Can Meditation Really Change the World?
Probably. Maybe. It depends.
I should be the first person to wax starry eyed about World Meditation Day and how if we all meditate, we will save the world. But I’ve been in this game long enough to know that it’s not that simple.
Let me explain.
There are many different meditation techniques, even within the same traditions, and they can have different effects.
For example, the one million children meditating in Thailand last week were practicing a version of Buddhist ‘meta meditation’ where you focus on compassion for other living beings and the world. While I am sometimes skeptical about the power of ’thoughts and prayers’, meditation amplifies the power of thought, and one million people with one intent could well have a wider effect on some subtle level. However, the greater and more longterm impact of this mass meditation will likely be on the minds of the children themselves. After all, they’re the ones who are immersed in and co-creating this amazing sea of focused goodwill. Imagine the impact that experience had on their values, their worldview and their future behavior. That’s the big payoff. And, given the universal benevolent intent and the vast scale, that could be significant.
On the other hand, Samurai Warriors were also really good at meditation. They were renowned for their powers of concentration. Less so for their love and compassion. They did not practice ‘meta meditation’.
Not all meditation is the same. Not all outcomes are the same.
So meditation is not absolutely guaranteed to make you a nicer person. It does tend to – I know many life-long meditators, and most of them are indeed unusually kind and selfless and are dedicated to some kind of humanitarian work. But not all of them are. A few remain quite self-centered, and some even appear to have fallen prey to the allure of power and egotism. We all carry the seeds of all qualities within us, both good and bad. And meditation has a way of ripening seeds…
The outcome of your meditation is intimately linked to your intent. That is why I think it is important to distinguish between two broad categories of meditative practice, both of which I use and teach.
- I broadly term the first category ‘concentration practices’. This includes mindfulness, focusing on the breath and meditating on a mantra where no meaning is assigned. This develops inner peace, clarity, concentration and willpower.
- The second category I term ‘spiritual meditation practices’. This includes Buddhist meta meditation (as practiced by the children in the example above), Christian mystical contemplation of the all-embracing mercy of Christ, and mantra meditation and chanting where the mantra embodies the idea of infinite love. These practices induce a sense of oneness and connection, awaken universal love and compassion and tend to inspire the practitioner to act on this feeling in their lives.
Both of these categories of techniques are necessary elements of a well-rounded and balanced meditation practice.
As You Think, So You Become, or Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together
A key principle of meditation is that whatever you concentrate on tends to become real. Don’t take this too literally. This is psychology, not magic. Thinking of a gold watch is not going to net you a gold watch. But if you focus on the qualities you like in another person, rather than obsessing over the ways they irritate you, you might well save a friendship or a marriage. And that’s worth way more than any gold watch.
This phenomena of the nature of our focus influencing our minds in a way that lasts is now widely validated by neuroscience. Whatever we keep thinking about is etched in our brains as new neural pathways.
Since concentration amplifies the power of our minds, and meditation involves concentration, what we choose to focus on in meditation is super important. If enough people focus on universal love in their meditation, then yes, I believe that could make an enormous difference in our future world. Not so much through some kind of mysterious emanation, as through the resulting awakening of love in everyone’s hearts. And that will change the way we view and treat one another. It’s difficult to ignore the suffering of those you love.
Expanding the Periphery of Your Love
My spiritual master in India once said that the only way to measure a person’s spiritual attainment is by the periphery of their love.
That’s nice and clear. The mission is to love everyone. And everything. For me, this is a work in progress. Loving kittens and children is easy. Loving slime mould and Rupert Murdoch I find more challenging.
Set Your Intention
The human mind is a wonderful thing. And concentration and meditation techniques give us greater access to its powers. This can help us to get what we want in life. But what if we want foolish or unfulfilling things? I sometimes want some pretty dumb things. I’ll bet you do too. If we allow our more foolish desires to rule our choices our powerful minds can become more of a curse than a blessing. That’s why the foundation of meditation practice is all about developing a healthy attitude to life, and learning to make wise and ethical choices. Training your mind is a lot of work. You really don’t want to go to all this trouble just to end up as a Sith Lord!
So if you want to help the world, I urge you to get clear on your inner motivation. Try a meditation practice that expands the periphery of your love. Once that begins to happen, you’ll know what to do next.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then we will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix
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