Who should be the face of meditation? This question was posed by Ethan Nichtern, founding director of the Interdependence Project on the website’s blog. He begins with a real doozy: a Time magazine cover circa 2003, where actress Heather Graham sits upright, basking in the desert sun in the middle of nowhere, looking sultry and well-blissed. Bringing it back to 2012, he notes how other celebrities are catching the meditation bug, notably, Bill Clinton. And here’s the sticking point for Ethan:
Obviously, the popularity of mindfulness meditation is wonderful. No problem there. It’s all over the place. Now if people can just actually do it, in addition to talking about it….
You can read the rest of Ethan’s post here, which we responded to. Here’s what we had to say:
To the question of who should be the face of meditation, our answer here at mindful.org is, well, everyone should be. There is not one master meditator that all of the goodness of the practice emanates from. Meditation is not one size fits all, although it can seem that way as meditation hits the mainstream. There is a tendency in popular culture to want to focus on one character and their narrative—to Kate Middleton-ify aspects of our culture, in ways that give some things a broader appeal but also aren’t particularly rigorous or insightful. A narrative is created, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the initial story.
Even Jon Kabat-Zinn—who perhaps we’d put on our list of potential “faces”— shirks away from the celebrity status that is often attributed to him as the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In an interview at Stanford University recently, he explained that the personal spotlight treatment is not entirely helpful for conveying his work because it ends up building into a semi-fictitious narrative that people then use to differentiate him from themselves. “And my work is all about recognizing the commonality in us all,” he said.
We’d say the same about our work: we want to emphasize what we all have in common, that we are all basically good and have the capacity to be mindful in our daily lives. We plan to feature meditators on our front cover, but they’re certainly not going to be celebrities all of the time. Heck, the “face” might just be a smiling woman in a shirt stained with baby food. The image or “face” of meditation is important, but what’s more important is what the image evokes for us in relation to our own practice (or our desire to start a practice, or just a general curiosity about meditation). That’s where the emphasis should lie, although, yes, it’s certainly less sexy.
We do have some sexy news, however: Mindful is hitting newsstands in February 2013, with print and digital editions. We’ll be featuring pieces on meditation practice, and also taking a look at how mindfulness is being introduced into mainstream society. You can subscribe here.