My Boyfriend Won’t Stop Meditating!

My boyfriend says he must meditate for one hour every day. Why does this annoy me so much? He works in tech, if that’s relevant. —Seeking Enlightenment

Dear Seeking,

I think it’s pretty obvious. On the one hand, meditation is the most self-­centered, antisocial habit there is—or one of them, at least. (I can think of another intensely solitary act that some people insist they “must” do daily to maintain a clear head.) Its motives are usually brazenly egotistical: personal productivity, sleep hacking, enhanced creativity. On the other hand, it is also a spiritual discipline whose highest aim, traditionally, is ego death, self-­transcendence, and the eventual enlightenment of the entire world. The contradictions pile up. No wonder meditation is so popular in tech, an industry in which the persistent effort to increase market share often sails under utopian language about connecting the world, obliterating human limitations, and making life for all beings unimaginably great.

I’m not saying that you should tell him this, of course. If your boyfriend is far enough along his path to enlightenment (God help him), he will likely point out that such “contradictions” are actually paradoxes, koans, the highest form of spiritual truth. The dualistic mind is clouded by either/or thinking, you see, a kind of binary logic that cannot yet glimpse that loftier plane where all 0s are simultaneously 1s and apparent hypocrisies synthesize into unified Truth. I’m sure you’ve gotten this lecture before, and as tiresome as it is, he’s not entirely wrong. We waste so much of our lives trying to fix the frictions and logical oppositions that make our world meaningful in the first place. The thorn is necessary to the beauty of the rose. The bug is actually a feature. The flaws in our loved ones are inseparable, in the end, from their strengths.

All of which is to say: Be grateful that your boyfriend is not yet so evolved that he eludes all inconsistencies. The only thing more annoying than human contra­dictions is the person who has successfully transcended them.

Why is it that when a friend asks to take a photo of me it’s fine, but when my beloved mom does it I want to scream? —Brat

This question might actually be above my pay grade, Brat. A certain kind of psychotherapist would tell you that any photo is an act of acquisition—the photographer is trying to possess, to capture, to make static—and that the shutter-happy mom embodies the archetype of the Oedipal Mother, who is trying to devour her own children. Maybe your hostility stems from your conflation of the camera with the maternal gaze, the ever-present eye that threatens to obliterate your own point of view. Or maybe the violent language of photography (to shoot, to capture) evokes, on some unconscious level, the sublimated aggression of the mother-child relationship that must be repressed to maintain a viable family life.

You probably don’t find these explanations very convincing. I don’t either. The truth is that I could probably list dozens of activities—asking about your day, checking in about your health, buying unsolicited gifts—that operate according to the same double standard: fine when it’s a friend, annoying as hell when it’s a parent. The problem has nothing to do with photos and every­thing to do with proximity. It’s easy to resent your mom precisely because she is your mom, an all-purpose dispenser of love and support whose sole purpose is to be obsessively attentive to your needs and sensitive to what irks you. It’s easy to forget that she is also an autonomous being who is probably entering the second half of her life and simply trying to document, in some small way, the fleeting moments of happiness that seem to be passing more quickly every year.

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