Accepted Paper:

Time-out: meditation-meaning-transformation, an anthropological approach to the experience of emptiness  


Elisa Rieger (University Graz)

Paper short abstract:

Ethnographic fieldwork in Graz, Austria illustrates how meditation, as an old and re-institutionalized cultural achievement, affects people. It focuses on the articulated memories as significant seen experiences of emptiness, in the process of mediating between old and new categories of meaning.

Paper long abstract:

In relation to Bourdieu, every social acting is performed over time. Due to specific norms social actors interchange words, knowledge, goods and services in the mutual consent of this time-experience. Consciously opted for i.e. a buddhist retreat or unconsciously affected by an existential crisis a time-out breaks with this illusio, as Bourdieu called the social play of interests. Today this initialising moment finds its expression often in meditation as a method to cope with experiences of disquiet, hopelessness, frustration or anxiety.

This article asks how individual meaning reforms or transforms in meditation as a continiously and conscious process of disruption and mediating between the articulated experience of the (rational) visible and the inarticulated experience of emptiness. It wants to illustrate the paradox human understanding of being full and empty at the same time. Three examples shall allow deeper insight into the loss of personal confidence in unreflected principles, in comparison with the "loss of confidence" through getting consciously involved with the space, where categories should be lost at all. Referring to the concrete examples, three different kinds of meditation are practised in different phases of intensity: initialising moment was on one hand the experience of stress in every day life, on the other a profund healing experience and finally the vocation to become a buddhist monk. In each case a different motivation preceds the deliberately chosen process. The article finds its end in further prospects on social circumstances/consequences of taking a time-out in global, neoliberal and increasing urbanised societies.

Panel W112
What happens when we stop believing in/believing that?