Is Meditation Self-help?

"Self-help" can easily take us into a spiral of self-defeat. Meditation unravels that entire approach—to our great relief.


Before he got all serious and entered politics, Senator Al Franken, as you likely know, was a Saturday Night Live comedian. His most unforgettable character was self-help guru Stuart Smalley, whose catch phrase—breathlessly sputtered out—was “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

The skit was funny and wildly popular because, in its desperate plea to be convincing, it captured perfectly the trick and the trap of most self-help: there’s too much self. The genre invites you to be self-involved, self-serious and usually overly self-critical and ultimately self-defeating.

The self-help aisle screams out for your attention with promises of a new and better version of yourself. You will be lighter, calmer, fitter, less stressed, less angry, smarter, and more prosperous. You will have achieved the New You!

A big drawback of this whole approach is that it operates from the outside in. It takes us out of ourselves. And from that vantage point, we are judged to be wanting. We lack something. We don’t measure up. The next step is to set up goals and expectations for ourselves, and how we are going to change. Then begins the program of striving to make that change.

It’s ironic,…