What if each and every person in the world were meditating?
Might we witness reductions in violence?
Would world leaders be less willing to use the threat of war in retaliation to the opposition?
Would there be less human impulsiveness and frustration — and in replacement, more warmth, respect and kindness between human beings?
Through sharing my personal experience and practice, as well as giving examples of scientific results and explaining why prompting our children to practise meditation is a very positive move, I propose that individually, we can create a more understanding, more empathetic, and more interconnected humanity.
It is said that nothing in the end — whenever that may be — will withstand time. However, there are some things that, at least for now, have withstood the test of time in our eyes. Like Jesus, who has survived 2,000 years. The Great Pyramid of Giza still stands tall. And on vibrant wall arts from the Indian subcontinent dating back approximately 3,500–5000 BCE., we find depictions of Buddha sitting in lotus poses with eyes closed in deep meditation.
As a practice, meditation was in the beginning, spread by word of mouth, with the earliest written records going back to around 1,000 BCE. These records speak of meditation as being one of the four pillars to ‘salvation’. Clearly then, meditation has been long used and respected as an integral part of salvation for millions of people through millennia — and it still is to this day. I myself am a practitioner of this discipline which I can give honest testament to helping to change my life and me for the better.
Among other benefits, through meditation, I am more in control, less impulsive, more empathetic, and I am able to keep my focus on the work that shall be the work of my life. It is now a discipline I need.
Though the numbers of people who practice some form of meditation has risen dramatically in recent years — albeit with help from espousing celebrity practitioners such as Madonna, Hugh Jackman and Keanu Reeves — it is safe to say that most people do not meditate and surely a massive per cent have never tried or would even think of trying it. Considering these outspoken celebrity endorsers and the emerging scientifically-researched benefits (which will be covered later) most of us still just can’t seem to give this discipline quite the right level of respect it deserves.
But let us consider that once upon a time here in the west, purposeful (defined as using discipline as a tool for the purpose of reaping a particular outcome) physical exercise was not an individual necessity. And much of it, such as weight training, was even touted as bad for you. For example, it used to be said that it would make you ‘muscle-bound’, which apparently meant that an individual ‘suffering’ from such a notion would be less flexible. And old people should definitely stay away. Then it happened: exposure, plus back-up studies, equals new normality. Exercise is now normal and commonplace. From the average Joe trying to keep his weight down to the old lady pumping a two-kilogram dumbbell to extreme sports — almost everybody from all walks of life is in on it.
I suppose that if we chose to, we could interpret meditation as another form of exercise, and as a science of the mind and body.
It was a dear friend who first introduced the idea of meditation to me. At first, like most people, I found the idea a little ‘cookoo’, as most things are prior to exposure. But, with a profound smile on my friend’s face, I could see it was really helping him. And so, I began to listen to him and heed his advice.
I began watching videos online on how exactly to do this ‘meditation’. A lot of alternative terms were popping up, such as ‘mindfulness’ and ‘transcendental’. This made it all the more confusing for me. In my chair, I closed my eyes and listened to online guides who told me to ‘listen’ to my body and mind and feel for any tension. My first few experiences must have been positive because I have taken the practice with me as part of my daily toolkit for years now. And I use it as necessary — more so during times of stress or turbulence in my life.
I am a better human being when I keep a daily meditative practice. With the slowing of thoughts that just won’t stop, and the memories of my dreams from the night before whizzing through my head, when I meditate first thing, I am able to breathe more slowly and deeply, which grounds me, giving me a powerful sense of control over myself that lasts for the rest of the day. The thoughts and memories are less intrusive, as I am more aware of what they are and that they are harmless. My mind slows down, and I am less jumpy. And, in this enhanced state that lasts all day, I am a better human being who friends, family and colleagues enjoy being around. I am more empathetic and able to connect better — because I am more connected and empathetic towards myself.
All I need is ten-to-fifteen minutes each day first thing in the morning, and then I am a better person for the rest of it.
Drop-fact: I am a student of psychology. So, I quite like studies. Particularly when they are about the brain and how we can strategically mould it. I am referring to the phenomenon known as ‘plasticity’. Quite a trendy word right now that means we are able to physically change the structure of our brain. This is of particular interest to me personally because it means that we are given some sort of control over our ability to fundamentally change ourselves; control that we thought we had lost in adulthood.
