Meditation is more than either stress relief or enlightenment

Meditation is more than either stress relief or enlightenment

I’ve been practising and teaching meditation for several decades now. And I’ve no doubt it’s helped with my mental health and happiness.

But at the same time, especially when I teach or speak about it, I typically feel the need to focus at least partially on busting the many myths and misconceptions surrounding it and the related constructs of mindfulness and relaxation.

Meditation is good, for happiness and wellbeing, but meditation is also different, and often more than many realise.

If you’re interested in any of these areas, happiness and wellbeing, mindfulness and meditation, then you’ll probably enjoy reading on …

via Vox by Oshan Jarow

Meditation has taken two divergent paths through the Western mind. For many, it’s a few quick, calming breaths, perhaps timed with a smartphone app, in search of a stress tonic that can soften anxiety’s edges. Along a less-traveled route, meditation remains what it long was: a deeply transformative pursuit, a devoted metamorphosis of the mind toward increasingly enlightened states.

But this bifurcated view of meditation as a relaxing practice for the masses and a life-changing practice for the committed few is deeply misleading. A spectrum runs between them, harboring experiences that are far more interesting and powerful than what the growing mindfulness industry advertises, and more accessible to average people than what tropes of arcane states like enlightenment suggest.

Given that wealthy countries like the US aren’t exactly riding trend lines toward new peaks of mental health (depression rates in American adults are at an all-time high, while young people appear in the grips of a mental health crisis), scalable ways of not just mindfully soothing, but completely re-creating psychological experiences for the better should set off sirens of general, scientific, and funding intrigue.

For the past two decades, the growing science of meditation has roughly followed the same split that ignores this middle path. Most research studies basic mindfulness as a health intervention in novice meditators, where modestly positive results have led to comparisons like exercise for the mind, or mental flossing. On the other end, researchers will occasionally strap EEG electrodes to the scalp of Tibetan monks, offering a glimpse inside the unusual brain activity of an advanced meditator.

A new band of researchers, however, is finding that you don’t need 10,000 hours in a monastery before meditation can upend your entire psychology — and yet, the current body of meditation research has had surprisingly little to say about this middle ground between stress relief and enlightenment.

As the number of meditating Americans has more than tripled in recent years, an onslaught of apps, books, and seminars helped mold the public image of meditation around the simpler and more sellable idea of mindfulness as a form of stress reduction. That image is paying off: The broader mindfulness industry was valued at $97.6 million in 2021 and is projected to triple in value by 2031. Critics call it “McMindfulness,” a capitalist perversion of meditation that deals with stress by focusing inward on the breath, rather than outward on the social structures that cause so much of that stress. Regardless of how you package it, “mindfulness programs only scratch the surface of meditation,” Matthew Sacchet, a neuroscientist, professor of psychiatry, and director of Harvard’s Meditation Research Program, told me.

Sacchet is part of a recent turn in meditation research that is putting the fuller, stranger range of meditative experiences under the scrutiny of laboratory conditions. Rather than evaluating meditation in the same way that we do therapy or drug trials, new theories from cognitive science (like predictive processing) along with new tools — such as machine learning models that read more deeply into neural activity than humans can alone — are shifting the science of meditation in the direction of grasping after the nature of the mind and the ways we might transform it for the better.

“There was this initial focus on meditation as attention and emotional regulation practices,” said Ruben Laukkonen, an assistant professor at Southern Cross University. “But over time, there’s been a recognition that in contemplative traditions, that’s not really the goal. These are side effects. When you talk to people who really take this stuff seriously, you find that there’s these layers of experience that unfold that are much deeper.”

Research labs and private companies are already developing technologies they hope can democratize access to meditation’s deep-end experiences …

… keep reading the full & original article HERE