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Thursday, January 10, 2013

What NOT to worry about in meditation

The New York Times has an article on what to wear while meditating that notes the availability of clothes designed for meditation, such as the $1,000 sweatpants from Donna Karan's Urban Zen line. (shown below)
It quotes self-help author Gabrielle Bernstein -- who, of course, has a new book coming out (“May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness”). 

“If you want to get more excited about your practice,” she said, “choose an outfit you want to put on.” 

This is missing the point of meditation. It is, in fact, spiritual materialism, the tendency to acquire the trappings of spiritual practice without actually doing the practice -- to look good rather than to feel good. (See Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism for more on the topic.)

The thing is, that doesn't work. Instead of reducing suffering, you're creating more by thinking that you have to have meditation clothes from Donna Karan or Lululemon to achieve liberation from attachments. That's not the way to inner peace.

Oddly enough, I recently had an email exchange with someone who asked what people wear to my meditation class. She wanted to know whether she had to run home and change into special clothes (yoga pants) or whether she could arrive in her work clothes. I don't particularly notice what people wear, but some stay from an earlier yoga class and some, including wear, wear street clothes. What's important is to wear something you can sit in without being distracted by it. I've found I can't meditate in skinny jeans because they're too tight in the knees. Some spandex is excellent.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala, believed that proper dress helped people see their inherent worth and dignity. He made his hippie students in the 1970s wash their feet and put on pantyhose. He traded his monks' robes for western suits. 

CTR encouraged them -- the men, I suppose -- to wear belts, saying the pressure around the waistband while sitting would keep them in touch with their bodies and the present moment, would help them to wake up.
But I defer to the Buddha's teaching on how to hold your attention: Not too tight, not too loose.