Is the ultimate goal of meditation to focus our attention on the quality of the present moment, ignoring the future, the past, and our own inner commentary?

Imagine your inner life as a large community with a lot of different voices where everyone wants and needs to be heard.

You have voices that keep you safe, that make sure you behave appropriately, vulnerable voices, child voices, ancient wisdom voices protective and critical voices. Some voices are more dominant than others. For instance you may have a strong caregiver voice and you identify as someone who’s a care giver, you also have a authoritarian voice that’s not as loud but comes up out of no where sometimes.

Have you ever met someone with a sweet biddable nature who suddenly erupts when something really pisses them off or maybe they are being pushed past their edge or they aren’t being appreciated? It’s like they suddenly become a totally different person.

Have you ever seen a big tough guy break down in tears when a loved one dies? A staid, bookish engineer who loves to pull down the blinds of his house and jam out to Lady Gaga?

That’s how it is with unclaimed voices, they come out in unguarded moments, moments of stress and of course calm. Meditation opens a gate because really your calming down the dominant voices, the voices you most identify with. It’s like the armor comes off, the gates become unlocked, and their is going to be a stampede.

In short your going to have a hard time “focusing your attention on the quality of the present moment” when possibly hundreds of voices haven’t been heard yet. Just like a village town hall meeting. This is their home and they all deserve to have a voice.

So ignore them? Have you ever heard the term what you resist persists, or have you ever tried to ignore a two year old when they want your attention? They just get louder, it’s the same way with less developed voices, lots of times they haven’t had a chance to develop so they are a bit like children who have been wanting attention for a long time. It’s not just a mistake to ignore them, in my imagination it’s kind of mean.

Given all I’ve said ultimately the answer to your question is no, the ultimate goal isn’t to ignore but to develop empathy and compassion for yourself and your voices.

Do this, think of that inner commentary as a person that you love, he or she is hurting, feels ignored, abandoned, let down and been has been treated like a second class citizen, they may have been unfairly ostracized and misunderstood. Now hear what the critical voice says to get that voice to shut up and get you to ignore that person. Would you say that to the person you love more than anybody else in the world?

So try this, instead instead of ignoring and rejecting, listen intently and let more of yourself in, more of your real desires and longings, along with it will come heartache and shame and a bunch of stuff. These are your real actual feelings and it’s what makes you you, it’s like a welcome to yourself.

In my imagination the goal of meditation it’s bringing your heart and mind together so you have a lot more tolerance for yourself and ultimately others.

How is mindfulness being packaged incorrectly to customers and consumers?

I feel like it’s been marketed as a cool trendy thing to do as opposed to a an actual answer to a problem. A lot of people who can really use it think it’s woo woo, so they don’t use it. Others who do use it develop a attitude of spiritual superiority, and become intolerable, especially to people who are looking for evidence that mindfulness won’t work for them.

The thing of it is, that as it’s gotten more popular, like with anything, the efficacy Of the research gets a little more porous all the time, people looking to market anything will cherrypick the heck out research until most marketing won’t tell you a damn thing about what your going to get yourself into or why your doing it. They rely on scattershot marketing rather than focused marketing toward a target audience that really needs it and who will get the most out of what’s actually being offered.

Anyone marketing research based mindfulness is pretty much building their campaign around that porous research where their is lots of bias. The truth is this stuff has been around for thousands of years in some cases, and so why do you even need research? The truth is no matter how much research someone does It works only if you work it. It’s discipline you build not a pill you take. It’s more like karate or riding a bike than a miracle cure, witch sometimes it gets marketed as.

On the other hand a lot of marketing for mindfulness is touchy-feely, vague and doesn’t offer anything practical. Usually it comes with something that looks like…

Lots of thin, flexible women sitting in lotus positions with their eyes closed, it would be great if you were trying to find a scrunchy. You know how many people can actually sit like that for any length of time? Not very many, long enough to meditate for 20 minutes? Statistically speaking the no one, at least in America. So mindfulness meditation for everyone? Give me a break! Oh and lots of rocks balancing on each other in a reflective pool. That’s titillating.

Really? that’s the best anyone can come up with? Does mindfulness make you lazy? It obviously makes marketers lazy.

Why does Hollywood keep casting British actors to play American superheroes?

An acting teacher of mine put it this way. “It comes down to schooling, when young women and men study acting in Britain it’s expected they are going to work. They cut their teeth often in the theater they are expected to discipline themselves and they don’t get by on just having a pretty face. In Britain they take a lot of pride in the arts and they have more public money available as having great theater where up and comers can get a start is a thing of pride. Also the shows in Britain have a broader range of characters, actors have a better chance to develop skills that turn them into working actors, as they are EXPECTED to become.

Here, we have method acting, identity politics, schools get teachers who can’t get a job somewhere else so they become teachers. We don’t really have public money for the arts so young actors don’t have the same opportunities to cut their teeth in the theater. Like someone else said we rely on stereotyping in casting so actors are expected to brand themselves as a certain type rather than learning to disappear into a role.

And that thing again about work, actors here aren’t taught to value the skills they learn as much as the image they project. They go to school with very little expectation that they will get a job. To get a job you work on your image, getting plastic surgery, networking, quite a few women at least get married to a director or producer, that’s something that will help your chances.

Also, Being a good actor requires a lot of empathy and vulnerability, Someone who can do this and put up with the being phony stuff and not do a Francis Farmer or River Phoenix is rare. It’s not that British actors don’t do these things, but British actors are more likely to have the skill to back up the position they are in once they get there and they are taught in a way that helps them prepare. Basically we don’t have a system that values art, outside the god almighty dollar.

Does Buddhism mean getting rid of your ego?

