How Meditation Strengthens Your Brain

Charlie Ambler
Jun 30, 2016 · 4 min read

“Meditation is superior to severe asceticism and the path of knowledge. It is also superior to selfless service.” —Bhagavad Gita

I’ve been practicing meditation on and off for nearly ten years. I find that much of what I write here tends to be on the esoteric side. I realize that I sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees. I focus on the weird ideological details of meditative practice but I don’t return to basics often enough. This post aims to provide some balance.

This morning I went to the gym. I’ve been doing roughly the same workout variations for nearly six years now. When I first started, I did lots of research and I found a plan that I liked. I have stuck to it, increasing the resistance slightly with every workout. Sometimes I plateau. Sometimes I fall backwards. But over time, this consistency has led to a sense of commitment. I’ve grown stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally. I am committed to exercise. It fuels my day and provides me with a sense of purpose. It also serves as a metaphor for the struggles of daily life. Every tiny problem is like a rep, a form of resistance. With steadiness, concentration and strength of will, these problems can be overcome, no matter the size or severity. Even if I fall on my face, there is still an opportunity to learn.

My meditation practice got more serious around the same time I began exercising, probably because I recognized the relationship between strength, consistency, and a feeling of purpose. I spent much of my adolescence mentally harping on how meaningless life felt. I was a classic case of angsty teenage existentialism. Like anything, this sort of woe-is-me attitude begets more of itself. You end up getting more of whatever you think and project. If you’re always thinking about problems and failures, you’re going to get more problems and failures. If you’re consistently grateful, disciplined, and strong, you will find more to be grateful for, more discipline and more strength. A psychological snowball in motion tends to stay in motion.

I didn’t realize this as a teenager, of course. It took getting immersed in exercise and meditation to figure it out. At first, much like a relationship or a new life scenario, these beneficial activities are intoxicating. They fill people with a sense of wonder and excitement that at times borders on delusional. Over time, the excitement fades. You end up having no choice but to do meditation and exercise for their own sake. The benefits continue, but these activities are simply not inherently exciting enough to serve as narcotics or distractions. This is precisely why they are so important.

In willing yourself to regularly do things that you don’t technically have to do, you rewire your brain. This has been scientifically proven in the cases of meditation and exercise. No one has to exercise. Most people don’t. And most people especially don’t meditate. Doing so puts you in an elite class, though meditation teaches you not to care about belonging to such a class. You just do it. Concerns about vanity are for the mindless.

The key is to recognize that, like exercise, meditation is not some sort of magic cure-all. It’s often advertised as such, mostly so some clever individuals can sell books and expensive seminars. And people buy them. Human beings will do ANYTHING to beat around the bush. They pay for expensive trainers, crazy diet plans, weird equipment, meditation gurus, retreats, and all of this stuff, but they don’t end up finding consistency or commitment because their motivations are unrealistic. This is another form of distraction! All you need to do to exercise is read a bit on exrx and then do it. All you need to do to meditate is read a few basic descriptions of how to meditate and then just do it.

I repeat: just do it.

These three words are not just a corporate slogan. The irony of their popularity is that most people do not just do it. They find ways to make everything more complicated and then say “just do it” to assuage the guilt of not having control over life’s whims and temptations. The key is to simply get started. Doing this with meditation and exercise teaches you to do this with other things in life. Call your friends. Start a business. Make art. Eat healthy. Read books. Whatever. You get it. Just. Do. It.

(This post was not sponsored by Nike, but if you want to send me a pair of free trainers please, feel free.)

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