Meditation breeds compassion
Meditation has been around for a long time. There is conjecture that it dates back hundreds of thousands of years to times when hunter-gatherers sat around a fire and gazed into the flames. Was this meditation or was it, phew, that mammoth almost stepped on my toe today! ? We can’t know if Grog and Grogina were meditating around primitive flames but what we do know is that 5000 years ago the Indian Vedas were mentioning meditation techniques. Then around 500 BCE (2,500 years ago) Buddha was advocating meditation and the rest is contemplative history. Although an ancient practice, meditation is still relevant today and in this news column we regularly update you on research highlighting the physical and psychological impacts of meditation. Now a new study suggests perhaps one of the most powerful properties of meditation; that it can increase feelings of compassion.
Before we look at the study it is worth a brief visit to what meditation is. Meditation can take different forms. Concentrative meditation focuses the attention on the breath, an image or a sound, in order to still the mind and allow a greater awareness and clarity to emerge. Mindfulness meditation’s purpose is to increase awareness of the inundation of sensations and feelings around you, but at a distance. In mindfulness meditation, the aim is to experience every aspect of your environment without consciously thinking about it. You simply witnesses whatever goes through your mind, not reacting or becoming involved with thoughts or feelings.
Forget love, what the world needs now is meditation, sweet meditation.
For the study the researchers had half of their subjects take part in eight weeks of training in one or other of these two types of meditation. Then they were put through a test and their reaction was compared to the reaction of people who had not been given meditation training.
Then all of the participants were put in a set-up situation in a waiting room. The room had three chairs and two other actors already in two of the chairs. The participant sat in the one empty chair and waited to be called. Then another actor using crutches and appearing to be in great pain entered the room. As she did the two actors in the chairs ignored her by playing with their smartphones or opening a book.
Among the participants who had not been given meditation training only 15 per cent acted to help. However, 50 per cent of the meditators offered their seat and sought to help the person in need.
As disturbing as it is that anyone would ignore the needs of someone in pain, it is well proven that people do take their cues from others as to how to act and the good news is that meditation practice more than triples the likelihood that people will act with compassion.
So as various simmering tensions continue around the place and as globalisation brings people of differing together as never before, what do we need? Forget love, what the world needs now is meditation, sweet meditation.
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