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  • It's said that the Buddha achieved enlightenment during a deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

  • Seeking enlightenment through meditation is a deeply rooted practice in many Eastern cultures

  • and it actually predates the Buddha.

  • Initially, the Silk Road helped the practice travel around Asia and, eventually, it began

  • its journey towards the West where, in recent decades, it has really taken off as a mainstream

  • phenomenon.

  • Improved focus, greater emotional control, improved immunity, reduced suffering, weight

  • loss, and improved sleep are just some of the benefits that are often sold to Westerners.

  • *In short, you can become a better you*.

  • Is this true?

  • What does the science actually say about meditation?

  • For starters, the science of meditation is very preliminary.

  • Most of the studies we have are of low quality.

  • To rigorously examine the benefits of meditation, we need many more carefully controlled longitudinal

  • studies that follow people over a long period of time before and after beginning meditation.

  • Furthermore, a lot of the really impressive feats of meditation are found in yogis, monks,

  • and other experts who spend their lives meditating.

  • Not only is this unrealistic for the average person, it's difficult to understand how many

  • of these amazing traits they have are a product of meditation.

  • Monks and yogis live in completely different cultures, with likeminded people who support

  • their practice.

  • On top of that, they often hold strong religious beliefs that undergird these practices.

  • How do you separate the effects of these deeply rooted cultural influences from the practice

  • of meditation?

  • Although the science so far isn't all that great, there's no reason to doubt that meditation

  • has at least some utility.

  • For thousands of years, the idea has continued to be passed down and practiced for generations:

  • there must be a reason.

  • That said, let's take a look at what seems to be the primary benefit.

  • Specifically, let's take a look at mindfulness meditation.

  • Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment.

  • It's all about *pure awareness*.

  • Your brain has a default mode network (DMN) that comes online when you're not concentrating

  • on anything.

  • It's thought that the DMN helps us retrieve memories, think about the future, and understand

  • the thought processes of other.

  • It's that narrator in your head: the one that always ruminates.

  • It's constantly constructing narratives about the past, other people, and generating potential

  • solutions to future problems.

  • When you practice being mindful of the present, such as when you focus on your breath, the

  • DMN quiets down.

  • Naturally, you become more focused and attentive to what's going on in the present moment.

  • Studies show that with greater mindfulness practice, an individual can gain greater control

  • of the DMN and get better at keeping it quiet and thus be more attentive in the present

  • moment.

  • I think it follows quite easily that if you can gain greater control over that narrator

  • in your head, you can ruminate less, think less about the past and the future, be in

  • the present and that might explain a lot of the other reported benefits such as lowered

  • stress, greater compassion, and more focus.

  • But, there seems to be a perverse love for constantly being in the present growing in

  • the West.

  • There are times where being present is great.

  • But, there are also times where it's more enjoyable to allow your mind to wander and

  • to be somewhere else.

  • In fact, some studies show that a wandering mind is important for creativity.

  • Furthermore, one could argue that it's our ability to mentally time travel and retrieve

  • important lessons from our past, and project ourselves into a multitude of potential futures

  • that makes us so powerful as a species.

  • With that said, let's just drop the labels such as mindfulness, and let's just consider

  • two states: one where you're attentive to what's going on right now, and one where you're

  • preoccupied with the past and the future.

  • Let's call these the *experiential-self* and the *narrative-self*, respectively.

  • Both states are useful and necessary.

  • But, if mindfulness is pure awareness of the present moment, you can practice it at anytime.

  • You don't need a special ritual but, more importantly, this capacity for presence was

  • always available to you.

  • My question to you is why aren't you already present in the moments you may be seeking

  • to be?

  • Whether it's your job, your relationships, and so on, there may be more fundamental issues

  • underlying your lack of presence which a mindfulness practice is not going to fix.

  • If you're not already present, the only thing that's going to change that is a change in

  • belief or a change in environment.

  • In the West, mindfulness has been commodified and in order to sell it to the individual,

  • we place the problem on them.

  • "*You're distracted, and stressed because you're not mindful.*"

  • But, this statement is more true in the reverse: you're not mindful because you're stressed

  • and distracted.

  • Change your environment to one that pulls you into the present and you'll naturally

  • be more mindful.

  • But, if a change in environment isn't possible or desirable, you need a change in belief;

  • you need a reason to be present.There are an infinite amount of beliefs that you could

  • adopt to make yourself believe that being more present is valuable, but I want to share

  • one with you and it brings me back to the origins of meditation.

  • This idea of what mediation can do *for me*, is very Western.

  • In the East, meditation wasn't developed to improve productivity, or to cure illness.

  • Originally, it was meant to be used as a pathway to selflessness, compassion, and enlightenment.

  • What if you didn't meditate for yourself?

  • Instead, what if you did it so that you could be present for the people around you?

  • How much better could you make that moment *for them* by being completely attentive,

  • present, and giving them your most honest reaction?

  • Now, imagine if you did that for everyone around you?

  • How much happier could they all be as a result of these repeated interactions?

  • How would this affect their interactions with others?

  • How big could this chain of events get and how much of an impact could you have by simply

  • being present?

  • Realize that these people make up your environment.

  • If that compassion radiates out from you to them, and they're all around you, how could

  • it not find its way back to you?

  • Maybe meditation is something you do for others, and not for yourself.

  • So, mindfulness is just being in the present and yes, it does work.

  • Naturally, there are benefits to being attentive to the present moment, and as you practice

  • being present more, you may find yourself having an easier time doing it.

  • However, if you're not already present you may need a change in environment or belief.

  • But, there are also benefits to being in the past, the future, and just letting your mind

  • wander in general.

  • It's really up to you to decide, in each moment, which time

  • you want to live in.

It's said that the Buddha achieved enlightenment during a deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

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Does Meditation Really Work?

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    Summer posted on 2020/06/08
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