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The effect of meditation on brain structure (2012) (nih.gov)
472 points by idclip 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 242 comments



>Meditation training can enhance various cognitive processes, such as emotional regulation, executive control and attention, particularly sustained attention

> Most of regions showing thicker cortical thickness in meditators are related with emotional processing

Anecdotal experience: I started meditating years ago and what I've noticed is that my emotions are more ephemeral now. Instead of being angry or sad for minutes to hours it's seconds. Also, I feel like I'm able to connect more with what's going on right now instead of what was or what will be.

There has been a significant amount of research already demonstrating the benefits of meditation and this adds to it.


I have noticed the same trend in me, but have never done any meditation so far. It could as well be due to growing older.


It could but this hardly happens to the majority of the people. Just look around and observe how many adults and old people are obsessed with their thoughts (often ridiculous) and feelings, take them very seriously and have very humble introspection/mindfulness skills.


What if you’d meditated when you were younger..?


This is a very interesting question. I don't even know whether it actually is good for children to meditate. "Inner dialogue" may be necessary for a young mind to develop. I believe development of mindfulness and silencing of the inner dialogue is a stage of development a person is meant to reach as they become adults. Those who don't reach it become old while keeping immature.


Correct me if mistaken but isn’t the goal of mindfulness meditation to accept the inner dialogue rather than fighting it?

For instance at one point as a child I had a conscience that would talk to me but as I grew older the voice passed into the background. Now my thoughts are the sort of jumbled mess meditators talk about.

So I don’t understand why developing the ability to hear and accept these other voices would be a detriment.


It's not the goal, it's the way. It disappears as you actually learn to observe it and everything mindfully all the time. E.g. now I only have inner dialogue when I choose to entertain myself this way and some times I feel too lazy even for this.


I've just recently started practicing more with Headspace and have realized this is what I am being guided towards.

I wonder has this affected the way you feel more positive emotions like happiness, joy? Or what about empathy?


Maybe it’s not simply a reduction in duration but more like kind of a cleaner “soundstage” so to speak, where emotional “sounds” ring and decay in a simpler, purer, less distorted or overdriven way.

Like taking away the kind of frazzledness you would associate with stress, inner city pressure, burnout etc—so it’s like going for a hike in some mountains, camping by a lake, waking up early and feeling like everything kind of flows more easily, or at least that would be the ideal when you imagine such a hike. If you stub your toe you scream but quickly come to your senses, so you don’t dwell unnecessarily, but it’s not like sitting around a campfire would be less joyful. A calm mind seems to be a good state for joy and empathy. Also it does seem reasonable to say that the default mood towards other people, without any “acute” emotions going on, is a peaceful, relaxed, curious affection—so maybe kind of cleaning up the emotional noise leaves you with a natural good mood.


Appreciate the really detailed reply!


I have never meditated but I do have a lot of work for my startup (especially run ing out of money). I have been wearing dozens of hats for years and have accomplished a lot. I need to improve delegating — if it was properly capitalized.

Thus, I seem to have formed an addiction to screens and seem to have constantly a state of mild anxiety about what work I will have to do next. If I wasn’t ambitious I could scale back, but we are almost at the inflection point so now is no time to turn back.

My anger etc. (unless I am sleep derived) is minimal even without meditation. Very rarely do I “lose it” and even then it’s rational and with plenty of self deprecation and conflict resolution attempts which the other person has to reject for something to escalate.

I’m a while past my 20s and I’m not married and don’t have kids yet. I feel I am behind in some ways. The past few years of 6 days a week work from home (with normal hanging out w friends etc.) have left me in a curious state.

Here is my question. I feel pretty apathetic when I’m out, like I’ve already done everything. Camped, hiked, been on rooftops, been in comedy clubs, saw concerts, saw plays. Like it’s more of the same. The best thing for me emotionally is jiving with people who are easygoing and have a good sense of humor. Then it’s not where you are but who you’re with.

But I still have this overall sense of “nothing matters”. Like even you have a good time with friends, you’re just on a conveyor belt getting one day closer to the time of death. Sure you can distract yourself with nice conversation on the way but that’s all. No matter how much you accomplish, or do, once you’re not around to see it, it’s in a way totally pointless. I wonder all the time about what consciousness is and study theory of mind and Abrahamic religions. I try to understand what it means and why I am ok with not having been around before a certain year. Now that I am here I find the idea demotivating that one day it will somehow be just like a fictional universe that we are not able to experience. Existence itself is, to me, related to some conscious and possibly intelligent observers.

I have gone as far as I can work wise. If I had been doing the same thing day in and day out I would have long ago thrown in the towel and found something else to find meaning in, but my work has reached millions of people and I continue to build a snowball year after year. I realize everything about my life is pretty optimized for my work — I have cut out a commute, I don’t do various prayers and rituals that Jews do daily etc. I just can’t seem to bring myself to do many repetitive things every day unless I know exactly why I am doing them. But I am told by most orthodox Jews they are like meditation.

Billions of people live in communities. They uphold traditions those communities have trained them from a young age to do. They accept them. I grew up in individualist USA, live on my own, have no siblings, and have yet to start a family. This has caused this melancholy all the time. I can feel emotions in the moment but when I calm down I am aware it’s all meaningless. And I’ve done most things so the emotions are kinda dulled as well.

Sure I can take up a new hobby or busy myself with some other thing. I did those too (and of course they tended to be “productive”). Last summer I built a tent w furniture, for my local Jewish community, and I painted a giant mural w friends by the side of a highway. Things I had never done before. They were fun but now they are in the past.

And so we beat on, boats agains the current... borne ceaselessly into the next day.

Thoughts? Advice? I don’t think I am depressed, I am just always aware of the futility of it all. Perhaps I should read Ecclesiastes or Seneca.


You can take up some interesting challenge. Since you are convinced of your thoughts: 1) Maybe you can come up with good explanation and logical step so that you can convince say 50% of the people with your thought. Don’t assume if someone is not convinced that they don’t get it. The advantage is either you will spread the knowledge or if there is any flaw in the logic you may find it. 2) Another challenge to make life interesting: Can the word “meaningless” have any meaning without comparing with “meaningful”? Do the word “meaningless” and “meaningful” always exist in pair or can the word “meaningless” exist independently? A simpler example is like saying everyone is “selfish” because everyone does what “they want”. Does the word “selfish” has much value if it is defined that way ? If we define something as “tautology” there may not be a need for that word. If we can define in a way “selfless” and “selfish” both can exist only then the word “selfish” has more value in conveying something. One advantage of defining selfish where no selfless human can exist is you can confuse a “selfless” person into believing that he/she is “selfish”. If you define a selfless as a person whose happiness depends on other person happiness than you can define selfless and selfish. I am still looking for a better way to explain what I mean. 3) At an abstract level everything can be simplified. Things become interesting at detailed level. How do various thing interact and results into something. This may look interesting if you like problem solving for the sake of problem solving. There are many interesting problems to solve like how to come up with a “thought process” such that everyone is always happy. Can we teach that thought process?


It's a hard feeling I'm experiencing from time to time, and seems to be a common human theme (it does sound similar to a mid-life crisis). Moreover, it seems to be a phase in (Vipasanna) meditators who dive in deep into the meditation. All of your life it's been about sensory and hedonistic pleasures, up until the point where you start realizing that they are repetitive, non-satisfactory, empty. The first noble truth of Buddha.

What helped for me was a refresher of the evolution theory (Dutch book so no point recommending I guess), which suggests that you are here simply because you are here. There is no grand goal, no epic mission to fulfill, no gods to please. You are here because your parents were optimized for reproduction and raising children, who existed because their parents were etc. While this might seem depressing at first, I experience it to be very enlightening, as nothing indeed matters at all indeed. Things are what they are, nothing more, and thinking about whether it matters or not is hurting yourself (as it gets you into empty/unpleasant mind settings).

I think the proceeding stage of both that attitude and meditators in a "local minimum of realization" is that you start sitting back more, just observing. Enjoy the sound of the leaves during your hike, and instantly forgetting that when the sun hits you and you starting observing the heat. When the thought of "noting matters" hits you just observe the thought instead of letting it take you, it's bound to go away again anyways. It's a very basic way of handling the world, but extremely satisfying in a way that sensory pleasures aren't.

On an intellectual level, it helped to read a wide variety of philosophy & religions from people who seemed to have mastered the "art of living" (if you can call it such a thing). A rabbi predicating hate is a completely different one from a rabbi predicating love and kindness, even if they teach the same scripts. Below the surface, they all point towards the same "thing" that is in line with what I tried to explain above.

I hope it's in some way useful. Sorry if it's kind of vague, it's a concept that is hard to put into words :)

Couple of books that helped me: - The unthethered soul - Core books of taoism (lieh-tzy, chaung tzu, lao tzu) - Yoga sutras - Buddhism (sutra's and thich nhat hanh in example) - Stoicism (marcus aurelius, seneca)


> which suggests that you are here simply because you are here. There is no grand goal, no epic mission to fulfill, no gods to please. You are here because your parents were optimized for reproduction and raising children, who existed because their parents were etc.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins also outlines the same idea, and tries to explain how we got that way. Read it when I was a lot younger, but the concept has stayed with me.


I recommend the book Feeling Good by David Burns. What you are describing sounds like low-level depression and this book has many techniques that might help to self-correct.


Here's the thing. I can correct this, but it won't change the facts. It will just make me ignore the reality, and get more into hanging out with people and distract from the very things Ecclesiastes and Seneca write about.


It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind. I haven’t read the suggested book, not Ecclesiastes not Seneca, but I can tell you that there is a way to find peace and happiness without ignoring reality / distraction from a nihilistic truth.

You can be on the boat, day after day, and enjoy the feeling of wind in your hair, feel childlike irritation and curiosity at the sunburn forming, jump in the cool water before climbing back in, all without losing sight of the inevitable.


Eric Weinstein in The Portal suggested that ethnic religion is a way to ground the present concern for far future and past generations, thus ancestor worship and generational wealth etc. Pretty interesting. I'm also from an individualist culture and also one where both religion and family ties are passé. I find myself fascinated by those things. The podcast also discussed how "Jewish atheist" is a sensible identity because Judaism is an extended family that tends to appreciate discussion and philosophy.

For a while I was near to settling in as a "Buddhist," I recited vows and so on, but I walked away from that identity and those collectives for various reasons. Actually I think a lot of Western Buddhism comes from trying to find a solution to meaning-related breakdowns in our societies, which is why it grew as part of the general counterculture of the '60s, etc.

