#1 of 10 Good Reasons to Meditate (according to science): Emotional Regulation
#1 You learn not to trust your feelings
Science is finally catching up to what the great masters of old have known all along. Meditation is good for you. Beginning in the late 1990s, the rate of scientific publications relating to meditation began to grow to the point where more than a thousand papers are published each year (see chart, below, from Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson's book, Altered Traits).
There are a number of dimensions to how it is good for you. What follows is a loose grouping of some of the findings from these studies into the ways in which humans benefit from meditation. The first in a series of blog posts exploring these finding.
Scientists have learned that memory is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That means we tend to remember and worry about the negative things that happen to us and downplay or simply ignore the good things. This rumination about past negative events shapes our mood, our strategies for dealing with others, and therefore our future experiences.
Even in real time, our feelings aren’t designed to accurately reflect what is happening in the real world. Emotions are designed to move the body. That’s why we call them e-motions. Energy is supplied to create motion in the body. E-motion. In fact, evolution would favor humans that generated feelings that MISrepresented reality. Imagine two ancient humans. One had a fearless personality and never felt anxious or worried. The other human jumped at every stick that looked remotely like a snake. Let’s say for these ancient humans one in a hundred times a snake-like stick turns out to actually be a deadly snake. From an evolutionary perspective, there will be many more copies of the person that mistook the stick for a snake a hundred times than for the one that never felt afraid.
So generating fear or anxiety even when it is unwarranted is actually evolutionarily advantageous! Same goes for other negative emotions like sadness and anger.
When we meditate, we are learning to stop identifying with our feelings. To see them for what they are. To meet our feelings with careful observation and acceptance. To perceive reality as it is rather than as our feelings would have us believe. Learning to become liberated from the fake news of our ever changing and often wrong feelings is one of the most powerful and useful benefits of meditation.
This isn’t just applicable to fear. For example, studies have even shown that in the case of people with depression, mindfulness meditation therapy is as good or, in the more extreme cases, actually better at, preventing depression or depression relapse than anti-depressents (not to mention mindfulness practice is free and has no negative side-effects). So whether it is fear or sadness or anger or any of the feeling cocktails our mind and body generate, meditation is invaluable for providing the critical distance needed to assess whether they are going to be of value or not.