Why meditation may not be the answer you’re looking for

I keep seeing articles about how Silicon Valley is flocking to meditation as the next magic solution. About how it decreases stress, increases focus and creativity. Whole conferences, like Wisdom 2.0, are popping up, pulling in thousands of attendees seeking this next Holy Grail. If you want to change the world, it seems, meditation is the best place to start.

I have nothing against meditation. I’ve meditated for almost twenty years. Meditation has transformed me. There is no doubt I’m less stressed, more focused, and more creative than I was before I started in 1996.

But there’s a lot that comes along with that. If you had told me what was coming when I started, I’m not sure I would have done it. I had realizations that uprooted my family, dissolved my marriage, changed my career. Am I in a better place now? Absolutely. Was it fun? There were plenty of times where it was downright painful. But at the same time, life seems much less solid now. Much more like a dream. And those things that I thought I was meditating for? They seem much less important.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey

I spent a lot of years thinking I wanted more money, more status, more visibility. I got all those things in my career, and all I saw was that those things that I thought were going to bring me happiness did nothing of the sort. But I was an overachiever. Set a goal for me and I met it. And there was no end to the goals. No end to the deferred gratification I would put up with. Because if meeting this challenge did not make me happen, certainly meeting the next one would.

At some point, though, I had an insight. I saw that success was not about doing or having. I saw instead that happiness was something that could only happen in this moment, because this moment is all there is.

When I saw that, I began to have other insights. Each seemed simple and obvious, yet was life changing.

I saw, for example, that I could not find a solid “I” anywhere. That there were thoughts that flowed, that these thoughts created an experience, but there wasn’t really any sense of personal control over that experience. Or even personal ownership.

I saw that there was nothing that I could directly experience other than my own (ownerless) thinking.

I saw that my experience of life was really just an experience of my thinking — that if my thinking was in a good place my experience was great, and if not, I struggled.

Most importantly, I saw that if I didn’t like my current experience, it tended to come back to a good experience as my thinking settled. That I didn’t need to do anything, including trying to change (or stop) my thinking, to make my experience better. That its default setting was actually pretty good. And that the less I tried to cling to or create a particular way of being, the more often I found myself in that spacious default state. And the more I let go, the more profound that joyous default state was.

Do I struggle? Absolutely. On a daily basis. Yet I find myself return to that default state no matter what’s going on outside of me — my job, my family, my bank account.

To take this back to Silicon Valley, it could very well be that meditation is exactly the right solution. But my sense is that the process of meditating could also raise more questions than it answers. Because meditation works on all of you, not just the skills you want to develop for work. Meditation can lower your stress, it can transform your relationships, but it can also sap your motivation. There’s no way to know how it’s going to affect you going in. And there’s no telling how long it will take, either.

I’m not saying don’t meditate. I still do. But meditation, over time, will undo you. And it may become very difficult to convince yourself that an IPO will make you happy when it’s apparent you already are.