Considered as a way of dealing with meaning crisis, breathing meditation looks like a pragmatic and direct technique. It just decreases anxiety in the body through stillness, deep breathing, and various calming stuff (incense, bells, serene architecture, etc). Like a really good sauna without all the sweating. If this doesn't solve the question of ultimate meaning then at least it directly improves your daily experience of life. It's designed to deal with existential confusion by showing thought in general to be ephemeral and nonessential. You pay attention to what your experience is like aside from the discursive, ruminative, extraneous thinking processes, and so loosen your attachments to those processes, which leaves more cognitive space for the senses, activity, participation, the "present moment."

This would be hard to justify from a meaning-searching rational perspective because it's basically an impulse to turn down the volume on rational search for grand meanings beyond the current experience. But it feels good and wholesome, like exercise or sauna.

David Chapman talks about "meaningness" as the structures and drives and satisfactions that occur despite our mortality, despite knowledge of mortality, in basic reality rather than ultimate reality (well, leaving place for imagination, devotion, even faith), without need or hope for eternity or final justification. This kind of meaning is hard to escape.

Maybe family, community, ritual, religion provide abundant and straightforward daily meaningness. Work, too, kind of. Maybe it's also good to diversify your meaningness portfolio. If one day you suddenly doubt your church, say, you might just want to focus on the gym for a while.

> "I feel pretty apathetic when I’m out, like I’ve already done everything. Camped, hiked, been on rooftops, been in comedy clubs, saw concerts, saw plays. Like it’s more of the same. The best thing for me emotionally is jiving with people who are easygoing and have a good sense of humor. Then it’s not where you are but who you’re with."

As far as I can tell it's okay to be somewhat apathetic. Hiking is just walking around on a trail eating nuts and complaining about mosquitoes or whatever. You might find a nice spot to sit and have coffee. It's a decent way to spend time. Maybe this is an easier way to think about it than as an "experience" that has to be meaningful or somehow outlive itself.

Actually in my experience hiking is very similar to meditation in that the presence of thought and language becomes somehow annoying after a while. I've resorted to saying mantras over and over while walking because I just get tired of my thoughts. They kind of ruin the view sometimes. If you're out for longer then you naturally get quieter, especially for example your thoughts about work might fade away. There's these rhythmic bodily activities and a certain exhaustion and vivid presence. And the purity of nature. So it's quite a lot like a meditation retreat.

Sorry that there's no overarching point to this long comment... I'm up too late!


I started meditating when I was a young teen, and am 40 now. I go through periods where I don't do it as much, but I've been off and on meditating for quite awhile. Not so much 'mindfulness' meditation as has become the trend lately, but more of the 'empty of everything' style where you count breaths, etc. Fairly similar in results though it seems. Same avoiding of engaging with random thoughts that float by, which was probably the biggest thing I got out of it. Especially when I am stressed, it can become very difficult to sleep as my mind just won't shut down. Meditation helps with that.

I don't know if it is meditation or more my studying of philosophy (both in college and on my own time) that has led to my ability to control my emotions better. I would also say my emotions are ephemeral, but that's really because I understand them better. When they are justified, and helpful, I can nurture them and encourage them and indulge in them just fine. And if they're not, usually I can let them pass. There are exceptions, of course, for deep-seated things that I need more repeated attempts at suppression to change. Emotions are essentially a trained response, after all. Even if you intellectually know they're nonsensical, it has to be retrained.


Do you have a specific philosopher or type of philosophy that you think contributed most to the better control of your emotions?


Are happiness and joy also ephemeral?


Yes, absolutely. I linked this elsewhere in this thread, a Fresh Air interview [0] with the author of Why Buddhism is True [1] explains better than I can why having happiness be a permanent condition would not make any sense from an evolutionary perspective:

> I mean, natural selection built us to do some things - a series of things that help us get genes into the next generation. Those include eating food so we stay alive, having sex, things like that.

> And if it were the case that any of these things brought permanent gratification, then we would quit doing them, right? I mean, if you - you would eat. You'd feel blissed out. You'd never eat again. You'd have sex. You'd lie there, basking in the afterglow, never have sex again. Well, obviously, that's not a prescription for getting genes into the next generation. So natural selection seems to have built animals in general to be recurringly dissatisfied. And this is - seems to be a central feature of life, and it's central to the Buddhist diagnosis of what the problem is.

A key Buddhist teaching is that dukkha (often translated as "suffering" but I believe "dissatisfaction" is more accurate) is caused not just by pushing away negative feelings, but by trying to not let go of positive feelings.

Going out for a beer with my friends brings me happiness. If I chase that positive feeling, I might end up with a vicious hangover the next day, or long-term with a dependence on alcohol.

As an oversimplification, you can view any addiction through the lens of taking an ephemeral positive feeling, wishing for it to be permanent, and pursuing it over and over again, rather than accepting the nature of its impermanence.

0: https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?stor...

1: https://amazon.com/Why-Buddhism-True-Philosophy-Enlightenmen...


At the same time, Buddhism is about transcending samsara and therefore dukkha. It's hard to find a good word to describe the complete absence of all forms of dissatisfaction, but "happiness" is not a terrible first approximation.


For me, it's "contentment" - not the high of happiness per se, but more of a feeling of everything just being right.


Yes, even if "objectively" being wrong.


> complete absence of all forms of dissatisfaction

Peace?


Yes they are, but that's not a bad thing because there are less swings in emotion and more stability. Usually I'm not happy or sad, I am neutral, which is such a weird thing for Western society to be in because we strive to be happy constantly. I feel like the more I try to be happy the less happy I am, whereas when I am in the moment I find contentment.


Honestly, as much as I like to tame down fits of negative emotions. The fact that I can somehow decide to ignore different emotional response aspects of my ~self makes me feel slightly schizophrenic.


Interestingly you can also practice ignoring the deciding process.


Do you use any app, follow any particular style? Any recommendations for a beginner?

Also, how long do you meditate in a day? And do you meditate daily?


> Do you use any app, follow any particular style?

I've tried all of Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer. I liked Calm's guided meditations; when I started the guiding helped me a lot. I'm currently using Insight Timer purely as a timer without any guidance.

The style I follow most closely is vispassana, often translated as "insight" or "seeing the world clearly" or the trendy term "mindfulness".

There is no "best" app or "best" style, only what works for each individual. I would caution against falling into a paradox of choice problem where you keep trying different apps or different styles in a search for the "best" one. Much like exercise - the best exercise is whichever one you can do consistently.

> Any recommendations for a beginner?

This will sound counter-intuitive, but lower your expectations. You'll hear lots of stuff from experienced meditators about how life-changing it is, and I'll echo that sentiment. But it certainly doesn't feel life-changing at first. If you go into it with high expectations, you'll very likely get disappointed and frustrated.

> Also, how long do you meditate in a day? And do you meditate daily?

I've done 10-15 minutes a day, every day, for the last 800-something days. I've also done two separate silent meditation retreats, of 2 days and 5 days respectively.

There are 1440 minutes in a day. If you meditate for 10-15 minutes a day, that's just 1% of the day. Something that helped me establish my daily practice was a commitment that I can do anything if it only takes up 1% of my day.


> This will sound counter-intuitive, but lower your expectations. You'll hear lots of stuff from experienced meditators about how life-changing it is, and I'll echo that sentiment. But it certainly doesn't feel life-changing at first. If you go into it with high expectations, you'll very likely get disappointed and frustrated.

This. When I started I didn't see any results right away but after a month of consistent daily practice, wow. And after six months, my emotional state was solid as a rock.

I experienced other benefits too. Significant pain tolerance, and the ability to consciously block pain from affecting my mental state. Sweat control. Extreme cold tolerance/body temperature regulation. Immunity to being startled by loud or sharp noise. 4-5 hour attention spans.

The 15 minute daily routine gave me all that. I used the method described by Sakyong Mipham in Turning the Mind Into an Ally


Could you do it on a 30 minute commute, or is a (most of the time very peaceful) bus trip too much external distractions?


I think one could do it on a bus trip after you have been practicing for a while.

I got to where I could meditate in a noisy open dormitory.


I strongly recommend the book 'The Mind Illuminated'. It is written by a neuroscientist who is also an expert practitioner of meditation. That said, it is far less casual than apps like headspace; the principle goal of the book is not to develop increased focus or productivity, but to develop meditation to discover insights into the nature of consciousness through direct experience.

The book does a great job of highlighting many common misunderstandings and pitfalls of beginner mediators in a practical and mostly down to earth way.

I use it with an App called Insight Timer that allows me to track the time I have put into meditating with satisfying statistics and graphs.


Guided apps don’t do anything for me. They essentially were like taking a break but I often felt bored, or annoyed.

I went to training for TM meditation and it was a night-and-day experience. I do 2 20 minute meditations most days and I usually don’t want them to end. I highly recommend it.


I meditate daily for about 10 minutes, which research suggest is the optimal time for cost/benefit. I started meditating with an actual Buddhist, but have found that Waking Up is a great app. There are good alternatives out there app-wise but all seem to be solid choices.


I use: https://choosemuse.com/ somehow it worked for me.


What's cool is if you learn to work with chi/energy combined with the emotions. Then you realise just how ephemeral they can be and how it's possible to consciously alter your emotions. It's like your emotions are chi in certain parts of your body with a certain vibration - similar to how sound is just the air with a certain vibration. You can learn to change the "note" of your emotions quite easily.

Apparently in Traditional Chinese Medicine they say each organ is associated with a different emotion. Whether you believe it or not, I have recently been surprised by just how pleasurable it feels to massage my internal organs through my abdominal wall. It actually makes me laugh out loud and sends tingles through my body.


> You can learn to change the "note" of your emotions quite easily.

Could you share some instruction on this? I've found myself discovering this myself and I feel very interested in information on this somebody could already have developed. I don't feel like I have time to learn the entire Chinese medicine but certain instructions on what I can do within me manipulating my attention to reach particular effects could help a lot.


There are a couple of practices. The healing sounds are one way (easily googleable) which are pretty good. The Fusion of the Five Elements is more involved and TBH I've found it to be OK.

But the best practice I've found is the Secret Smile [1]. By recalling/imagining intensely positive emotions you can prompt your body to recreate them, transforming (or at least diminishing) your current emotional state. It's really no different to having a fantasy. The trick is though that you don't just recall the positive emotions, but you circulate them through your body so they reach every cell, and use deep, relaxed belly breathing to further enhance them. It's a very powerful practice and not only is it useful for higher energetic/meditational practices in its own right, but also teaches you that you don't need to be subject to your emotions - you can use thoughts to change them.

