Meditation need not be spiritual or religious, but rather a scientific method of exploring and exploiting the mind and consciousness. Over 1,300 peer-reviewed research findings on the science of meditation establish that the technology of meditation not only facilitates mindfulness, but also improves memory, concentration, immune response, self-control, attention, stress reduction, recovery from addition, and emotional resilience. It also can be a method to grow more compassionate, loving, and generous, or to get ahead and gain an edge in competition. This may be why about 18 million Americans meditate.
Science has improved many technologies, including the technology developed over thousands of years since the Buddha’s invention. In fact, what was a somewhat secular tool or discovery by the Buddha was only later expanded into religious and moral dogma. In a way, the Buddha was not a Buddhist. He allowed people to continue observing their existing religious practices and he requested that his image never be displayed because he worried that he might be worshipped as a god. He did not address any fundamental religious questions such as the creation of the world and what happens after we die. Instead, he proclaimed simply that "I teach suffering, and the end of suffering." The Buddha determined that craving and clinging are the sources of universal suffering and that by moving beyond the biological affinity for craving and clinging, we could get beyond the suffering.
Two different types of general meditative states are recognized in the academic studies: focused attention and open awareness. The latter generates mindfulness and the former generates concentration. Commonly, meditators practice both meditative states. With the discovery of adult neuroplasticity, science has found evidence of significant brain changes resulting from meditation. For example, neuroscience has established that by practicing focused attention meditation, the mind builds a greater capacity to control itself and to avoid wandering off to chase the impulses that naturally and instinctively arise. Both meditative states reduce activity in the amygdala and other parts of the brain associated with emotion, stress, and reactivity, while increasing activity in the portions of the brain’s prefrontal cortex responsible for executive function (including self-control, working memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility). At the same time, meditation reduces activity in the default mode network of the brain, which is the master of rumination, distraction, and self-reference.
Partners in Thought® support includes optional training in meditative and other mind-body tools, including self-hypnosis. Our head coach, Jeff Schneider, has been studying and practicing meditation, hypnotherapy, and other contemplative practices and helping others do so for the past 25 years. He has presented to many groups, most recently presenting the “neuroscience of meditation” at the annual Boston Health Expo.