The next cover for Time magazine is getting a lot of attention—and a ton of heat—from the mindfulness community. It is actually the second time that they have run a cover about meditation with a beautiful blond Caucasian woman on the cover. The first was Heather Graham in 2003. I must admit that my biggest personal bias against Heather will always be her performance in Twin Peaks, not her Time cover.
These covers have created an interesting uproar over what motivates a mainstream media outlet to cover meditation and Buddhism. There is a lot of concern in the Buddhist communities in which I am involved—but maybe sometimes not enough concern—that Buddhism may just turn into a folk spirituality for elite middle-class and upper middle-class white people in wealthy countries, allowing us privileged folks the tools to remain calm and balanced while the world goes to deeper into a state of suffering and torment. This argument was most famously forwarded by the cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek in his critique of Western Buddhism. I tried to respond in this article to Zizek a few years ago in Huffington post.
The thing that immediately strikes me about both covers—beyond what’s already been critiqued—is that both models seem (in their expression and closed-eye, chin-tilted distance) to be tuning out the world for the sake of comfort. From the standpoint of the Shambhala tradition, the entire purpose for practicing mindfulness is to tune into the world and engage with reality and society more deeply. Both cover models seem like they are simply somewhere else, not here with us.
Meanwhile, there have been lots of interesting responses to this cover in the online world this week, each worth reading.
On the Interdependence Project Blog, Nancy Thompson shared her concerns about the selling of mindfulness in this way.
At Huffington Post, Joanna Piacenza of Tricycle Magazine critiqued the choice in her own words.
Meanwhile, relatedly, my friend Susan Piver had some thoughts on using sexuality to sell meditation.
It’s been a busy few days on this topic.
What do you think of the cover(s)? I’d be happy to share more thoughts if you share yours.