[1] https://www.thedaobums.com/topic/9719-dr-morriss-secret-smil...


Disclaimer I am not a medical scientist: but I'd like to understand more about how they found the participants. It strikes me that people who perform meditation might be different than whatever controls they were able to find. The fact they re-used participants from previous studies also strikes me as worrying.

Preferably they would take participants at random and have half perform the meditation for (12 or 24 months) and look for changes. Using self-selection might be more difficult to prove causation.


The book Altered Traits goes over a lot of the scientific results, I think it's two chapters of the book that cover this stuff. One of the studies they cover studied people who had never meditated, people with 10,000 hours and people with about 36,000 hours of meditation if I recall correctly. This last group is the one that exhibited altered traits, and it's not easy to find people with this many hours of practice, hence why they reuse the participants. All other participants exhibited some of the altered traits but only during intense meditation periods, the master meditators exhibited them all the time.

The results from the book are/study are hard to interpret, something about sustaining gamma waves for long periods of time and having younger brains in those that practiced meditation a lot. They also recovered from pain faster, and wouldn't develop anxieties about it.

Since these subjects are very interesting, it makes sense to study them again with different techniques or reproducing previous results.


> it's not easy to find people with this many hours of practice, hence why they reuse the participants [...]. Since these subjects are very interesting, it makes sense to study them again with different techniques or reproducing previous results.

That's fine as far as it goes. It helps us confirm that a phenomenon can actually occur and perhaps tells us something about its general shape. But when studying a population of known outliers, it's not credible to assume how the results will or won't apply to a broader population. This isn't an abstract epistemological concern; scientific journals are absolutely packed with exciting preliminary findings that vanished into insignificance when somebody did a larger or more rigorous study (but nevertheless might be cherry-picked for a pop-science/self-help book based on the "revolutionary" findings).


Judging from the age range (and from a previous life as a neuroscientist) they're probably undergrad and grad students who signed up because they saw an advert on a college notice board and thought it would be cool to have a brain scan. There's big issue in recruitment of subjects where many, many studies use WEIRD people as subjects - Western, Educated, and from Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries. It costs a hell of a lot more if you want to recruit a broad section of subjects. I'm not sure that participant re-use would be a big issue here because it's an anatomical study, unlike other studies where subjects might have learned skills from previous rounds of testing.

However, they do say in this paper that "Control subjects had no previous experience with meditation or similar practices." They're careful not to make claims in the paper that the mediation caused the changes in brain structure - "our findings suggest that long-term meditators have structural differences in both gray and white matter" - which point to exactly what you were suggesting as a next step: take a group of people who've never meditated before, split them into a meditation and non-mediation group and follow up after a year or two.


There were only forty something controls and forty something meditators, and if you look at the variance within each group it is way more than the "increase" of the average due to meditation AND some of the brain regions are thicker on average in the non-meditators group. I haven't taken bio since highschool, but it seems like you can't draw a conclusion from this. Am I missing something here?

Also, this is something I've always wondered, and I guess the only way to get a real answer would be to try meditating. But as a distance runner, I have always wondered if that is a form of meditation. It seems like I have all of the effects described by meditators, and in this study, they described a form of meditation which was movement and paying attention to the physical sensations - which is basically most sports. Any endurance athlete meditators out there who can explain the difference?


> But as a distance runner, I have always wondered if that is a form of meditation.

The way I think about this is that there's an important difference between meditation (as a noun) vs. meditative (as an adjective).

Meditation, when you're doing it, is the only thing you're doing, or at least attempting to do.

I've gone on multiple-day camping trips on my motorcycle, when it's just me and my bike out in the middle of nowhere. I find that very meditative, in what I imagine is similar to what you feel with long-distance running. There's a part of my brain engaged with controlling my body and four limbs, but also a part of my brain that's not really engaged at all and is free to wander.

That's meditative, but that's not meditation. If I closed my eyes for a few minutes while riding my motorcycle, my happiness would decrease significantly.

This isn't to say that one is better than the other. You could meditate and never do any meditative activities, or you could do meditative activities without ever once meditating. The best option, as usual, is probably a moderate mix of both of them.


Anybody ever noticed running a lot better when your mind is fully away, as in totally immersed into an idea or a memory. I realized that in those times, my rhythm is stable, my movements are smoother, my heartrate is a bit lower..

But the minute I sense it, the bubble breaks


I think a big difference is that in sports, although you are aware of internal processes, a large amount of your attention is on external things, as it must be so you don't run off a cliff, for example. When meditating you turn your attention inwards, perhaps at first observing bodily sensations, but continuing inward until the body fades away and only mental processes are observed and there is no attention given to the external senses.


But you are often focused on the present moment, not thinking about the future or the past - which is one thing that most mindfulness training seems to teach.


I think it's interesting that they say all the participants are right handed. I'm guessing left handed people (like me) would make it complicated to compare brain strcutures since the structures are cross-wired and therefore slightly different for left handed and right handed people? But not all structures are reversed.

Kind of like the medical literature focusing on using males for test studies [1] it makes me wonder if left handed people would have some kind of different result in these types of brain studies.

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4800017/


If they were selected that way on purpose, they're probably just trying to control for confounding differences to try and make it easier to distinguish the signal from the noise in the statistics. Same reason that "there were no major differences in sex, age or years of education between meditation practitioners and control subjects."

Edit: They say "handedness was measured by Annett Hand Preference Questionnaire" which suggests that this wasn't deliberate.


Can anybody actually explain what the result implies?

> Meditators, compared with controls, showed significantly greater cortical thickness in the anterior regions of the brain, located in frontal and temporal areas, including the medial prefrontal cortex, superior frontal cortex, temporal pole and the middle and interior temporal cortices. Significantly thinner cortical thickness was found in the posterior regions of the brain, located in the parietal and occipital areas, including the postcentral cortex, inferior parietal cortex, middle occipital cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. Moreover, in the region adjacent to the medial prefrontal cortex, both higher fractional anisotropy values and greater cortical thickness were observed.

I don't think a non-professional could have any idea what this passage actually means, without knowing what each above-mentioned brain area is actually responsible for. Apparently some areas got thicker while some others got thinner. Is it unconditionally a good thing?


can't explain, but I can point to the discussion section of that paper, where that sentence is expanded and some of the mentioned cortexes (cortices? I don't know) are associated with presumed body/mental functions.


Variously I've heard those who work on brains (physically and mentally) say that locating function in a particular area is akin to Phrenology and has no place in modern scientific understanding of the brain. As an outsider that seemed wrong as brain functions are always described in pop science as being located strongly, but presumably the individual brain's adaptations make this something that can't be generalised too broadly?


The left brain / right brain thing is wrong, but different functions of the brain are definitely localized. This is seen in studies of people with unusual brain damage, and sometimes when sticking an electrode in a certain part of the brain has an effect.


No, it's not unconditionally a good thing.

Inference is very difficult when it comes to brain regions. There are lots of reports along the lines of that famous one - "the brain's love centre lights up when your iPhone rings" - when they're talking about the anterior cingulate cortex. Thing is, the anterior cingulate cortex is also involved in vomiting.

The current understanding of brain regions is very basic. You can make predictions about gross defects - for example, if your temporal lobe were to be damaged somehow then you'd very likely experience some kind of problem with language, whether that's reading, writing, speaking or listening. But what kind of defect would vary widely. There are very unintuitive disorders, such as someone not being able to name an object that they can see, but as soon as they pick it up they can.

So what we can tell from this study is not much other than just describing what happens to the brain of someone who meditates, and it needs further study to unpick what functional effect that might have. This is about brain structure, so a follow-on study might use fMRI to see what effect that has on brain activity. The cortex is the outside layer of the brain, and (although this is a gross oversimplification) is where a lot of "processing" gets done, so one way of looking at it might be that it allows more "bandwidth" for thought in general given the effects seems to be widespread in the brain.

However, intuitive thought about the brain can be terribly wrong. For example, fMRI studies which show brain activity are actually measuring the oxygenation of blood in the brain. The more "work" an area is doing, the more blood it needs, therefore there's a reasonably assumption that an area with more oxygenated blood is doing more "work". To take just one issue as an example, there are circuits in the brain involved in suppressing other regions. So if that system is more active, is actually means that it's doing work to suppress activity in other areas rather than doing any processing as such.

TL;DR Inference in neuroscience is wildly complicated, and this study is a tiny step in the direction of eventually understanding what meditation's effect is on the brain.


I think this is like making an observation that a serious runner has bigger leg muscles. That's a correct observation, albeit useless.


Anyone else feel like meditation puts them back into the headspace they were when a child pre-k ish. Most notably right before I fell asleep as a child I remember being so relaxed and calm. I'm not sure when I lost that feeling but meditation brings it back for some fleeting moments.


I don’t know whether the meditators used in this study were training under Buddhist methods or something else.

Buddhist teaching focuses on three aspects: sila (morality, but not in Abrahimic sense), samadhi (concentration), and panna (wisdom).

Each of these form a feedback loop into each other. Meditation is just one third of that. Meditation without morality and wisdom can turn you into a psychopath. You cannot understand or study meditation without understanding morality and wisdom.


In Buddhist teachings, both samadhi and panna (related to vipassana) are forms of meditation.

Samadhi is concentration meditation, to get single-pointed focus on the meditation-object. (often the breath)

Panna/Vipassana is insight meditation. You focus on all of the different sensations coming in rapid-fire, like noting 'thought, breath, sound, sound, thought, sound, pressure' as they arise -- like frames of a movie or video game.

The Buddha and teachers today often recommend concentration meditation, in order to reach a state of focus, followed by insight meditation, as the natural progression towards stream entry / nirvana.


Aside:

>sila (morality, but not in Abrahimic sense) //

Would you care to expand on that, specifically the "not in [the] Abrahimic sense" part. I'm not particularly familiar with Buddhist teaching of what morality is but it sounds from wikipedia as if there is a large overlap in form to Abrahamic teaching.

What would you say are the main differences?


Different as in the reason for morality. Why is morality important? It is not because a soul will be judged for violating 'thou shall' commandments. It is explained more in terms of Karma, the intentions your mind generates (karma) will be the forerunner to future states of your mind. Think of it in terms of causality in the context of plasticity of your mind. Your mind becomes conditioned by intentions it generates. The intention for greed will lead to a more greedy future state of the mind. Here is a short explanation of 'sila' (morality)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VBbQvM4CBY


Thanks for the link, I'll check it later.

Looking at Wikipedia though: Karma, 5-precepts, sounds the opposite of what you're saying.