No.. your ego is like how you learn to identity yourself in the world so that you can get your needs met. Think about your ego like a set of clothes. When we are born, we have this huge wardrobe, we have the possibility to put on any outfit we choose. If you look into the eyes of a newborn you are looking upon infinite possibilities and potential.

As newborns we are ourselves, and we cry when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired and we are fed the most delicious meals from our mothers breasts we have this intimacy with life and we exist in a state of perfection, but we are also extremely vulnerable and dependent on others in order to survive.

As we grow and develop we learn that certain outfits in the wardrobe work better than others in aiding our survival. We tend to learn what outfits fit our environment the best, and as we grow we eventually pick one outfit and stick to it, this one outfit tends to become the one that convinces us that is the me your talking about when you look in the mirror.

At some point this outfit becomes your identity, the unconscious identity is the identity that believes it’s the self. This identity, witch is often wore like protective armor, can be very adamant that it’s the true self. Most people never start questioning this identity that was chosen and often worn like a suit of armor.

So this identity that’s convinced it’s the self, that’s what you might call the ego. Now meditation and deep personal work or a cataclysmic life experience can start to make some cracks in the armor, and truth be known the wardrobe is still their in its full entirety and sometimes the best thing that can happen i is to look through those cracks and start to get a glimpse of what’s in that closet.

And of coarse the self oftentimes come through one way or another no matter how strong the armor, when this happens it can come out in a distortion as big unrelenting resentment or illness or drug and alcohol abuse. Sometimes it becomes necessary for someone to totally reject the life they were raised in. Sometimes the true self when it pokes through is intolerable and totally different from the created ego identity.

People sometimes want to get rid of and totally smash the ego, the problem with that is path of Buddhism is self love. So rejection of the ego would just be rejection. The oath is to heal to love and accept, this ego really just loves you and was built as a very small child as a way to protect you in a lot of ways even as you live as an adult it’s a very young child.

The oath to healing the ego isn’t to get rid of it, you want to form a want you might call an aware ego that allows you to take off the armor when you choose, at that point you can put on other things that are in the closet. This is the way you begin to put on other parts of yourself and build a personality that’s closer to who you really are.

You can’t get rid of the ego because it’s also who you are.

As an extremely busy medical student/future doctor, how do I meditate in my daily life and stay/reside with my awareness/Self, in spite of all my commitments of work and study?

What would it take for you to come to the conclusion that you meditate because of not in spite of. Being centered and empathetic is probably going to do more to make you a better doctor than being busy.

In our society we have made being busy a status symbol, but what does it really mean? one woman I was working with took some time to break down all the things that made her busy and and came to the realization that once she got rid of everything that wasn’t essential or that she could have said no to, she wasn’t all that busy. She felt like her being busy made her valuable. Meditation felt like a piece of self-indulgent woo woo. In reality, doing something to love her self was in fact really hard and scary.

Im not saying you aren’t extremely busy, but when people say they can’t prioritize meditation my experience has been that they are just really scared. The first thing you want to do is check in and discover the real reason you are struggling with this, it’s not cause your busy. Remember being vulnerable makes you stronger, I am too busy is a way to protect that vulnerable part.

How can practicing mindfulness improve your success?

Their was once a young girl named Briar Rose that had two older sisters, they were from a well to do family, and the two older daughters were selfish, lazy, entitled, and thought the world revolved around them. They often left Briar Rose to do all the chores, took the best clothes and leaving Briar with the leftovers they often insisted that Briar took on the tasks they thought were above them. One day a letter came, it was a request by their aunt Babba that she would like one of the girls to come visit and bring her some tea and bread. The two sisters frowned and couldn’t be bothered but Briar being actually curious volunteered. The two sisters laughed and sneered at Briar, feeling rather pleased with the fact that they got out of what they would consider a demeaning task.

When Briar got to the old ladies house she offered her the modest gift, the old lady asked that she fluff her pillow and read to her a bit, Briar Rose did this without complaint, the old lady then asked her to come with her down to the basement. Briar Rose went with her, she walked into a vast world of abundance where their were priceless jewels and a crown of gold. “I have decided you will inherit my kingdom” says the the Aunt. She gives Briar Rose some of the beautiful gold and silver and a ball gown befitting a queen and sends her home.

The two sisters seeing this were blind with jealousy, and demanded that they take some bread and tea to the Aunts house now. Well they got to the aunts house threw the bread and tea on the counter and said we are here now, where is our reward. The aunt asked the girls to fluff her pillow and read her a story. The older sister rolled her eyes and fluffed her pillow and the other one told a lame story about the ball she went to and how successful her dancing was. They both said now we’ve done this thing given you some of our time and where is our reward.

The aunt gets up and takes them to the basement where their is a pile of horse manure. The aunt says, if you are willing to clean up this horse manure, I’ll make sure you are rewarded a part of my kingdom as well. The girls were indignant, cursed the aunt out and left. As they went home they, sad to say, they were suddenly not able to speak without horse manure coming out of their mouths, and every dress they owned no matter how pretty,was suddenly ugly no matter what they did.

You learn to make choices when you have a mindfulness practice, you do the right thing and you do it because it’s a reward in and of itself, as you do it without complaint you become more curious, more caring, more accepting and loving of others. You’re like Briar Rose you don’t expect anything, success can happen but it’s indirect, she’s filled with wonder as she sets her eyes on the treasure she didn’t expect, being more mindful is the reward in and of itself.

If you have the attitude of I saw someone else do mindfulness and they are being more successful, I’m going to try it because it worked for someone else and I want that they have, it’s not that you can’t get to the treasure, but you are going to have a lot of manure, to clean up. If you aren’t willing to clean up the shit you may find that your bitterness and discontent will not go away, and this is sad because in this case, even if you are conventionally successful, your still not going to escape the shit, and you’ll just be more aware of it.