Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Has Meditation Been Oversold?

I have often heard of people who have been helped by meditation. I have no reason to doubt their testimony. At the least, we have no reason to believe that meditation does any harm. Whether in the form of relaxation, focus or prayer, meditation seems to benefit many people. And we know that one staple of meditation, controlled breathing exercises often helps to alleviate anxiety.

If we were to use the same parameters to evaluate most forms of psychotherapy, meditation has much to recommend it. At the least, it does not offer up idiotic advice and pretend to be telling you the truth of your desire.

And yet, like most forms of psychotherapy meditation has been oversold. It has been touted as the cure for the human tendency to aggress other humans and even a few non-humans. If we all meditated peace would reign and everyone would be happy. Such claims are obviously ruses to dupe the gullible.

As you can guess researchers have been hard at work testing some of the most extravagant claims. The results are not encouraging for the religionists who are selling meditation as the pathway to world peace.

The Daily Mail reported:

However, researchers from the UK, New Zealand and The Netherlands, have found meditation doesn't change how adults behave towards others.

Dr Miguel Farias, co-author, from Coventry University, said: 'All world religions promise the world would change for the better if only people were to follow its rules and practices.

'The popularisation of meditation techniques in a secular format is offering the hope of a better self and a better world to many…. 

The team of researchers reviewed more than 20 studies that investigated the effect of various types of meditation to make the conclusion.

They involved mindfulness - paying more attention to the present moment, and loving-kindness - imagining objects such as cute animals.

It only included randomised controlled studies, where meditators were compared to other individuals that did not meditate.

There is some good news here. Mediation can lower blood pressure and can help prevent heart disease. Obviously, physical exercise and good nutrition can also help, but adding meditation to the mix will improve your chances. It is not going to harm your health.

Otherwise, the researchers found that the studies linking meditation to increased compassion and less violence were flawed. When the results from the meditation groups were compared with results from non-meditation groups, the advantages from meditation diminished. And some of the studies were conducted by meditation teachers themselves. Apparently, said teachers had skewed the results... no surprise there.

The studies concluded that meditation does not make people more compassionate and less aggressive or even less prejudiced. So much for world peace.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: The studies concluded that meditation does not make people more compassionate and less aggressive or even less prejudiced. So much for world peace.

Yes, like the quote Marianne Williamson heard from The Dalai Lama in 2012: "If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation"

It's easy to be skeptical. The pro-meditation argument seems to be that the only thing we have a real possibility to control is ourselves, and if we can do that, we have more choices to avoid adding unnecessarily to the misery of the world.

Or maybe what's important about meditation isn't its success, but when you can't focus like normal, you're more likely to ask why, and some answers can be easy, like the AA's HALT - hungry, angry, lonely, tired checklist for self-care. If you're just acting out, you blame the world for causing how you feel, or using addictions to numb the source. But if you're "acting in" like trying to meditate and failing, then you've got to acknowledge something inside needs attention and look to identify that.

Jack Fisher said...

We Christians call this "centering prayer", which, although it has elements of Eastern spirituality, not come with the dross associated with the currently hip meditation. Fr. Thomas Keating has written extensively about this.

Bizzy Brain said...

I favor default. It will piss off a lot of people, but we will not be saddled with a punishing debt. Then maybe investors will think twice about buying our bonds and financing our wild spending sprees. It will necessitate a much needed frugality in the area of government spending.

Bizzy Brain said...

Oops! Comment posted to wrong article.

Christopher B said...

Anything that teaches people they can control the outputs of the bio-electric device located in their skull is a good thing in my estimation.

James said...

That's right.

Jack Fisher said...

James, this is the final word on the subject of meditation.

Leo G said...

LOL! I always found this medititillation nonsense about making the world more peaceful a hoot. Check out some of the famous Zen Masters of the past, some of the most violent humans who have lived. Cutting off disciples heads, whacking them about the head with their staffs, chopping a cat in half, burning wooden Bhuddha statues, screaming, kicking, spitting, and on and on and on......

Like Yoga, the west has taken a deep exercise in how to free oneself from the ego, and turned it into pablum for our childish adult population.

We really do want to eat the cake and have it too!


Ares Olympus said...

Jack, I see it here, no promises of peace on earth, but as Stuart says, no reason to believe it does any harm, except perhaps to the egos of people who just can't keep a quiet mind I suppose, which might be most of us.
Centering Prayer is a method of meditation used by Few Christians placing a strong emphasis on interior silence. The modern Centering Prayer movement in Christianity can be traced to several books published by three Trappist monks of St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts in the 1970s: Fr. William Meninger, Fr. M. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating. The name was taken from Thomas Merton's description of contemplative prayer (a much older and more traditional practice) as prayer that is "centered entirely on the presence of God.". In his book Contemplative Prayer, Merton writes "“Monastic prayer begins not so much with “considerations” as with a “return to the heart,” finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being”.

Fr. M. Basil Pennington suggests these steps for practicing Centering Prayer:

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself. Be in love and faith to God.
. Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you.
. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you.
. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.

In addition, Fr. Keating writes,

The method consists in letting go of every kind of thought during prayer, even the most devout thoughts.