Also, fwiw, the Mosaic "ten commandments" are supposedly "thou shalt not" rather than "you must not": ie "if you walk closely with God you won't find yourself doing these things". The Hebrew is hayah in Exodus 20, so like "it will come to pass that you won't murder".

The idea in Christian terms, further expanded in the New Testament, becomes that your mind should be "renewed" leading to not, eg, being greedy.


> I don’t know whether the meditators used in this study were training under Buddhist methods or something else

"Methods"


The title is, to put it mildly, overblown. It's a comparative study of two small meditating & non-meditating populations, with no attempt to investigate causality. As usual with studies of this type, there's a disclaimer to that effect in the Discussion, essentially contradicting the paragraphs it follows.

What's more, it's not even a study of 'meditation' per se, but of one little-known practice:

> The recruited meditation practitioners were individuals trained with BWV, a meditation practice that combines ancient Eastern philosophy with modern scientific methods to elevate human awareness

So at most this shows some small brain structure differences between two non-randomly-selected populations. Despite a heroic attempt (figure 3) it doesn't even find a dose response of note.


Oh no. Is it a BWV promotion attempt of some sort? Or calculated to prop up the commercial promotion of the activity? That would be disappointing...


The authors are associated with the Korea Institute of Brain Science. (Hover over their names in the paper) Ilchi Lee is the president of the institute and the owner of 'Brain Wave Vibration' http://www.brainkibs.org/About/Greeting.asp https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_%26_Brain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilchi_Lee


Thanks for the info...that seems pretty disappointing. No conflicts of interest? I would say the idea has little validity on its face.


Well you can also just read the paper yourself in 10 minutes and see that it's not up to much. It still wouldn't be up to much even if all the authors were the squeakiest of clean Nobel Prize winners.


There's nothing in the 'Conflict of Interest' section to suggest that. Getting a cohort of experienced meditators together is not the easiest so perhaps they're just using what (who) they have. I know nothing about BMV but an antecedent paper they cite contrasts it with mindfulness, the most commonly-studied form of meditation, and it mentions that BMV involves movement, so it at least seems to be an atypical practice.


One book I’d heavily recommend on meditation is Daniel Ingram’s amazing Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. He really cuts through the fluff and gets to the core of how meditation taken to mastery changes how things are perceived. It’s an absolute tome but so worth it.


Is it written from a Buddhist perspective or from a secular perspective?


Not sure about MCTB but TMI was written after this and is a well regarded secular resource https://deconstructingyourself.com/best-meditation-books-201...


Both. He's an over-the-top modernist, but did quite a bit of practice in Burma with Buddhist monks there.


It's definitely using buddhist framework, but he's an empiricist to the bone. Mandatory SSC review: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/18/book-review-mastering-...


HIGHLY recommended. This summary got me started on a long journey - after 3 years of off and on meditation with apps, reading this article, and then MCTB made meditation one of the most exciting and important parts of my daily routine.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/18/book-review-mastering-...

Also highly recommended: The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa


Any memory you form, skill you learn or experience you have will change the structure of the brain. Changing structure isn’t in itself a good thing.


They're not claiming otherwise. Last sentence of the abstract: "Our findings suggest that long-term meditators have structural differences in both gray and white matter." They also talk about where in the brain there are structural changes and what kind of changes they are. Your comment reads like a criticism of some kind, but it would only be valid if the article was just the title and nothing else.


My comment wasn't meant as a criticism of the article. The authors are careful in the claims they make. My point is that they are for the most part uninteresting claims. And articles like this are shared predominately because "changing brain structure" is mistakenly read as "provably does something good for your brain."


Where did you see a value judgement in the study?

Also, no, memory formation and general "experience" do not change the brain in this way. Memorizing something, for example, has completely different physical effects.


the abstract seems to point out (if I understood it correctly, I'm not a neuroscientist) that the relevant changes in the brain are usually associated with centers of the brain that regulate emotional control and prolonged attention, which I would definitely identify as positive if true, and in line with personal experience with mindfulness practise as a way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks.


I mean. Many types of meditation is just that, practicing attention and self control. So would make sense that those skills would improve.

After practicing meditation myself for a couple of years I have noticed no difference what-so-ever. But the act of meditation itself de-stress me (is that a word?)-—relaxing wouldn’t be the right word, because it is not relaxation. Anyway. I’m quite sure I could get the same stress relief by just sit to by down and reading a book.


What sort of meditation have you been practicing? (I think it's useful to be specific, since there are so many different kinds, and also I am merely curious.)


Mindfulness meditation


The word you’re looking for is “de-stresses”.


You need to alter your practice. You have reached a point where you are too comfortable.


Why? You seem to imply that there is a progress or goal to meditation, or that there is one desirable, expected, outcome. I am not sure I agree to such a thing. Meditation is a different to different people. I am happy what meditation is to me, and I see no reason—nor do I want to—change it.


Why did you start? What was your original goal or purpose?

Parent poster talked about getting relaxation and focus but also said after years that is all they got out of the experience.

If their is another goal or desired outcome then challenging yourself will allow for greater development. Parent poster is stuck in a comfortable place and there is nothing wrong with that but in order to advance more work is required.



There's a new show based on the Netflix "Explained" series that's "The Mind". They have a great episode on meditation and go into studies involving monks, etc. Highly recommend if you're curious about meditation.


+1. This episode is a great 20 minute primer on mindfulness meditation https://www.netflix.com/watch/81062191


Are there any apps out there that can help get me into meditation, which don’t require any of my personal information?

I almost tried headspace, but the first thing it did was make me create an account, so I deleted it. I’m willing to pay money, but I don’t want a continuing relationship with a meditation app.

Edit: and I just tried calm, and same thing. Doesn’t let you do anything until you create an account with them. Why does a meditation app need an account? Why does it need to be some VC funded growth hacking startup nonsense? Can’t I just buy a thing and use it?


What you are asking for is a timer. Not an app. https://www.amazon.com/Uigos-Digital-Kitchen-Magnetic-Backin...


I mean sure, but I was hoping for something that could guide me through it for the first few sessions at least.

I suppose I could just listen to a guided meditation album, but why is it so rare for there to be an app that doesn’t need you to sign up and give them your personal information?


> I mean sure, but I was hoping for something that could guide me through it for the first few sessions at least.

Try Muse. It's a hardware EEG headset + 2 apps: one for pure EEG monitoring and recording and one for guided meditations.

Seeing an objective confirmation of the fact you actually are doing something and progress helps a lot. Being able to influence the plot on the screen with your will alone is an awesome experience too.

> why is it so rare for there to be an app that doesn’t need you to sign up and give them your personal information?

That's sad indeed. If you are afraid somebody can misuse this data - just go to YouTube. There are enough of great buddhist teachers (e.g. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche) who explain everything and guide you through meditations there.


Meditation is great but lately I have been thinking that it is a great fix for the side effects of the original issue. If you have stress in your life then meditation can help reduce that but it will by no means fix the original issue.


Well it can't hurt.

Making me better at dealing with stress is a win.

Giving me enough space so that I can recognize the source of the stress is the next win. Having the space to determine the best next course of action is the next win after that. This usually involves consulting with others. Finally, having that little oomph to put in the work to make the change is the big tipping point.

But it's totally worth it even if all you get the the first win.


Meditation is not just to do with stress, but it gives you the tools to deal with situations with more control, it's something worth doing even if you're not stressed.

It could be helpful treating mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD; ironically your goal during meditation should be to have no goal.


Not a brain surgeon here...some of the comments appear to just assume that whatever this means it must be good. Is it? Or are long term meditators doing irreparable brain damage to themselves? My gut feeling is that meditation will strengthen portions of the brain that control impulses and emotions, but I don't know enough about the brain anatomy referenced here to understand what's going on.


You'll see this on HN every time meditation comes up. Apparently a fair proportion of posters here are convinced that meditation is self-evidently and infallibly beneficial.


Rather than driving by with some shade, you could see for yourself. It is self-evidently beneficial but that requires putting the "self" in the self-evidently. This casual scorn does nothing good for anyone least of all you.


I feel like you're making my point here.


Some resources on meditation that the HN community might find helpful, generally ones with a scientific, skeptical and secular perspective.

Apps

Meditation is somewhat inherently incompatible with the late stage venture funded scale based defensibility model of doing business. You actually become less dependent on paid resources as you advance in the skill. For this reason I think the mainstream apps like Calm and Headspace really help in the beginning but plateau you at a level you will continue paying at. That said, don't let this stop you from using what works for you.

- My favorite for getting started was 10% Happier. The format is an interview between a skeptic and a usually well trained meditation teacher, usually a founder of the IMS, which started the whole Buddhism in the West movement. Same business model as Calm and Headspace so some of the same problems. [1]

- Once past a threshold, most meditators use Insight Timer. They are a much leaner operation and the business model is designed to avoid the pitfalls of having to scale to recoup heavy investment.

Books

This list. Everything in here is generally high signal/noise ratio, and very little that you have to take on faith. https://deconstructingyourself.com/best-meditation-books-201...

Tools

I found that wiring myself up to a low-price EEG and looking at the raw data over a few months was a good way to convince myself all of this works. I use Muse but not their own app, someone out there built an app to chart the raw data called Muse Monitor that's much better.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX-4rpCegjk

Places (mostly aware of US only)

Insight Meditation Society (MA) and Spirit Rock (CA) are mindfulness meditation centers that are a good place to start. If you want something lower-priced Dhamma.org is a much-lower-price (both are donation based but the suggested range varies), worldwide set of spaces but the teachers are less adapted to a western context.

[1] https://www.tenpercent.com/ [2] https://insighttimer.com/blog/something-magical-is-happening...


What problems do you see with those apps? How do you feel their need to scale affects negatively the experience of users?

(Not saying you are wrong, I just wish more details on your insight about it)


I was using these apps for about 2 years, and I got to a point where I would use it daily and feel better for it, so it was a subscription worth paying for.

Later on, I went on to read some books that really answered a lot of my "am I doing this right" questions that the content in the apps didn't. Now, there's no reason why the apps can't have more the material that those books presented, but learning from a book made me confident enough in my understanding of the methods that all I needed afterwards was a simple timer.


“Once past a threshold, most meditators use Insight Timer”

What is this threshold?

I’ve been meditating regularly for this whole year and I just use the standard iOS timer with one of the gentler alarms.


I was using the standard iOS timer for a long time. I didn't like the noise knocking me out of my session. I built an app (https://quantifiedsit.com) that gently taps me on the wrist using the Apple Watch at the end of my planned session. That way I don't have to stop the timer.


Nice if you’re s smart watch sort of person, I guess?


