Why is everyone talking about meditation?
Editor’s Note: Mel A. James is a meditation instructor who lives in Taos. The following serves as an introduction to her monthly column for LiveTaos.com, where she will share her insights, instruction and videos about meditation, Taos style.
Is meditation just another annoying trend, like a fad diet that everyone tries and then forgets about in a couple of years? It’s everywhere you look: magazine covers, links on your social media feed, the nightly news, etc.
It’s enough to make you tune out, or dismiss it as overblown hype. To tell you the truth, even I’m getting tired of hearing about it, and this is what I do! Okay, maybe that’s because I read ALL the links so I can stay informed, but I digress.
There is an important reason you’re hearing about it everywhere. Science is starting to catch up with what meditators already know: this thing works. Recent years have seen an increase in scientific studies on just how the practice specifically affects our brains: enhanced neural connectivity and increases in gray matter volume are just a couple of measurable transformations — changing your brain is pretty cool! But the real-world benefits are more subjective, and have to do with our emotions and how we handle stress.
It’s no secret that we have a lot of stress in our lives these days. Between family, work, and school, there’s always something that’s weighing on us. And we can develop full-blown anxiety from all the pressure. But a large part of why we have all this stress actually has more to do with how we deal with it — our reaction to it is where the stress really comes from, not the situation itself. Meditation cultivates mindfulness, which can be defined simply as non-judgemental awareness of the present moment.
Living mindfully means that we become less reactive when things go bad or “wrong.” And I hate to be the one to tell you this: things will ALWAYS go wrong. Life is not about things always going right, or about nothing bad ever happening. Living a mindful life is more about learning to be okay with the bad along with the good; actually, it’s about avoiding those labels altogether, and acting from a place of acceptance. It’s also about learning to truly be in the moment, and not overthink what’s ahead or what happened in the past.
Meditation does for our mental health what exercise does for our physical health. But you have to commit to a regular practice to see any benefit. Going to one Zumba class isn’t going to go very far toward improving your overall health, but a regular habit of physical activity will work wonders. Similarly, trying meditation once or twice may not do anything for your anxiety, but a steady practice is likely to reduce it.
I’m convinced that, in our culture, meditation is going to become more prevalent. While the buzz around it may die down, I believe that it will be a more common aspect of our society. Much like physical education is taught in schools, meditation could end up being a part of the regular curriculum, as well. While it may have a way to go before mass acceptance (partly due to misconceptions about its secular nature), it is already being taught in many schools across the country as an optional program, and is showing great results for students’ performance and behavior.
Even if we get tired of hearing about it, it’s becoming pretty clear that meditation is an effective treatment for the stresses of a modern life. Scientific research is showing what Buddhists have known for years. Mindfulness is not just another trend, radical therapy, or even the newest panacea. It is not a cure-all for mental issues like anxiety and depression, but it absolutely has the capability to alleviate a lot of the symptoms that cause these conditions.* But besides that, there are a number of other benefits to our cognitive capabilities, like improved concentration and memory. And we could all benefit from that.
For more about Mel’s meditation instruction, you can find her online teachings on the free Insight Timer app: https://insighttimer.com/meljames.
*Please talk with your health care provider about the best treatments for you.