To give you some context, meditation has been shown to cause a change in the density of grey matter in the brain. What does this mean? Well, grey matter is where most of our neuronal bodies are. The grey matter of our brains covers regions involved in muscle control, sensory perceptions such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has led experiments in cooperation with the Dalai Lama on the effects of meditation on the brain. The results suggest that meditation — both long and short-term — results in different levels of activity in brain regions associated with such qualities as anxiety, depression, fear, anger, attention, and in the body’s ability to heal itself. They concluded that these functional changes may be caused by physical changes in the brain.
In addition, results from a 2012 study funded by the NCCIH (The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) suggest that meditation may affect amygdala activity (a part of the brain used in processing emotions) and that different forms of meditative practice can affect the amygdala differently even when the individual is not meditating.
Furthermore, small-to-medium effects have been self-reported and shown through observable outcomes, concluding meditation as a practice can “improve positive prosocial emotions and behaviours.”
And this is just scratching the surface.
The mounting evidence strongly suggests meditation may be one of the only tools (along with physical exercise) at our disposal for making real, significant changes to our brains, and thus, our lives; in the ways that we think, feel, and act.
Start the Habit Early
Many schools across my country of Britain have begun teaching children to practise ‘mindfulness’ meditation. This particular ‘version’ of meditation has as its primary objective to bring the individual’s attention to the thoughts, feelings and sensations happening in the present moment. In this way, it is different to other practices wherein the primary objective could be said to calm the ‘monkey mind’, as it is sometimes referred to — and not to actively seek understanding of what the monkey is chattering about, so to say. This method is particularly popular in schools for children primarily because it helps improve the children’s focus. In bringing awareness to the body and mind, the children are thus trained to increase their level of attention and awareness.
“If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will completely eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” -Dalai Lama
It has been observed both in studies and anecdotally that children who are under supervised mindfulness meditation programs, whether that be in a classroom setting as is now becoming more normative, or as part of a clinical program, develop better social-emotional skills. It has been witnessed and assessed that children under a meditation-based program develop more empathy and self-regulation. Children and young people are able to learn to feel more connected to others by connecting with themselves through meditation. In turn, the children are better able to make friends and feel more at ease during stressful situations in and out of the classroom, among other factors.
It is to be of no shock value to anybody to say that kids are at times really impulsive. Meditation helps kids learn better self-regulation, and in turn, learn to take a pause between stimulus and response. Again, whether in the classroom, outside or at home, the benefits that children gain from these types of programs can be sizeable.
When we are young, our brains are more adaptive. We learn easier and faster. Our brains are, as I discussed earlier, more ‘plastic’. This is why we learn a language as fast as infants, why we expose our children to books at an early age, and why some of us pay for our children to attend weekly piano lessons. Not only are we able to attain knowledge easier and faster, but we are also able to retain that information. If continued, we bring what we learn in to adulthood and it stays with us, moulding our personality for ever more.
A Better Humanity
I want to be completely honest and upfront with you: I don’t believe in a utopian vision of the future.
As a student of psychology and somebody with a keen interest in sociology, biology and history, I understand much of reality is tied to the human condition. We are multi-layered beings. I say beings because we aren’t just animals, by the same token we aren’t just anything. I’ve always believed we are both animalistic and angelic beings. Freud described the human mind in a similar way: in the centre is the ego, that part of ourselves that is our persona and upholds our reality. Then there is the id, our animalistic and primitive nature. It is the part of us which is impulsive — it wants to satisfy itself through immediate gratification. And then there is the superego. The superego is the angel on our shoulder. It is our moral compass and guide to making better decisions. Our egos are in a constant tug-of-war, being pulled between the id and superego; our primitive and angelic selves.
We have but limited resources for self-improvement. I have spent many years — and will continue to spend many more — in the pursuit of methods to live by which will improve my life. Meditation really is one of the best tools in my toolkit — which is free of charge and accessible to me at any moment — that I keep close. I simply could not imagine myself without this discipline in my life.
Though I do not believe a human paradise is on the horizon, I know one thing truest of truths: we help each other by helping ourselves.
Use the power of meditation in your life and do it for you. And in doing it for you, you, in turn, help others around you just by being.
The benefits you will gain, as outlined above, will be visible for all to see as you feel and witness them within yourself. In becoming a better person through meditation, you will likely find that you barely need to share it through word-of-mouth — because people around you will see the gradual shift in consciousness within you.
If you are or will eventually be a practitioner yourself and you have children, why not teach them? Or better still, learn to meditate together. See if your child’s school has as part of its classroom routine a meditative practice or even a separate program. As the teachers how and why they do it — and the results they see in them.
Every single one of us, individually, creates the whole world. Imagine if the whole world was meditating.