Why Meditation? The Soul in the Age of the Brain

I believe that our society is in a state of moral crisis. Our lives are so consumed by the dehumanizing forces of materialism that we have lost touch with the deeper needs and values of the soul. Culturally, we value physical appearances, material possessions, creature comforts, and addictive pleasures, as if we really believed that the one who dies with the most toys wins. We then rationalize the emptiness of these materialistic values by invoking another kind of materialism—that of modern science, which gives credence only to what can be seen and measured and believes that only the physical is real.

Modern psychiatry typifies the shortsightedness of this scientific world view. Its theory that mental illness is a chemical imbalance and that all inner experience is a byproduct of brain activity—the so-called Medical Model—views human beings essentially as biological puppets, controlled by the strings of DNA and brain wiring, without free will or higher consciousness. Focusing exclusively on brain and behavior, it denies the spiritual element in human nature and treats the inner life of human beings — the essence of our humanity, the source of our joy, our anxiety, our despair, of our very culture itself, including our scientific theories – not only as if it didn’t matter, but as if it didn’t even exist.

I believe that this materialistic way of thinking is hazardous to the health of our culture. It promotes the delusional expectation that we can eliminate suffering and achieve a state of contented normalcy simply by taking a pill. It subverts our ideals of moral responsibility by encouraging us to rationalize anything that disturbs us within ourselves as the accidental product of an abnormal brain state: My neurotransmitters made me do it.

Such dehumanizing beliefs reinforce a dehumanizing impulse that is already present within human nature. Like Dickens’s Scrooge and Disney’s Pinocchio, we are all tempted to ignore the inner voice of the soul in our pursuit of external tokens of happiness—not only because we are seduced by our culture’s materialistic values but because we are driven from within by our own materialistic passions and by our addictive need for quick, painless fixes for anything disturbing in our lives. The result is a kind of cultural mental illness in which we are, in effect, driven to dehumanize ourselves—to lose ourselves in materialistic illusions—in order to evade the fundamental anxiety of the human condition.

To cure this illness requires an inner process of re-humanization—of our values, our science, and most importantly, our way of understanding our own experience. Like Scrooge and Pinocchio, we need to wake up from our shallow materialistic illusions and reclaim what we know in our heart of hearts to be true. We need to turn inward, to listen to the inner voice of our authentic self. And we need a science that acknowledges the existence of this inner self; that recognizes human consciousness not as an electrochemical process in the brain but as an irreducible experience of the soul.

This is the wonder that meditation gives us… I invite you to try out… get in touch with yourself.


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