Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
I Reject Meditation – A Manifesto
Or, I Do Not Face the Environment or Challenges of a 5th-Century BCE Buddhist Monk

A regular mindfulness practice – usually meaning 15-20 minutes of morning meditation, and almost always some variant of breath meditation – now seems to be de rigeur for high performers in virtually all fields. The research indicates – and the orthodoxy definitely holds – that meditation improves focus, concentration, contentment, and calm, and ameliorates distracting and intrusive thoughts, and even depression. The mechanism for this is understood to be via developing the muscle that controls which thoughts we attend to, and in what way – a gym for developing control of the mind.

After three stabs at undertaking a mindfulness/meditation practice – the last somewhat protracted and serious – and, in particular, some very recent thinking upon it… J'refuse. I reject meditation. Here's why.

I have decided that I reject meditation (for me). My reason for this is that it seems to me to be an incredibly blunt, fluffy, and peripheral tool for the job it is trying to do – like trying to become an ace F-22 fighter pilot by zooming around with your arms extended for twenty minutes every morning, making Pew, pew! noises.

Please understand me. I have now come to realise that it is absolutely, urgently critical that I gain mastery in controlling my mind appropriately. Absolutely everything depends upon it: my happiness, my humanity, my commercial & artistic success, my ability to be some kind of force for good in this world and on behalf of my fellow seven billion planet riders – not to mention my ability to create, cobble together, and experience some kind of meaning out of this wildly contingent, arbitrary, and often random plenum of existence in the universe.

Specifically, I ardently long to:

  • be mindful of the places and times I inhabit, to genuinely and immediately have and honour these experiences;
  • be totally present with and for the people I share this life with – and, critically, share love with – to develop the deepest possible empathy for their lives and essential humanity, to create and sustain the richest and most meaningful and most loving possible relationships, rapport, involvement, and embeddedness in their lives and journeys;
  • to do my very best and most authentic work every day –
    • by focusing like a laser beam, getting right down into the weeds, and executing like a master craftsman when appropriate –
    • and by relaxing my grasp, abandoning my preconceptions and judgments, and opening my mind to panoramic awareness, in order to nurture creative breakthroughs, connect and synthesise the disparate and multivariate, and make myself a vast and unfiltered receptacle for the Muse, the Universe, and even perhaps the Godhead, for whatever is greater than my own self and abilities and creativity;
  • imagine ways that I might fumblingly form myself into a feeble but determined and faithful servant of my brothers & sisters, who globally have as much need of help as they have potential to succeed and create and be heroic and become servants in their own right;
  • be able to see with some clarity through the boundlessly complex systems that govern the physical world and the world of human endeavour – the untold thousands of layers of abstraction, and unimaginable complexity and interconnectedness, that comprise society and culture and art and economics and technology and the natural environment and human health and flourishing – and to imagine novel solutions to the critical problems we face, and to embrace courageous and wise and far-seeing/long-term decisions.

So – I urgently burn to get better at all of these things – each and every one of which ineluctably requires gaining control of my mind and focus, where I place my attention, how I choose to regulate my feelings, and what types of thoughts I choose to entertain in my head (and when and how and why).

And I now believe that the best way to get better at all of these things is to practice getting better at these things – not by counting my breaths for twenty minutes every morning.

I do not discount that mindfulness practice – specifically meditation – can result, as a side effect, in better mental control in all these areas. Just as zooming around with your arms out probably doesn't hurt your F-22 piloting skills. But, as for me… let me in the damned cockpit. Actually, a better metaphor is: I've got Giza Pyramid to build. Or, more aptly, a Chartres Cathedral. The meditators advise me to go to the gym and start lifting weights, so one day I'll have the strength to start moving stones around. But I think I'd rather just start building the damn cathedral. It's a ton of work, but I know what it needs to look like, and there's an awful lot to do, so I'd really better get started. And if I do actually get the damned thing built, guess what? I'll have necessarily built up the strength in the course of doing the job. Counting breaths is, at very best, the long way round.

So I'm taking back my twenty minutes every morning, and putting them to better use. With absolutely no disrespect intended to the 5th-century BCE Buddhist monks whom meditation has served so well.

This manifesto is very much inspired and informed by Daniel Goleman's book FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. It has turned out to be true, as everyone assured me, that trekking in Nepal would change my life. But this was mostly because of this book, which I happened to stumble on in a coffee shop in Kathmandu; as well as another, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's The Power of Compassion, which I picked up – not quite on a whim – while waiting for my flight to Lukla, the world's most dangerous airport. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the former book referenced the author of the latter several times.)
I'm also very pleased to bottom-line my take-aways from the second book as follows:
  • Patience, humility, and compassion (*);
  • Endeavour to be a “large-hearted” person;
  • There are very many ways to view every event that happens; in almost no cases are they all negative. You get to choose.
My other critical takeaway from Goleman's book was that, in large measure, I already had things right – but had just lost my way a little bit. Specifically:
  • More awareness of my environment, every minute, every day;
  • Many more books (which hold the answers to my questions);
  • And much less glancing at screens.
Finally: for whatever it's worth, I actually wrote this piece – urgently scribbling it nearly verbatim – on board my Jet Air flight from Kathmandu to Delhi.

  3PoET     attitude     books  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
ARISEN : Odyssey
ARISEN : Last Stand
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 1 - The Collapse
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 2 - Tribes
Black Squadron
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 3 - Dead Men Walking
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 4 - Duty
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 5 - The Last Raid
ARISEN : Fickisms ][ – This Time, It's Personal
ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple
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