I wouldn’t suggest that anybody needs a smart watch in order to meditate. I get a lot of value out of it myself. I enjoy keeping metrics such as heart rate and using reminders and tracking the time I’ve spent meditating. Your mileage may vary.


The threshold is around complexity of your practice, and you don't need a complex practice to get very far. It just helps if you have specific goals for your practice.

What you're doing is totally fine. Insight timer gives you some useful additions like repeating timers or sub-timers with different bells, e.g. if your practice requires changing the style of meditation 20 minutes in, etc.

Also, the sounds on Insight timer are Tibetan bells typically used for coming out of meditations, which have a long but diminishing sound so as to bring you back gently.


Ah, thanks.

My practice has some goals and complexity but I'm still doing fine with the iOS timer. shrug


As the study points it out ("cross-sectional/longitudinal design") there may be a fundamental flaw in any conclusion one may draw from it: which part of any difference between observed populations is a "cause" (leading the subject to meditate), and which is an effect of it?

To illustrate the point let's say (as a maybe slightly contrived hypothesis) that meditation is interesting for you, or maybe even that you can only tolerate practicing it seriously, _iff_ (if and only if) your brain has the adequate structure, or is predisposed to evolve towards it.


My personal issue with meditation is inability to be non-judjemental. I am not aware of the variety of meditation techniques, the only few that I've tried were simple body scan and focusing on breath. The common advice from all of the guides that I've followed so far was 'concentrate on a thing (breath or body scan or whatever) and if your focus has switched to some arbitraty not-connected thing, just recognize that and move your focus back, not blaming or judging yourself for losing focus'. This last 'not blaming or judging' is a real problem for me. I just cannot stop thinking of myself like 'hey, you've failed to keep focus again, shame on you'. As a result, to the end of the session I feel even more nervous, distracted and generally worse that it was before the session. This used to be different for me a number of years ago, when I've just started trying to meditate. I remember that my first attempts really allowed me to relax and stay away from the daily stress. But this first streak lasted not more than a month, and the latter ones worked worse with every other try. Have anyone ever felt the same? What would be a good solution for this problem?


Find a good teacher


Better emotional regulation may be a clear positive, but it’s not without it’s isolated effects. I, for one, found it more difficult casually socialize due to my calmer demeanour and non-engagement in risky behaviours like late nighters or excessive drinking. I’m not just saying that being “too responsible” can affect your social life, but it can also affect your ability to connect with “common folks” due to your (perceived?) existence on another plane of being.


I dislike the idea that not engaging in risky drinking somehow cripples your social life. I think there are opportunities for much more healthy and meaningful socialization when it isn't centered around alcohol and late nights on the bar scene. And you can meet a wider range of people, and engage in varied and interesting activities. I suppose you are less likely to find casual hookups, but there's an app for that now, anyway.


I have a similar issue. I am tackelling it by combinimg daoism practice and reading with vipassana to work on socializing and intimacy.


Anybody have any links for legit on meditating? All I ever find are bogus nonsensical ones that say you need to light candles and get into some funky position and whatnot.


> bogus nonsensical ones that say you need to light candles and get into some funky position and whatnot.

It usually helps when investigating something you're a novice in to at least attempt to clear your mind of preconceptions. Do you know posture makes no difference? Where did you get that information from if you're a complete novice? Do you know setting (candles, incense) makes no difference? Where did you get that information from? Untrained intuition?

It's notable that 'spiritual'* traditions from many different places and times emphasise posture & setting. It wouldn't do any harm to at least consider whether there may be more to this than you're assuming.

* see (amongst many possible sources) John Vervaeke's fascinating 'Awakening from the Meaning Crisis' lecture series for why this doesn't necessarily connote other-worldly metaphysics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54l8_ewcOlY


Try the app HeadSpace. Super easy to use and very clear instructions. No candles or funky positions.

Also, I would say, the most important thing about meditation is not the technique but the habit.

There must be over a hundred or a thousand different meditation techniques, but if you don't practice them regularly, they are all worthless.

The most simple one for my taste: sit down (whichever way you want, ideally in a quite place where you won't get disturbed), close your eyes and count your breath from 1 to 10; once you reach 10, start over from 1. If you get lost (I know, sounds impossible, but it happens a lot), start over from 1.


>count your breath from 1 to 10; once you reach 10, start over from 1

Thank you for this. I have been trying to count to 10 without any other thoughts entering my mind. Some reflections:

1. I can't get to 10. I always start thinking of something and my minf wanders on about that.

2. How desperate, addicted my mind, body has become for constant stimulation and gratification. It always wants to make the pain insidd myself go away

3. How extremely tired and burned out my mind is.

Unfortunately I have particularly hard traumas and hate in my life to deal with, which might make my experience unique. But after just 20 minutes of trying this it has helped me. I have tried meditation before but this method made it a new experience for me.

Maybe this last part sounds unusual, but I just focus on letting the oxygen absorb into my brain without using it back up. And also trying to get outside of my mind -- to kind of transcend it and get into third person. I know I am explaining nothing more than feelings and psychological phenomena, but in there is some kind of truths that I dont know how better to describe at the momdent.


Counting breaths from 1 to 10 is not that easy, especially if you are tired or burned out. Personally, how far I can get from 1 to 10 is a pretty good measure of how exhausted or how good/bad I'm feeling at that moment.

> Maybe this last part sounds unusual, but I just focus on letting the oxygen absorb into my brain without using it back up. And also trying to get outside of my mind -- to kind of transcend it and get into third person. I know I am explaining nothing more than feelings and psychological phenomena, but in there is some kind of truths that I dont know how better to describe at the moment

That's great! One of the main goals of meditation practice is being present. When we are present, we start perceiving the stuff that is always there but we ignore.

The things that you describe are important, I'd encourage you to keep exploring them. Everyone's journey is unique.


Why Buddhism is True [0, 1] does an excellent job of covering the modern neuroscience that overlaps much of Buddhist teaching, such as the hedonic treadmill [2], while ignoring the more new-agey / spiritual / not-evidence-based aspects often associated with Buddhism and other eastern religions, such as reincarnation, "auras", etc.

When I started my meditation practice, the guided meditations in the Calm app [3] helped me a lot.

0: https://amazon.com/Why-Buddhism-True-Philosophy-Enlightenmen...

1: https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?stor...

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

3: https://www.calm.com/


Legit links need quite a bit of research, like reading a 700 pages book only to realise that it consists on references to older more authoritative and much bigger books written a couple centuries earlier. These "sources" look like a tree with a few "root" ones written or said supposedly by a buddha. The closer the book or it's author to the root, the more legit it is. Technically, you can start from any author in this tree and discover the rest via references. One of the most cited authors is Atisa, who lived about 1000 years ago.


I highly recommend 8 Minute Meditation - https://www.amazon.com/Minute-Meditation-Expanded-Quiet-Chan...



I've often read of the benefits of meditation, and I don't doubt many find it helpful.

But do the benefits apply to people who are naturally calm and not tense? An often a cited benefit is feeling calm and being able to let go of tension and anxiety, and having a clarity of thought. But I rarely feel tense/anxious so the investment of time has never been attractive to me.


"Just relax". For me, this was the single most useless piece of meditative advice I ever heard, and everyone parrots it. I thought I was relaxed. But then periodically over time I'd discover "oh, my neck has just relaxed", "oh, my breathing diaphragm has relaxed", etc. Then I'd fight to recreate the relaxation in another session and had literally no idea how to relax before meditating to counter the stresses of daily life. I tried body scans, alternately tensing and relaxing muscle groups - nothing worked for me.

Having recently been able to become truly, deeply relaxed by actually learning how to breathe correctly (right into the pelvic floor) it's miles away from just not feeling obviously tense in my daily life. My breathing rate drops to a crawl (I inhale, hold without strain for around 2 minutes then exhale and naturally hold air outside for a minute or two). The whole body tingles with relaxation. The effects are truly noticable.

> But do the benefits apply to people who are naturally calm and not tense?

As a Type B personality myself, I would say "definitely".


[2013]


Does that really matter? People have been meditating for thousands of years so 6 years is a very recent study.


It's just standard HN policy to let people know it's not exactly new (but still interesting), and many people, myself included, sometimes miss publish dates. So anything that isn't this year gets the year in the title.


Otherwise, I’m inclined to believe that this is new because this is “Hacker News”.


For anyone looking for a meditation app, Sam Harris's "Waking up" app may frame things in a way more palatable to the average HN reader. No woo, attempts to explain what's actually going on, clear demarcation between helpful cues vs facts vs opinions. Other guided meditation instructors blur these things a bit more liberally, and that can be distracting for some people (including me).


It seems like the story of the chicken or the egg: do these differences come from meditation or are they the reason that push people towards meditation?


What's HN favorite guide get started with meditation?


The Mind Illuminated as a tactical guide, and Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha as a map of the overall path


The Mind Illuminated is a fairly comprehensive one.


I must say I struggled with this. It seemed like it should have been a good book, but I got lost in its various stages and its volume. I've posted my favourite meditation book elsewhere. It just cuts straight through to the core, but perhaps it just seems that way given my own experience. YMMV.


Novice here, yoga was my intro.


I don't want to come off the wrong way here, and if meditation helps you absolutely totally complete YES THATS GREAT! I'm all for self improvement. But when everyone lists all the benefits of it, I'm not sure I understand how it would benefit me in particular. Let me explain.

Here on this page, so far as I can tell, the benefits of meditation are:

- focused on the now. Less worried about past/future - less long-term, reason-clouding emotions - more immediate focus - less "head voices"

I'll start from the first one in explaining my question.

I'm very focused on the now already, it's as simple as that. I've had a lot of people in my life, with all kinds of different experiences with me, notice that I'm very calm and very unstressed. This is, simply, because I go through what's happening right now, deal with it, and move on. I don't dwell on what happened in the past unless there's something really important to be learned there, and I don't worry about the future beyond keeping my options open (try not to burn Bridges, etc). This has been a way of life for me, and it's already very calming and rewarding without the need for wasting huge chunks of my day.

My emotions are always extremely short. I can get angry and sad and what have you, but to this day, I've never once in my life been any one emotion for more than five minutes. Of course, I've still acted on some of them, for instance if someone betrays me I won't be mad at them at all in five minutes, but I'll still be wary. I've never been able to stay in any one particular emotional mode, even if I try to psyche myself into it. I just get bored.

