Meditation is Useless

folkcirc7One of my favorite Taoist stories is from the philosopher Chuang about the stinktree.

It seems there was a man who came upon a “stinktree” on his property. Looking up to its tangle of leaves and branches, his first impression was, “This tree is truly ugly. The leaves look like they have blight and the thing bears no fruit at all.” He considered for a moment whether he might be able to cut the tree down and use it for building material. But as he scanned the branches he could not find a length of limb that wasn’t gnarled, and impossibly distorted. He reached up and plucked down a leaf, tasted it and instantly spat it out. This thing was only good for shade but not even nice enough to sit under.

“Useless! Absolutely Useless!” he thought as he turned his back on the tree and walked away. After he’d walked a bit he turned for one more look and noticed that this tree, sitting alone on the hillock, was by far the largest tree on his property. It had been there long before he was born and would probably be there when his grand children were playing. Suddenly it struck him. The life of the tree was insured by its uselessness. No ax would ever chop it. No carpenter would ever build with it. No one could gain anything by it so it was allowed to live and thrive and be itself without interference. Uselessness, he realized, could be very useful.

The same story with the same conclusion could be told of meditation: useless in almost every way. Economically it has no use because it’s basically free. You can teach someone for a while but it isn’t exactly conducive to signing anyone on a Lifetime Membership.

And you get no aerobics advantage from it. Meditation doesn’t make you more beautiful or desirable. It’s not interesting to watch and it’s darn difficult to make competitive so there’s little chance of a sponsorship by Coors.

Can you make more money from meditating? Yes, probably you’ll be a little more productive, happier, and less stressed. But, really, that’s not the point of meditation. And you certainly won’t gain a lot of new friends.

Even, strangely, meditation is completely useless from the point of view of religious organization. You don’t pay dues or tithing and you’re definitely not on the Bingo Squad or the Church Clean-up Comittee.

Meditation doesn’t even allow you to impress people with your intellectual attainments since the only one you’ll be quoting is yourself.

Meditation just is. As the tree of the story was useless, meditation only accomplishes one purpose, it allows you to communicate with the “useless you”, the one that’s not a mother, a professor, a maintenance worker, a son, or a party member.

It lets you “rest in yourself” and reacquaint yourself with the person you were before you learned all the reactions, rules, manners, and schemes. Meditation is based on a simple idea: that there is an “original nature” in you separate from your personality, psychology, and intellect. Meditation proposes that this original nature is not only valid, but tremendously valuable; and worth knowing even though it won’t make you a star.

Overall, an almost entirely useless practice, and it has been so for 5000 years.

Try it and see how useful uselessness can be.


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