I’ve presented a few other posts on meditation (Meditation Basics #1, Meditation Basics #2, Meditation-Why Do It) and I do that because to me, it’s fundamental to establishing a centered focus that enables us to cope with the incredible stresses we experience on a daily basis. Meditation is also one of the easiest psychic phenomena to measure in the laboratory. Once people learn how to do it, and with just a little practice, they can enter meditative states more or less on demand, making it easy to replicate study conditions.
ASIDE: Why do I call meditation one of the psychic phenomena? Because, in my experience, most psychic phenomena are most easily experienced when you’re in some type of meditative state, even if you don’t recognize it as such. Doing a “mindless” task can place you in a sort of light day-dreaming state–and that is a low-level trance state. This is why many times psychic experiences happen when you’re doing something hum-drum. So…if you’re interested in opening up your own psychic experiences, the single best thing you can do is to learn to meditate–any kind of meditation–and do it daily.
Ahem. Where was I?
Oh, yes. There is a brand new scientific study from Gaëlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, B. Alan Wallace, Charles L. Raison, and Eric L. Schwartz at Massachusetts General Hospital.* The researchers did brain imaging studies of people before and after learning to meditate in one of two types of meditation: mindfulness meditation, and compassion meditation. The participants were adults with no prior meditation experience. They received 8 weeks of either Mindful Attention Training, Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation practices), or an active control intervention. Participants underwent a battery of psychological tests, including depression testing before and after their meditation training. In addition, the researchers used functional MRI tests 3 weeks prior to the training and again 3 weeks after the training completed, to investigate the changes in the operation of the participants’ amygdala (ah-MIG-duh-la). Why the amygdala? This part of the brain a part of the brain that appear to mediate emotional responses.
The Meditation Effect
When doing the functional MRIs, participants were shown a series of images of either positive, negative or neutral emotional content, with the negative emotional content showing people in distress. When they were undergoing the fMRIs, the participants were not in a meditative state at all. What the researchers found was both surprising and not-so-surprising.
All meditating participants, no matter what kind of meditation they learned, showed changes in the right-side amygdala functioning. Those who underwent mindfulness meditation training showed an decreased response to the positive images in particular and to all images in general. Those who underwent compassion meditation training not only showed increased activation of the right-side amygdala in response to negative images, they also had a decrease in depression ratings compared to their pre-training depression scores.
Two things are important about this study. First, learning to meditation changed how these people responded even when they were not meditating. In other words, this study shows for the first time how learning to meditate changes how you perceive life and how you interact with the world even when you’re not doing any meditation.
Second, meditators’ depression scores showed significant decreases. Given the prevalence of depression in our society, if you think this may be a problem for you, think about learning to meditate as a way of giving yourself a boost. It’s free and it doesn’t involve medications. It might or might not work for you depending on your circumstances…but it surely cannot hurt!
One other thing…earlier I said that if you want to develop your own psychic abilities, you should learn to meditate and practice it regularly. This study shows a hint of why that’s important–and why, once you start meditating regularly, your can experience psychic phenomena even without explicitly going into a meditative state: Meditation has changed your brain functioning enough to give you access to these abilities even when you’re not meditating!
* Gaëlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, B. Alan Wallace, Charles L. Raison, Eric L. Schwartz. Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00292
Images on this page are courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.