As for focus, for as long as I can remember I've been able to put myself in a hyper-focus mode where all other thoughts, about anything else (including bodily functions) just go away; where external distractions such as noise just don't even register anymore. The longest I've been able to do this is eight hours, where I sat down to work on something and didn't speak or eat or go to the bathroom until I was done, in a noisy crowded room, completely unbothered. This is something people seem to describe as a superpower you gain after meditation but I've never meditated once in my life.

As far as the "voices in the head" thing goes, I hear this from people a lot, where they describe their internal experience as if they have someone else second guessing them or pointing things out, like a Freudian super-ego given its own internal dialogue. In all honesty, I've never experienced this. I don't really understand what people are talking about when they describe this.

So I guess my question is, why should I, specifically, meditate? It sounds cool, I'd be willing to try. Are there any other benefits?

Also; what the heck are the head voices people talk about?


These “voices” are not literal voices.

Sit for a while. Try to think about nothing at all. Unless you are actually Buddha already then you will probably find yourself thinking: What do I need to do today? What do I need to do tomorrow? Oh hey I just had a cool idea for a thing to make. I just put two and two together about some stuff in that show I watched yesterday. Damn I’m horny. Etc, etc.

Eventually you can learn to watch these trains of thought start, wander around your brain, and fade out. At which point you will surely find yourself thinking about how delighted you are to have stopped thinking and how cool it feels and..l whoops! There you go. Thinking again.


> Also; what the heck are the head voices people talk about?

There's an unfortunate language collision here, where "voices in one's head" are used as an analogy for both diseases like schizophrenia as well as a way of explaining one perspective that mindfulness meditation can bring.

After a few years of meditation, I think of my brain as a sort of legislature or voting assembly, and a particularly rowdy one. There's a sense in which my Brain Senate speaks with one voice when they "vote" for a thought. But there's also individual factions / parties / politicians in the legislature, which have their own agendas and goals about what I should think.

Personally, in my own brain, I have a pretty strong Social Anxiety Party. It makes speeches on the Senate floor about how we should cancel those first date plans because it'll probably not work out anyway.

This perspective helps remind me that the rest of my brain can listen politely to that speech, and then say "yeah, we've heard that speech before, we're tired of your bullshit" and then vote down the Let's Cancel That First Date Act of 2019.

Losing "votes" like this, in turn, makes the Social Anxiety Party less effective in my Brain Senate. It's not gone entirely, but it's less likely to win support for its proposals.


Maybe meditating will be relatively easy for you. That means you would be able to naturally get into a state of very pleasant joyful relaxation. Once you learn to focus on the breath you start to notice some spontaneous feelings of wholesome pleasure which you can then expand to become immersive. It's called jhana/dhyana practice in Buddhism and you can get more detailed instructions in books like these:

https://www.amazon.com/Focused-Fearless-Meditators-States-Cl...

https://www.amazon.com/Right-Concentration-Practical-Guide-J...

https://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-Bliss-Beyond-Meditators-H...


I guess the "head voices" mentioned in this context are simply thoughts, judgements, and different ideas that pop as if "automatically" into people's minds.

I'm somehow similar to how you describe yourself but I still practice meditation. I think that you might discover some subtle feelings or some tensions in your body if you do, even if you are naturally quite calm and focused.

You might try meditating just once, as an experiment, and see if you find it helpful or not. To do it you simply have to watch what appears in your consciousness, without doing anything about it. You see an emotion, you let it be there without trying to analyze it, hold it, or reject it. You see thoughts and you do the same. And the same about physical sensations. If you notice that you got caught following a certain chain of thoughts, you notice it and go back to the watching. You might start practicing for 20 or 30 minutes.


I'll try that then. It sounds interesting. I think my biggest fear is that I wouldn't be doing it right and wouldn't get the benefits, but it's not like it hurts to try!


If you wish to share it, I'd find it interesting to know how it went. About the fear and thoughts of not doing it right, they are more stuff to watch and do nothing about.

I forgot to mention in the instructions only one thing: do it in a sitting position. It's easy to fall asleep if you try to practice it lying in bed.


I've had some of my most profound meditative experiences lying in bed...


So why haven't you tried it out already? It's not like it's an expensive hobby; you can do it anytime, anywhere. In fact, in the time it took you to describe your experience here, you could have been sitting in meditation and discovered for yourself if you do/don't like it.


The real benefit of meditation from my perspective is proving to yourself that you're not the voices in your head. I mean, you can't be; since you're obviously capable of observing them from the outside while they go on with their business. What takes practice is staying aware and not feeding them energy by identifying.

Once the spell is broken, the conserved energy and improved focus and control changes everything.

The mind is indeed a wonderful servant but a terrible master.


The next step is to realize that despite you are not the voices in your head, the voices are in fact you and not something independent. Approximately like you are not your hand but your hand is you. Therefore you have power over them and can do whatever you want, at least within your head. It takes some training (especially to become able to exercise this in extreme circumstances, with your amygdalae stressed and with your levels of trytophan, dopa, gaba etc depleted) but you literally can feel whatever you choose to at any given moment.


can you share some more resources on this? sounds very interesting.


That is basic premise of the "The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself". That is where I learned of the concept.


+1 for this book as a starting point for removing yourself from the tyranny of your emotions.


Will also suggest to look at the entire Jainism religion which is not really a religion but a way of living life. It has laid out a extremely detailed description of how the soul is totally separate entity and the different tejas body and karam bodies that make Us up

A detailed description in this article on the concept of Mind: Philosophy of Mind: A Jain Perspective

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/369b/7abd19f494d8b6d0f36115...


I will post more as i find the resources;

I have a health resource, stemming from obvious stress hormone reduction.

Its a Sunday morning here; i will leave you for now with a registration website for a 10 day course: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/courses/search

(It is near free, fees are commute, white clothes and a very optional donation, finishing a course is considered payment enough)


I did a 10 day retreat after burning out working at a hedge fund and I can highly highly recommend it.

I must warn that it’s not easy. I thought a meditation retreat would be a great way to unplug and take it easy but the schedule is intense and meditating that much requires great energy and focus.

Highly recommended but know what you’re getting into :)


Those courses are great! Regarding commute - there are ride shares available, especially if you come from a major city. And there is no need for special white clothes! (Although I'd avoid really extreme colors, logos, etc.).


Hardly. There probably are but I don't know any. I've figured this out logically and empirically.

From the spiritual point of view (I follow Dzogchen), once you realize you are not your ego (which is a system of feelings, thoughts, perception etc.) but it is yours (a thing you own), learn to observe it from a distance and realize what you are (by turning your inner gaze back to the point where you observe the ego from) this will become obvious and all left to do is practice. Or the fivefold practice of Dawa Gyaltsen will give a clue.

Practically it's like learning to swim - the first time you are put in the water you don't know you can but as you persist in your intention and keep on trying the skill develops and grows into a whole new dimension of freedom.

From the scientific point of view all the feelings are chemical reactions involving substances like serotonin (produced from 5HTP/tryptophan), dopamine (produced from DOPA/tyrosine), norepinefrine, acetylcholine, GABA, glucose etc. with help of some other chemicals. E.g. it is not really hard to stop being angry at somebody when you realize the cause of your anger is merely a chemical imbalance rather than the person you are angry at. Even if he has actually done something wrong you don't have to actually be mad - you can act reasonably (even punish him or exclude him from your social circle if this seems rationally necessary) while maintaining great mood (which would be particularly easy if you were on xanax or something - just a proof it's all about chemistry) and maintaining great mood probably is what you actually want. As soon as you start thinking this way you just stop taking your emotions seriously (which doesn't mean you can't enjoy pleasant ones) and they (the unpleasant and impractical ones) fade away as you stop dedicating attention to them. The more you practice this the less of them even emerge.


"Zen mind, Beginner's mind" is a good resource as there is a good amount of discussion in there, especially the part on how we are both one and two, not either of these things, but both of these things at the same time.


Why not Consider a 10 day vipassana course?

Vipassana practitioners believe in generating their own truths as the nature of the mind reveals itself through meditation.


"Vipassana" is an annoyingly-ambiguous term.

It refers to a particular style of meditation, as taught by a particular teacher and his acolytes - a form of no-self insight mediation, based on a systematic examination of all the things that might constitute a self. It also refers generally to "insight" meditation, where "insight" might depend on whether you are training in a mahayana or hinayana tradition (in hinayana, it's insight into no-self, in mahayana, it's insight into emptiness). It might refer to silent but discursive reflection, based on instructions; or it might be a concept-free state of "resting the mind", arising spontaneously from various kinds of shamatha/samatha (broadly, mental calming) exercises. No doubt the the term also has divergent meanings in other Indian practice traditions.

So why a 10-day vipassana course, rather than (say) a nine-day course? Is it a particular brand of "vipassana" that you are suggesting? In what respect is it a "course" - do you get a certificate at the end? Is there a test?

The particular style of meditation referred to in the article is one I've never heard of before; BWV, or "Brain Wave Vibration". Oh dear, that sounds suspiciously like woo, so I'll google it.

Hmmm. Apart from this NIH paper, I can't find anything about BWV that doesn't reek of hype or woo. Why did the researchers choose this particular obscure style of meditation? Judging by their names, it seems that many of the researchers are Korean. Perhaps BWV was invented by some Korean sect derived from buddhism. As far as I can tell, BWV is really a form of guided shamatha, incorporating physical movement. That's not unusual; both shamatha and vipassana are often performed while walking (saves leg stiffness from long periods of sitting). Calling it "yoga" doesn't help much; that's an even looser term than "vipassana". In both buddhist and shaivite traditions, all types of meditation are forms of yoga ("yoga" in Sanskrit just means "union" - or "yoke", like the wooden apparatus that unites two cattle for ploughing work).

I'm aware that various styles of meditation have been productised and commercialised over the last couple of decades, and are now marketed for profit to knowledge-workers, executives and the like (i.e. suckers with not much time, but with money to burn). I'm deeply suspicious of these trends. If meditation costs anything, it costs time.

Personal declaration: for about 30 years I used to do a lot of meditation in a buddhist tradition, but I think I've fully recovered from all that now.


Oh - I didn't mention "mindfulness". This is a term that's nowadays widely used in therapy and treatment situatiuons; it's also heavily commercialised and branded.

When I was taught mindfulness, it was initially mindfulness of breathing; a way of calming the mind. A while later I realised it was a basic part of the buddhist approach to morality; how can your action be correct if you have no idea what you are doing? - So I was taught to become mindful in everything - cooking, programming, walking, listening etc.

Mindfulness in programming seems to be very difficult!

The "mindfulness" that therapists use seems to be a form of shamatha (calming the mind), specifically mindfulness of breathing, usually with spoken guidance from the facilitator (after all, they have to do something to earn their fee).


