Benefits of Meditation
I’ve alluded to a lot of benefits of meditation throughout the article. Of all so-called “spiritual practices,” meditation probably has the largest body of scientific research backing up its utility and power. Numerous studies using MRI and EEG have shown that a regular meditation practice can rewire the neural patterns in the brain and even increase grey matter.1, 2 Below are some practical benefits psychologists and doctors have found to regular meditation:
Increases Self-Awareness. Psychologists have noted that patients who practice meditation develop greater awareness of their actions and emotions. Some therapists prescribe meditation to their patients to assist them in their practice.3
Increases Focus and Discipline. Practitioners of meditation are able to retain focus on specific tasks and are less likely to deviate from those tasks. Meditation increases one’s ability in what psychologists call “self-regulation.”4
Reduces Stress and Anxiety. Mindfulness techniques have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress5 and have long been prescribed to patients who suffer anxiety disorders and panic attacks as a way to calm their nerves with relatively good success rates.6
Makes you Physically Healthier. People who meditate on average sleep better, have lower heart rates, have lower blood pressure, and get sick less often.7
Increases Emotional Stability. For people who are prone to outbursts of anger or sadness, meditation helps people regulate and control their emotions.8
Increases Memory and Helps You Think More Clearly. Meditating trains you to remove all of the unnecessary garbage from your thought-patterns. This then frees up your mind to retain what is useful and important more efficiently.9
Gets You In Touch With Your Intuition. Often referred to as your “gut reaction,” your “instinct,” or your “intuition,” meditating gets you in touch with your unconscious decision-making processes. Daniel Kahneman refers to it as your “first brain.” Malcolm Gladwell refers to it as “blink.” Whatever it is, that instant, gut reaction that you have about some things, is often right. Meditation will increase that. This goes hand-in-hand with self-awareness.
Increases Your Ability to Empathize with Others. Brain scans show that meditation activates the positive, happy, empathetic aspects of the brain. People who practice meditation regularly report an ability to empathize and care about the emotions of others and bond with them more easily.10
Lowers a Need for External Validation. Meditating trains yourself to become more aware of what thoughts and emotions dictate your behavior, primarily where you’re trying to receive your love and validation that may not be working. It forces you to become more aware of your needy and neurotic behaviors and put an end to them.11
Silhouette of young woman practicing yoga on the beach at sunset
Meditation is by no means a cure-all for your problems. But I believe that it’s a powerful tool. Meditation’s purpose is to give you perspective and clarity on your internal issues. It doesn’t fix them for you. Years ago, one of the most upsetting parts of my involvement in Zen was how many long-time practitioners I met who convinced themselves that meditation fixed all of their psychological and emotional problems, when it didn’t. It helped them experience and become aware of those problems, but you still have to go out into the world and commit the actions to overcome them. Sitting in a room staring at a wall all day is unlikely to do that.
Meditation and Spirituality
There is a spiritual aspect to a meditative practice, for those of you into that kind of thing. I usually avoid spirituality on this blog on purpose. I believe spirituality is something that’s experienced and lived, not discussed or taught. In my opinion, spirituality, by its definition, cannot be discussed. Just the resulting experiences of a spirituality can be described. Spirituality itself is transrational. It’s like counting to infinity. Words can capture part of it but never fill it up.
One such way to experience that spirituality is through meditation. I’m no good at describing the experience with words. But if you’ve ever had a moment in your life where your sense of self — your sense of identity — completely dissolved and there was no longer differentiation between you, the sky, the water, the people around you, everything. If you ever stared at the stars so long you started laughing at how beautiful the fact that we even exist is. If you’ve ever suddenly realized that your fears and worries were illusions created by your ego and mind, and that good and bad were simply separate expressions of the same grand unity of This, and that you never had to be afraid, ever, because you — your fears, your flaws, your failings, everything about you — was just another perfect expression of the same reality. Then yeah, meditation can help you get that back.
How to Know Who You Really Are
We all think we know ourselves well, but psychological studies show otherwise. In fact, most of us are somewhat deluded about ourselves. I put together a 22-page ebook explaining how we can come to know ourselves better, just fill out your email in the form.