why criticism of meditation can be so triggering
Okay, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has seen this anti-meditation discourse and been thinking about it! Last summer, I came across that Holly Elmore essay you linked and sent it to my friend who's a big meditator and said, "What do you make of this?" I won't get into all our critiques of her essay here, but I feel like this anti-meditation discourse is part of a larger trend I've seen online where people talk past each other because they can't agree on definitions or the scope of the discussion. Meditation encompasses a lot, including things like walking meditation, but even if you limit it to sitting meditation, there are still several approaches. And there's the time you spend and your mindset. She talked about "grueling sessions." When I had a consistent meditation practice, I got up to 20 minutes a day, which I worked up to from five minutes a day. And eventually I decided I liked other forms of mindfulness / meditative practices better (like morning pages). I definitely experienced discomfort, but I wasn't pushing myself in grueling sessions (I used to do that in my HIIT workouts, and that caught up with me eventually). But my general sense is that the way I meditated is reflective of the way most people meditate, and the approach she described is more in the minority. Maybe her approach is more prevalent in the "very online" section of the meditation "community," I don't know.
I certainly think she's correct that your attitude and intention toward meditation matter. I know so many people who say they want to meditate to help them relax and chill out, and my reaction is, 'you would be better off reading a fluffy romance novel or getting a gentle massage.' Meditation is like a workout for your mind. Sometimes there's a lot of discomfort while you're doing it, and even afterward you don't feel like anything happened. It's not until you become consistent with it that the benefits appear. And, like with physical exercise, you can certainly use bad form or overdo it. I fully believe that you could suffer from whatever the mental equivalent of rhabdo is. But you don't really see people warning people against exercise in general when certain people have bad experiences, it's just like, "Hey, maybe don't do CrossFit, especially if you haven't exercised since high school gym class."
I don't know if you've read Mastery by George Leonard (if not, I highly recommend), but her approach to meditation sort of fit into his description of the Obsessive. It's a book where he describes the path of the master vs other approaches. Basically, the master is on a journey, whereas the Obsessive is focused on results. By her own admission she was focused on achieving enlightenment, and I was glad to see you bring this up in the "failure mode #2" section.
There was this line in her essay that jumped out at me: "I’m still angry at how I let mindfulness propaganda shame me and others for wanting or being accustomed to stimulation." I see a lot of people saying similar things across a wide variety of topics, discussing how they were "shamed" out of believing something they previously believed. Which, to me, says what they're angry about is their lack of discernment and mental boundaries. And maybe that's something we should be talking about more. If I ever become a parent, that would be one of the most important things for me to develop in my child. I wouldn't care that much about what they believe or do, as long as they're doing it with discernment. I would want to know that they're doing and believing things for their own reasons as much as possible. And that they don't give up what they believe because someone else's mental prowess and propaganda overwhelmed their mind.
you are wise