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#2 of 10 Good Reasons to Meditate (according to science): Sensitivity

Buddha meditating

#2 More sensitive to beauty and love; more compassionate

Meditation habituates the mind to recognize beauty and love and positivity. Scientists have known for some time now that neurons that fire together, wire together. Or as they like to say, the brain is capable of “use-dependent cortical reorganization.” In other words, if you live or work in a fearful, dangerous environment, or if you watch lots of violent video games or movies, your brain will build more connections related to danger and threats and violence.

The neurons that activate in a fearful or dangerous situation are present in all of our brains. But when they are stimulated frequently, it is like we are building a path to activate that part of our brain. And the more we activate them the path soon becomes a road. And before you know it is an eight lane superhighway paved with concrete and bracketed with heavy steel guardrails. So the next time someone with this kind of a brain sees anything that might at all remind them of danger, they will have a brain that is primed to generate that reaction very quickly and very strongly. Or it doesn’t have to be fear. It could be sadness or self-loathing or anger or any negative emotion.

Fortunately this process works the other way too. The super highway can be built to positive feelings in the same way: by repeatedly firing these neurons. We call the formal practice of repeatedly activating these sorts of neurons Meditation. Loving kindness meditation or practices that focus the mind on gratitude or acceptance or abundance or compassion, are particularly effective at conditioning the brain to notice and experience these sensibilities.

A research group at Northeastern University devised an ingenious experiment to find out if meditation increased people's compassion. They randomly recruited people with no meditation background and divided them into two groups. One group was put on a waitlist, the second underwent an 8 week meditation course. All participants were then called back in (one by one) and asked to sit in the waiting room before the "follow up" began. Except the waiting room was the real experiment. Actors filled all chairs but one so all the chairs were full after the participant sat down. A female actor then entered on crutches, wincing with pain, and struggling to stand. The set up was such that there was nowhere left to sit. Their results: Only 16% of non-meditating subjects offered their chair to the actor on crutches. But of those who were in the group that had taken the 8 week meditation course, half immediately and spontaneously offered their seat to the woman on crutches.

Results of this magnitude (>3x) are astonishingly large and provide yet another reason to include these ancient arts as part of our daily routine.

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