Washington is Trying to Meditate Itself into Sanity

Buddhism, apparently, is blowing up in the Beltway. Or rather, meditation is.

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Buddhism, apparently, is blowing up in the Beltway. Or rather, meditation is. In any case, Tara Brach, the subject of a Washington Post profile out this weekend, has seemingly managed to "yogify" the spiritual practice of meditation for the urban elite masses.

Here's Brach, who is also a therapist, giving a verbal chill pill to a room full of busy professionals:

"Hundreds of people were rushing to the weekly class of Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach, a therapist who has become a must-listen for many urban professionals. Inside, her calm voice fills the silence.

'What does it matter for us to be in touch with our deepest aspiration?' she says into a headset. 'Was today a trance? How much was I here today?'

While the conceptual contrast of Brach calmly entrancing a room full of Washington stress addicts is kind of delicious, it sounds like her appeal goes far beyond the capitol region. Brach taps into the Oprah-like generic "spirituality" that seems so native to modern America. She's a bit of a hybrid version of the typical American spiritual advisor: she is the kind of person who puts Ph. D. after her name on the cover of her (bestselling) books. And according to the profile's author, Brach has a thing for folksy stories. But she's also busy, sophisticated, and smart. In other words, exactly the sort of person who would appeal to D.C.-types, too:

"She’s a Type A go-getter. The petite 60-year-old juggles talks on not rushing with Skype interviews with reporters and focuses on pragmatic struggles such as body image, divorce and being controlled by your To Do list. She drives a BMW and lives in posh Great Falls. She talks about aspiration."

Boorstein's article connects the "trend" of meditation among the professionals of D.C. to another religion trend story from this year: the so-called "rise of the nones," or Americans who don't adhere to any particular religion, including those who would see themselves as spiritual, but not religious. Because of this, the article raises one big question: can meditation be the new, "secular" version of prayer?

Her connection makes demographic sense: Brach's adherents in Washington are of the professional economic class, and well-educated. And that lines up with the "nones," who make up about 20 percent of the population according to a recent Pew study. Plus most of her students don't identify themselves as Buddhist, though she herself is Buddhist clergy, indicating that she's not so much preaching to the converted as she is advocating for a particular religious practice in a more secular context. On the other hand, the "nones" are not by any means uniformly secular: A majority believe in God, while a plurality already pray regularly.

In any case, if Boorstein is right, then the so called "secular" meditation movement should pay attention to the debate still surrounding yoga, another religious practice with a large cosmopolitan presence, which has been pretty thoroughly isolated in the U.S. as a practice that's not tightly tethered to its Hindu origins. Despite that, some Christians still shun it, with some parents in one California town threatening legal action over one public school's introduction of a yoga class.

Photo: via Flickr by thisisbossi

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.