I recently listened to Dan Harris interview Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s main English translator, on Harris’ podcast 10% happier. Jinpa also wrote the book A Fearless Heart (how the courage to be compassionate can transform our lives)”.

Dan asked Jinpa what he thought about the most recent studies concluding that meditation does not make you a better person. Eyes wide, gasp! Forbes, Newsweek, Psychology Today all picked up the headlines. Jinpa said that because mindfulness is all the rage these days he actually believes that the conclusion of the study was very timely and for very good reasons. Remember, this is a Buddhist monk agreeing that meditation alone won’t make you happier.

“This is one thing about western consumerist society, when something works, people then latch onto it, and then everybody sort of jumps the bandwagon and they start believing it almost like, well, we call it miracle of mindful meditation, people close their eyes and expect some miracle to happen”. In the Buddhist tradition their understanding of transformation is not only a function of meditation, Jinpa said “it’s a function of combining a few things”.

  1. Knowledge. The changing mindset. We have to learn to see the world and ourselves in a different way.

  2. Intention. Prime your behavior in a way that you would want it to be on a daily basis.

  3. Meditation. Not just calming the mind, although that is one aspect, but learning to internalize this new way of seeing things.

According to Jinpa, the conclusion of their study, that meditation alone does not alter behavior, “is a fair point”.

What I find so compelling about this information is that it is being said in all realms of my practice. Years ago during a teacher training with Aadil Palkhivala he said “you can have the absolute perfect triangle pose and still be an asshole”. I don’t remember his elaborating the way Jinpa did (probably because I was too consumed with having the perfect triangle at the time). I’ve long been a student of Mike Dooley’s. Dooley is a metaphysical teacher and bases his work on the Law of Attraction “thoughts becoming things”. He works very hard to make it clear that thinking positive thoughts will in fact change your life but it’s not the only thing. You can imagine and vision board and create the perfect job in your mind but if you don’t ever hand anyone your resume you’re probably not going to manifest that dream. There’s more to it. And our thinking that we are just one perfect yoga pose or meditation away from happiness is why most people give up the practice. “I closed my eyes and nothing happened, it clearly doesn’t work”.

But combined these practices can be truly transformational. I’m seeing it in action.

  1. Knowledge, the desire to want to see things differently. Challenging our assumptions about the world. For me it’s also knowing it’s ok to soften the tight grip I tend to hold onto life with.

  2. Intention, who and how is it that I want to be in the world, in this relationship, in this conversation, in this moment. I’ve been working with intention setting for a while now and hands down it has truly changed the way I approach almost everything. A whole workshop can be done around this and I believe that’s coming soon.

  3. Meditation, the actual practice. Because we are human the mind will wander, we will forget, we will become distracted, bored, fall back into old habits. The practice of meditation is the remembering and beginning again. Dan Harris calls this the bicep curl for the brain. “I lost track of my intention, I forgot that I could see this situation differently and I simply “remember and begin again”. Thank you Rolf Gates for those incredibly powerful four words.

In theory this is simple, we can read this and it makes perfect sense. In practice it is incredibly challenging and profound.