> Mindfulness in programming seems to be very difficult!

Learn to be mindful (of whatever) while you read/write comments on HN and I can already say you are a pro.


> in hinayana, it's insight into no-self, in mahayana, it's insight into emptiness

What's the difference?


Good question (I'm assuming realisation of the no-snark doctrine).

No-self is a form of emptiness; "emptiness of self", as you might say. The belief in a self is considered to be the root of suffering, so extinguishing that belief extinguishes suffering. This is the culmination of the path of the "hearers" - those who heard Sakyamuni speak.

The mahayana teaching on emptiness goes further. Not just the self, but all phenomena, arise dependent on chains of causation with no beginning; nothing has independent existence. Nothing can be relied on, everything is like models made of tissue-paper. Various kinds of logical reasoning have been developed to get this kind of perspective.

Insight into this kind of emptiness includes insight into no-self, because the self is a phenomenon too, and one that is empty of independent existence like all other phenomena.

Realisation of the emptiness of all phenomena is said to engender compassion. One's personal suffering might not diminish at all.

Incidentally, I used the term "hinayana", which can be translated as "narrow path", and is considered to be a put-down by some people. I do not mean it as a put-down, I am just using it as a term for those kinds of Buddhist teaching that don't embrace the doctrine of emptiness. I think that all such forms of Buddhism are now historical; in particular, I have been told that the Theravada teachings that are current especially in South-East Asia are not the same as hinayana - that Theravada includes significant mahayana influences.


I couldn't agree more. Adding to the anecdotes- it took me a solid 4 months of sitting on my butt, once or twice a day 10-20 minutes each sit, to actually break free. It was HARD, and I've since fallen out of practice. But once I was able to hit that point of single-mindedness reliably, it absolutely made a day-and-night difference in my focus and well-being. It truly felt like having a secret weapon at my disposal. I really need to get back to it :/


FWIW, after 15 years of consistent practice, mediation to me is simply isolating yourself so that you have no escape from the dramas in your mind. You eventually simply become bored of them and that liberates all kinds of creative energy within.


What you describe is enticing and sounds not so greatly different from my once-every-four-years pattern of weight lifting. The benefits are so obvious and so incredible, but somehow it happens repeatedly that we fall out of practice. Fortunately, it is possible to rejoin. So now I have two goals - return to strength training, and include regular mind "training".


Beating yourself up over "failing" only causes more delay and more suffering. That goes for not meditating as much as you think you should and not trying hard enough when loosing awareness. It's just practice, if you're not failing now and then you're not learning.

I had to sort of force myself by going to live in an ashram full time for a while.


>> I had to sort of force myself by going to live in an ashram full time for a while.

That's amazing to me, really! I've considered doing 10-day sits before (vipassana most likely) but never got the courage to do it. Part of the reason being nicotine addiction (which would add a whole other dimension to the challenge). Once I sort out that bug out (and get a few levels higher in Hindi on duolingo) I want to look into it again.


What are the thoughts you have when you think of taking the plunge? I did one recently and I’d love to help people to try it.


You know, it's hard to come up with a good excuse for not doing it these days (if I could actually schedule something, I wouldn't second guess it, and things would probably fall into place, hah). I guess I always feel like I need to get some things in order first (past experiences warning my ego that I'm coming for it, and it preempts with whatever it can in a self-preservation effort?). One issue of course is enough vacation time; it's a tough sell over some other things on my "list".


Did a 10 day sitting while addicted to nicotine after 10 years of smoking. I don't think I thought about cigarettes once. I did suffer from the withdrawal but it was subsumed in the meditation somehow


Arguably, a nicotine addiction would be the perfect thing to work out with the help of meditation!


you do think about a cigarette but you get in the moment and can observe the craving and there aren't the things there that trigger stress. it's nice and quiet.


Nicotine withdrawal lasts about 72 hours - you'd be over it by the third day of a ten-day retreat.

But I recommend Champix/varenicline. It works.


Why is Hindi required?


It's not. I recommend Mindfulness in Plain English By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. It very directly lays out the benefits of Vipassana meditation, and it doesn't really involve any religion.


Oh, it's not. A trip to India is on my long-term todo list though, and it's something I'd be interested in doing there. Definitely not mutually exclusive!


I did it in the Himalayas. There were literally monkeys fighting on the roof, musicians practicing every morning at 7am, and it was really cold. Regardless it was a peak experience in my life. Western centers are probably quieter and more comfortable.


While meditating, when did you choose to stop? I am guessing that having a timer is a big no-no, hehe.


Having a timer is excellent because it keeps you from having to constantly utilize your attention to consider how long you have been sitting and how much longer you should sit.


While I can see the logic there, I would strongly recommend against alarms. The deeper you go, the more sensitive you become. Being pulled out abruptly is very uncomfortable, to the point where knowing what's coming will stand in the way of even trying.

I would say sit as long as you feel like it, except that doesn't really help initially. Maybe put on a non-intrusive background track that fades out when time is up? And do take your time when coming back; start by listening, then opening the eyes slowly etc.

Same goes for waking up from regular sleep, but refusing alarms in this society is a pretty serious compromise.


I disagree. I highly recommend a timer, but rather than an alarm, use something like a quiet bell. I use the Insight Timer app, but just without all the social aspects that come with it.

Sitting as long as you feel like is not beneficial, because most of the actual work will happen when you start to notice your agitation and at that point is when you will just want to get off the cushion. Stick through it, and watch that agitation and your monkey mind go crazy, until the end of the timer.

I recommend starting with a short timer, 10 minutes, then slowly increase the time.


There is a great App on fdroid called Meditation Assistant


To sit as long as long as I feel like is not very informative as I don’t know what I am looking for when meditating.

On another note, I have spent a good deal self-reflecting more or less alone in the dark with me and my thoughts. From what I understand on some parts of the web, this pretty much equates to ”meditation”. While others describe it differently.

I guess I could download HeadSpace and be more explicit about it, but I do anyway think I have derived some mental benefits from the above behavior. Like, being more comfortable with myself. But I don’t think I am doing meditation since I don’t get all benefits as actual meditators.

Just as a reference to the OP of this thread, about being able to distinguish oneself from the voices in one’s head... I think there are more benefits in meditation.


What you're looking for is awareness, to be right here right now and observe what's going on inside. If you're like most people, you spend most of your time lost in thoughts that you didn't actively choose. The first step is to realize that is the case, which is very difficult in the middle of the storm; hence the sitting down with closed eyes.


Thank you - this comment was helpful.


>> On another note, I have spent a good deal self-reflecting more or less alone in the dark with me and my thoughts.

Two phrases that have been very relevant to my practice:

"Being lost in thought is the opposite of concentration."

"Lost in thought is not meditation."

The above is not meant to imply that there aren't benefits to spending time lost in thought.


I've read a lot of books on meditation. Without doubt, the clearest and easiest to understand for me was "The Yoga of Consciousness: 25 Direct Practices to Enlightenment" [1]. Well worth it to understand how to do awareness-based meditation and how it can fit into a broader set of practices.

[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yoga-Consciousness-Practices-Enligh...


IIRC, the canonical book is "The [10] sravaka levels" but it hasn't been translated to English. However the most important parts from that book were incorporated by tsong-kha-pa into lam-rim - another canonical book which has been mostly translated into English.


You do have an internal clock, should you choose to "turn it on". Source: have not owned or used an alarm clock in ~20 years.


When I was done :) this took a while to figure out too. You can always go "deeper" but what I've experienced are "thresholds" or "steps". Once I felt I "graduated" to a point, it felt like a nice place to marinate for a while (knowing fully well that it was one plateau of many), and would take a whole lot more effort (lack of effort?) to get further. By that time I'd have cleared out enough junk to get me through the day. I really don't know that I'm using the right terms here (and they definitely vary by tradition), but in my reading (again, nothing serious, lots of wikipedia and a few books on different modalities) these thresholds are described as different "states of absorption". I don't know if it is actually what I was experiencing, but descriptions the first/second jhana states seemed very apt at the time (when I was researching/testing this out for myself). (In traditional Jnana yoga there are 7 or 8 states, the highest ones are brushing on the nirvana state). (I can't stress how much I'm butchering this, I am but a student!)


Not a no-no at all as far as I know. It was explicitly recommended in The Mind Illuminated. It just needs to be an alarm that you'll hear when it's done so you don't have to devote any attention to it, you just focus on meditating until it goes off.


Having a timer is a really common practice. Try a search for "meditation timer" on the Apple or Google app stores.


I use a timer set for 30 minutes. Almost every time I know exactly when the gong will ring. It's very strange.


Why did you fallen out of practice?


Life happens. To be honest I have a good amount of time these days. It's more about scheduling it (and sticking to it), at least at first. I don't think it would take me 4 months to get back to the level I was at (I've accumulated a few tools in my proverbial bag of tricks along the way)


This mirrors my experience exactly, especially the last sentence!


> you can't be; since you're obviously capable of observing them from the outside while they go on with their business

I think that's the wrong way to put it.

You can observe those thoughts much like you can observe your hand with your eyes. That does not make your hand any less part of you than those thoughts.

IMO the vast majority of the chatter in our minds are like any other involuntary process of our bodies. The difference is that we are culturally conditioned to identify with our minds and not our intestinal processes.


chop your hand off. You will still remain. Remember your worst fever, you remained though your thoughts were muddled. Got separated from your partner? You still remained.

This is a form of self enquiry to separate yourself from what you are not, to break the spell of identification. Some people are identified with not only their bodies but with their children but to their car, house, job, even the products of their work. These are all not you.

After seeing what you are not, you start seeing what you really are. For that you will need this preparation work.


Yeah, I went through that process. I realized I am just the result of a biological process, in essence much like bacteria in a petri dish.

There is really no separation between the mind and the body.

We still don't fully understand consciousness, but we know most of our decision are taken unconsciously well before the conscious mind is aware of it. There are a myriad of books about this, but this wikipedia article is a good introduction:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will


Come on, this meme thar is 'everything is cultural bias' is getting ridiculous.


It's not a meme, at least not in this case. If you can unlearn to identify with the monkey mind it probably means this is something you learned.


This is interesting to me because I don't meditate, but I also don't have "voices in my head" most of the time. There is a "voice" that is present while I am reading and I can summon it in order to work through something I want to say or write, also sometimes I "play music" in my head where the vocals are usually in the voice of the artist. By and large, though, my mind is usually "silent". Do most people hear voices all the time? Most of the time? I was under the impression hearing voices a lot was associated with psychosis and not the default way brains work.


