These days meditation can refer to a wide variety of practices and techniques, ranging from mindfulness to vipassana to chakra meditation. The benefits of these practices are becoming more evident as more and more research is being done in this field. The roots of meditation are in ancient spiritual practices, but some modern varieties (such as mindfulness) have been ‘secularized’ to make them accessible to a wider (western) public and are even being used in healthcare and the business world.
There are plenty of different methods and meditation apps out there promising scientifically proven benefits. Unfortunately, just like in any other field, not all research is well designed or strives to be as objective as possible. In this book the authors sift through the research that has been done in the field and, setting the bar pretty high, extract the most scientifically solid results that prove the benefits of meditation.
In the first chapter of The Science of Meditation Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson take a moment to remind us that the original goal of meditation has always been going deep inside, in search of self-realization or awakening. They make a division between the “deep path” – the spiritual practices that are aiming at the original goal – and the “wide path”, the practices that have been removed from the spiritual context.
As a “deep path” practitioner myself I was happy to read that both authors are walking this path as well and that their scientific interest is also rooted in personal experience.
Daniel and Richard started meditating in the 70’s while at Harvard Graduate School and were both deeply moved by the effects of the practice. They both had the idea to research the benefits of meditation, and more specifically: can meditation affect us in a more permanent way? Can it create a deep change in our being? In our personality? They refer to those changes in their book as “altered traits”.
Chapters 5 to 13 of the book are focusing on each of the benefits that came up in the research. Without any spoilers I will just say that some of the results described in the book are pretty amazing. With some it felt like I was getting a scientific backup to my own observations which is kinda nice. Each one of these chapters ends with an “in a nutshell” section, so if you’re too impatient to read the whole chapter you can just skim through and get the highlights.
The book also tells the story of the authors’ journey through the research. A lot of the research described in the book was performed in Richard’s lab and he shares the difficulties in both designing and conducting such research – how do you measure, what do you measure and when do you measure? One interesting storyline that goes through the book is about trying to get some yogis and monks who have been meditating ten thousands of hours to have their brains scanned while meditating. And the results coming from those scans are literally mind-blowing.
To sum it up, I found the book highly interesting, written in clear and not too geeky/complex language. It did sometimes feel to me like the authors pat their own backs but hey – they did a pretty amazing job after all and it did not take away from my enjoyment. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject – whether you are walking the “deep path” or the “wide path” or maybe just considering getting on the path at some point. I think this book might just be a helpful hand to push one over the hurdle.
Are you someone who keeps making excuses not to meditate? Read Anat Geiger’s article on the importance of a regular meditation practice.
Cover photo: David Matos