A few days ago I was listening to a podcast episode of The Ezra Klein Show from 27 November last year, and there was something in it that really stood out to me. I’d found this podcast looking through the show’s back-catalogue, and although I found the title a bit clunky (‘What Buddhism got right about the human brain’) I gave it a listen as I was interested to hear what Ezra’s guest had to say.
Robert (Bob) Wright has recently been promoting his book Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, but until I listened to this podcast I’d not heard much detail about the book or Bob’s take on Buddhism. I don’t have a lot of time for listening to people go on about the mystery of consciousness and so on, which is what this podcast appeared to be about on first examination, but it turned out to be an engaging discussion between Ezra (an occasional meditator) and Bob (a more experienced meditator, but one who is frank about the ups and downs of his practice), and was one hour twenty minutes well-spent, in my opinion.
The part that particularly stood out came at the mid-point of the podcast, and the (heavily edited) transcript that I’ve provided below gives you the gist of it…
Ezra Klein: What is the way in which steady mindfulness practice is doing something different or doing something more effective than just trying to address this mismatch between our temperament and our world through pharmacology?
Robert Wright: There is, in a certain sense, a buffering, in the sense that those things [that would normally unsettle you] are impacting you less, but the sensitivity of the perception is not gone. … It’s an equanimity without numbness, that’s what it is. It’s equanimity without numbness. I haven’t tried all therapeutic drugs, there may be some that can give you that, but when mindfulness is working at its best, that’s the amazing thing about it.
EK: That’s a really evocative description… ‘Equanimity without numbness’.
RW: I’ve never said it before! I thank you for the question, ’cause I’ve actually never put it that way before.
I think that really is an evocative description, what do you think?
The section transcribed above starts at 37:25.