You don't hear them, unless you have an auditory hallucination, but you have thoughts, which you can verbalize or materialize to a greater or lesser degree. These thoughts are something you do, not what you are. You'll hear them if you start listening to them.


So you're saying that you never have anything going on in your head that you didn't choose? No uncomfortable thoughts that you have to push away? No egos lashing out at other people or telling you you're not good enough?

If that's the case then congratulations are in order, most people have to put in some effort to get there. Maybe you're a natural, depends on where you came from. Being left alone to do your thing in a sane environment makes it easier to stay in touch.

Whatever the case, there's never any harm in sitting still with closed eyes for ten minutes.


> So you're saying that you never have anything going on in your head that you didn't choose? No uncomfortable thoughts that you have to push away? No egos lashing out at other people or telling you you're not good enough?

Thanks for putting it this way. I definitely remember my brain used to do stuff like that, when I was a teenager, but it is not a state I can deeply relate to decades later. I recall making a conscious decision, around the time I was 19, to not get hung up on that stuff because it was not pragmatically useful to my physical life. So perhaps I have put some effort into "getting there" and it was just so long ago I've forgotten what it was like.


It's not literally hearing voices, but rather observing the flow of thoughts. You feel hungry, there's a thought. You suddenly realize you forgot someone's birthday, there's a thought. You think about that chocolate bar you ate last week, boom there's a thought. So that's the "voices" or "monkey mind" that meditation practitioners will talk about.


I’m relatively new to meditation. About 5 months, most days but not all.

The thing is, you don’t notice that those voices aren’t you until someone points it out. And you see it most clearly through meditation. Because when you think your mind is empty, it’s not, you’re telling yourself tales constantly. At least I am. But I never thought I was until I sat back and observed how my mind was working.

It’s like those drawing that ask if you see a cat or a woman and you see a cat. But then someone points out the woman and you just can’t unsee the woman. That’s the best analogy I can find at least.

As I said, I am early in experimenting with meditation, but it really feels like a game changer.

I’ve tried to read a variety on the topic. Being that I’m of the more secular bend, I’ve really enjoyed the Sam Harris book and app, Waking Up. If you want an intro, start with either. If you’re of a more spiritual bend, I’m sure there good other options.


I'm not saying this necessarily applies to you, but many people find that it takes them quite a bit of intensive meditation practice to even discover that they've been overlooking a lot of chatter in their minds.

> Beginning meditators often think that they are able to concentrate on a single object, such as the breath, for minutes at a time, only to report after days or weeks of intensive practice that their attention is now carried away by thought every few seconds. This is actually progress. It takes a certain degree of concentration to even notice how distracted you are.

—Sam Harris


My daughter had voices in her head for a bit as she grew up. The professional advice we got is that it is common in children, but diminishes as they age. Most adults do not hear voices. And even the ones that do are normally just verbalization of their own thoughts.

But we were warned that if they didn't fade, or they were being negative or harmful, that is a red flag that should invoke some action.


I guess that what "hearing voices" was pointing at in this case were thoughts and thinking.


Presumably those who meditate to "quiet their minds" are also seeking to drive out remembrance of a scent or feeling, innate thought-feelings (like confusion that's internal to the brain), imagery, and all the other ponderable facets the brain creates?

Why not say "seeing movies" or "feeling emotions" or "imagining smells" or whatever form a specific thought might take though? Seems weird to only consider vocal thoughts.

There are other aspects to thoughts too, like links and non-picturable things that one seems to grasp but aren't present in a sense-based way -- for example a "hypercube that smells of snozzberries", you can't see it, it's not making a sound that you've heard before, the smell is not something you know, etc., but to some extent you still behold it.


I've definitely had it before where I was alone at night and it sounded like I was listening to the radio or something like that. Like nothing directed towards me, but voices cutting in and out about different things.

I suppose it's not hearing voices that makes you crazy, but when you start listening to them and doing what they say...


I think what you say kinda makes sense. To someone that is not practicing mindfulness, do you mind elaborating on "you're not _the voices_ in your head?". Are you talking about becoming an independent person that, while being aware of her environment, does not conform to it?


I'm talking about choosing when and what to think, to not be a victim to your default settings. The rest follows by itself.


This sounds a lot like the main idea behind the book "The Untethered Soul". Highly recommend to anyone interested in meditation, mindfulness, or letting go of everyday stress.


> you're not the voices in your head. I mean, you can't be; since you're obviously capable of observing them from the outside while they go on with their business.

I don't follow this logic. The brain is a parallel system, parts of it remain active while not thinking. And observing thoughts has evolutionary usefulness for meta-learning (learning to learn, learning to reason). It's just one more layer in the hierarchy.

By your logic, I am not the brain because I am observing its activity. But without it I am nothing, how does that work out?

I think it is wrong to think I am just the brain - I am the brain plus the body, because the brain is formed inside the body, fed sensations and learned everything from the body. And the body itself is part of the environment, again, the brain learns everything from it and depends on it to develop. Even the perception of shape, sound, movement, hunger, language and society - they all come from the environment and the body and shape the mind.

So I am at the junction of brain, body and environment, not a detached observer, and my purpose is to learn how to act optimally in all situations in order to keep my body alive and continue my genes. If I didn't, then my genes would have a worse chance of survival and filter our from the pool, thus they must fight for survival. We've been shaped by survival and environment. The 'I' is the result of this optimisation process in action. If 'I' didn't get up in the morning and take something to eat, work in order to have what I need, then 'I' would die. So 'I' is the caretaker of the body.


> By your logic, I am not the brain because I am observing its activity. But without it I am nothing, how does that work out?

I don't know your relationship with the concept of "soul" (and I'm writing this way to be careful), but many of us sometimes find it really useful to be able to talk about who we really are.


>Once the spell is broken, the conserved energy and improved focus and control changes everything.

Agree completely.

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone" - Blaise Pascal


Do you (or anyone) have recommendations on a type of meditation that does not totally disengage your mind?

I have a problem that after lots of meditation I become more disengaged and "spacey". Its fine to look at myself in a detached way, but sometimes I want appropriate engagement with those feelings. During stressful times I don't end up more engaged or challenged, I just feel "checked out". This became pervasive in social situations as well.


Check out Taoist practices, specifically the Microcosmic Orbit. When a lot of chi enters the head it can lead to what you describe. The key is to 'ground' yourself by learning to bringing it back down. Physically stroking down from your head to your belly imagining you're drawing electrical energy down and circling your hands at your belly can help (touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and imagine you're running energy/electricity down through it down to your belly). It's safer to store energy in your navel, throwing off any excess into the Earth. This can stop you feeling spaced out.

Unfortunately I've not been entirely happy with most of the courses I've taken online though so can't really recommend one. I wasn't impressed with Michael Winn's courses [1] in general in case you stumble across his stuff, nor Ken Cohen. I'd suggest exploring books or look for other recommendations (The Tao Bums [2] could be a good place to start). The basics are pretty easy to pick up from books (but overall for meditation I'd say you need a real teacher, either in person or available for video tutoring/chats).

[1] https://healingtaousa.com/ (seems to be giving a 500 at the moment)

[2] https://www.thedaobums.com/


This is very bad and dangerous advice. Please don’t try to learn and practice advanced energy arts from books and the internet. At best you will waste your time, at worst you will mess yourself up.

Source: 15 years of practice under instruction of a master.


No problems here after 20 years.

I'm glad you've found something that works for you.


IMHO, you're making the common mistake thinking that meditation is about sitting still and thinking about nothing, or lazily observing your thoughts. Meditation has one specific goal: training to focus your mind. Meditation is when you pick a simple static object and try to visualize it in front of you with all details, with eyes open and lights on. Yes, that's right. The goal is to visualize it so well that it would be no different than looking at it with your eyes. There are many common difficulties there: the object will be disappearing, floating away, transforming into something else, getting too blurry or too dim. But eventually youll be able to visualize more and more complex objects, then switch to complex ideas and finally reach the state when you're fully focused at all times without effort. Meditation is more like yoga and it is pretty exhaustive if you bother to put effort into this and not just sit and stare into a wall.


"One specific goal"

That's one specific type of meditation. More broadly, meditation can be used to further a wide variety of goals.

For example, Aleister Crowley taught a type of insight meditation that was intended to increase one's personal power over others. His technique was very similar to the one I was taught, which was supposed to be for developing insight into the emptiness of all phenomena.


Maybe. Meditation can be about doing nothing. In fact, not even doing that. See: shikentaza, and a theravada monk advised just that to me last night ;)


"Disengage the mind"

That is the opposite of what I was taught; I was asked to maintain the maximum possible awareness of what was going on in my mind and around me.

"Spacey"

That is congruent with my experience.

Allow time after a meditation session to have a cup of tea, experience the weather, or whatever. Spaceyness wears off after about ten minutes, and you'll be ready to get back to computer programming, arguing with colleagues, disciplining small children, or whatever it is that the spaceyness was getting in the way of.


Practicing meditation does include a technical process of continual adjustment. When you realize you are just spacey, engage your attention on the current moment and physical sensations. Apply your concentration to being here and cultivate a bright awareness.

Later you may find yourself too concentrated and forceful, trying too hard to meditate. Then you need to release and simply sit and exist.

Concentration / expansion (spacing out) is the axis of practice.


feeling checked out is a form of disassociation and could be a sign of burnout or trauma response. Meditation will give you the tools to recognize this, stay with it ans and embrace it fully.

Even through text alone I sense there is fear of seeing what exactly happens when the thoughts quiet down. You'll be safe, you'll bring into surface what is causing this feeling. You'll be free of it.


Next step is to realize that there's no single monolithic "you".

It also saves a lot of embarrassment and internal struggle.


Next step is microservices you :P


And a good 10 day Kubernetes retreat.


That's you at web scale.


Minsky’s ‘society of mind’ is pretty much this. :)


It's a good metaphor.


TLDR?


"Our findings suggest that long-term meditators have structural differences in both gray and white matter."


What I would like to see in a study is the effect of meditation practice. Are meditators living longer, accomplishing more, being happier?

I have seen many long term meditators and been one for 20 years and am not convinced they are more fit for life. Instead of developing their lives and careers they developed their practice and missed out on opportunities. Most of them are alone at 45-50 y.o. with a lousy job, living frugally. What was the benefit?

If meditation was such an advantage then societies where this is a traditional practice should be more developed and happier, but this doesn't strike me as being true. Being too detached and contemplative can have downsides. Is hacking your brain to feel ecstatic useful for life, or just a shortcut to rewards, like drugs?


Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.




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