How did meditation and the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness go from a once-obscure ritual, to its relatively mainstream place in American culture today, with over 100 guided-meditation apps available on Apple's App Store?
For people who believe ideas spread like viruses, the story goes something like this.
A western tourist visited Tibet, observed a bunch of dudes chanting to themselves, and asked them what was up. The tourist learned about meditation, headed back home, told his friends about what he observed. They were so intrigued, they told their friends, who told their friends, and so on. Pretty soon, yoga/mindfulness studios popped up all over American cities.
There's only one problem with this scenario:
It's totally wrong.
Messages and ideas don't really spread like viruses. Ideas spread more like independent objects in an ecosystem. For life to survive in an ecosystem, the environment has to be just right. The same thing is true for ideas. Meditation probably wouldn't have caught on in America in the year 1901. The requisite cultural forces just weren't there.
Meditation caught on in the U.S. in the 1960s thanks to a combination of luck and famous advocates. And whether we like to believe it or not, that's how most ideas spread.
To learn more about how meditation went from a sacred religious act to a mainstream American activity, I spoke to lifelong devotee and advocate, Dr. Michael Baime.