — obviously — a totally nonreligious perspective (as opposed to the views of Chopra critics within specific religious traditions):

The content of Chopra’s philosophy is often obscured by logical inconsistencies, but it is possible, nonetheless, to identify its key components. First, he views the body as a quantum mechanical system, and uses comparisons of quantum reality with Eastern thought to guide us away from our Western, Newtonian-based paradigms. Having accomplished that, he then sets out to convince us that we can alter reality through our perceptions, and admonishes us to appreciate the unity of the Universe. If we allow ourselves to fully grasp these lessons, Chopra assures us, we will then understand the force of Intelligence permeating all of existence — guiding us ever closer to fulfillment. Each component of this philosophy has serious flaws. …

So that is one side of the debate. There are also people who believe, in the end, that the heart of Chopra’s work is best understood in terms of, well, marketing and the sound of ringing cash registers.

Is it possible to write about Chopra and issues related to his phenomenal popularity without even mentioning its religious content?

I would argue “no.”

However, it appears that the editors of the USA Today business section would say that the answer is “yes,” and that market trends ultimately trump religious concerns (either pro or con). Here is the opening of a long news feature about current sales trends in stress reduction:

Deepak Chopra says he never feels stress.

He wakes up at 4 a.m. daily and meditates for two hours. Then, he writes for an hour before going to the gym. The famed 66-year-old holistic health guru takes no medicine. He’s never had surgery. And he’s never been hospitalized.

“This is embarrassing,” he says, “but I do not get stress.”

Even then, he has made millions off the unrelenting stresses from which the rest of us suffer — linking his name to everything from stress-busting techno gadgets to spiritual retreats. Few things, it seems, are more stressful, or expensive, than trying to shed stress.

This raises the obvious question: Does Chopra “meditate” for two hours in the morning or does he “pray” for two hours and, in his tradition, is it possible to draw an journalistically meaningful line between these two terms? More on that later.

The story does a fine job of establishing that stress has become a secular-level problem for our society, one that touches body, mind and, maybe, the soul. To make a long story short, stress is hot:

Savvy marketers have discovered that almost as much as the quest for eternal youth, consumers are in relentless pursuit of eternal calm. To thousands of marketers that sell everything from stress-reduction drinks to stress-reducing apps to noise-canceling headphones, stress is a six letter word spelled: p-r-o-f-i-t. …

Little wonder in a nation that could be the world’s poster child for stress. Last year, some seven in 10 Americans said they regularly suffered physical symptoms due to stress, and 67% said they regularly experienced psychological symptoms because of it, reports the American Psychological Association. In a still-recovering economy, it’s no surprise that the top three causes of stress last year were related to money, work and the economy, reports the APA.

This side of the story is solid and fascinating.

However, I’ve been around the religion-news beat to know that serious researchers have studied stress and related health issues through a religious lens as well as a market-driven one. Does that reality need to be mentioned in this story? In other words, do prayer and scripture readings have the same impact as the secular or vaguely spiritual alternatives?

This is a multiple billion dollar question. The story never asks it or gives any sign that the question exists.

Stress is, you see, a strictly materialistic concern — even when Chopra is talking it on with meditation-related products and programs.

Read the story for yourself.

Then click right here and explore.

Do you see the ghost now?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    You forgot humor theory. Both ayurvedic medicine and traditional Muslim medicine are based on the same theory of the four humors that the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the medievals of Europe, used.*

    And this means that everything he eats and everything he does is supposed to be a medicine that helps the humors to remain in balance, or that inadvertently throws them out of whack.

    *There are some rather amusing differences, though. The East tends to go against sugar and alcohol, whereas the Western humor theory guys thought sugar and alcohol were valuable medicines.

  • boinkie

    definitions first. I am using concepts I learned in a medical hypnosis course.

    “Meditation” is a form of self hypnosis. It can vary in depth according to your neurological wiring and with practice.

    “hypnosis”: deep concentration.

    So a person who goes into deep concentration on God, sitting in silence in the presence of the deity, is praying, A person who goes into deep concentration to relax, or to “think and get rich” is not.

    There is a dearth of good science on how and why meditation/hypnosis/placebo effect works, but we docs use it every time we “lay on hands” or comfort our patients or use a placebo or teach our patients relaxation techniques.

    However, hypnosis/meditation also has side effects. It can destroy one’s psychological defenses. Those who go into deep trances are easily suggestible. And finally, it encourages “magical thinking”, not religion, and that is a problem for both the religious and those who are scientists.Professor Raia has a lecture series on this

  • Suburbanbanshee

    However, the medical field didn’t invent the term “meditation.” Meditation and contemplation are technical terms created to describe specifically Catholic religious activities, which have been stretched to cover other activities. Hindu and Buddhist “meditation” have totally different principles of what they’re trying to get done; it’s really not the same thing at all, so we’d probably be better off using the foreign language words to describe it.

    This normal meaning of “meditation” has nothing to do with self-hypnosis. It is “reflective prayer. It is that form of mental prayer in which the mind, in God’s presence, thinks about God and divine things. While the affections may also be active, the stress in meditation is on the role of the intellect. Hence this is also called discursive mental prayer. The objects of meditation are mainly three: mysteries of faith; a person’s better knowledge of what God wants him or her to do; and the divine will, to know how God wants to be served by the one who is meditating. (Etym. Latin meditatio, a thinking over.)”

    “Contemplation” is “the enjoyable admiration of perceived truth (St. Augustine), the elevation of mind resting on God (St. Bernard), the simple intuition of divine truth that produces love (St. Thomas). (Etym. Latin contemplatio, simple gazing of the mind at manifest truth; from con-, with + templum, open space for observation [by augurs]: contemplari, to observe, consider.)”

    Relaxation techniques, peaceful feelings, etc., often go along with meditation and contemplation, but not always. If you’re bawling your eyes out while considering your sins, or if you’re totally spiritually dry and feel no shadow of the presence of God, that’s not any less meditation.

    Basically, what boinkie is describing are just ways that people can shut out extraneous distractions better, so that they can have a less annoying time when meditating. But if you have to hypnotize yourself just to meditate, you’re really not a very thinky person.

    But again, the basic ideas and objectives of Hindu and Buddhist meditation are totally different, from each other and from Christian traditions that might seem superficially similar. (If you read a Zen Buddhist book about meditation, they want to pretty much ignore the intellect and the body and gods and everything else.)

  • Rebecca Wimer

    This guy also thinks you can separate me from this type of stress and anxiety reduction. Interesting topic, thanks!

    http://www.onbeing.org/program/opening-our-lives/138?page=1#comment-1449446

  • khaled amir

    The word meditation, is derived from two
    Latin words: meditari(to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi
    (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation ‘medha’ means wisdom.Meditation means to drop everything which
    is in one’s memory and to come to state where only consciousness remains, where
    only awareness remains.The rest in meditation is deeper than the
    deepest sleep that you can ever have. When the mind becomes free from
    agitation, is calm and serene and at peace, meditation happens.“If you light a lamp
    and remove all the objects surrounding it, the lamp will still go on giving
    light. In today’s world where stress catches on faster than the eye can see or
    the mind can perceive, meditation is no more a
    luxury. It is a necessity. To be unconditionally happy and to have peace of
    mind, we need to tap into the power of meditation.

    details on:http://www.easemeditationonline.com/meditation-2/


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