Why should I meditate? What’s it going to do for me?
One of my students asked me a few questions the other night after class. Good questions. Questions everyone should be asking if they are seriously thinking about starting a meditation practice. What’s the point anyway?
Well, there’s the brain. For us non-scientific types, one of the ways I like to think about the brain is that it’s a big jungle. It’s a jungle of neurons and axons and synapses. And all sorts of things can happen in this jungle. And although the infrastructure is complicated and the range and potential is vast, we should remember that it is populated mostly by monkeys. The monkeys are your thoughts and they love to swing and shreik and mess around.
The monkeys have carved out many paths in the jungle, but they are often arbitrary and may not be so useful to the human being (you) who also lives in the jungle. There’s one path that likes to eat four chocolate bars when it feels lonely and another that stays up late fiddling around with Facebook even though you have to get up early tomorrow. Then there’s the really long, well worn path from childhood that takes you to I’m-not-good-enough mountain.
You can tell the monkeys all you want to stop traveling down those paths and that’s a good thing to do, but until you quiet the monkey’s down, they won’t listen to you. And until you get in there with a bulldozer and consciously carve out the paths that you want through your jungle, the monkeys will continue to reign.
So what’s the bulldozer?
Why Meditation Works
Here’s what Sally Kempton wrote about brain science and meditation in Yoga Journal last year:
“Replacing negative thoughts and making a willed choice to shift out of grievance are both performed in the front brain â€“ the cerebral cortex. The seat of rational thought. But reactions to hurt, stress, and trauma are stored in the limbic brain where deeply rooted emotional patterns tend to be lodged. Many of these patterns play out automatically in the body, regardless of your intentions or rational decisionsâ€¦
Shifting those patterns requires more than practice and choice. It requires intervention from your own depths, from the awareness-presence that you cultivate in meditation. Brain wave researchers mapping the brain states accessed during meditation say that meditation slows the patterns called delta waves. These patterns, similar to those activated in deep sleep are associated with healing the body. Meditators learn to access this deep state consciously.”
So what is meditation going to do for you? It’s going to help you to heal deep emotional wounds so you can have better control over your thoughts and attitudes. Monkey’s don’t like meditation, they think it’s boring. Because it makes the drama and the trauma go away. If the habitual thought patterns established 30 or 40 years ago are no longer serving you, you can help the jungle grow back over them with meditation.