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Meditation for Kryptonite

We human beings have a unique vulnerability. As far as we know, we're the single species that suffers from mental health problems. There are various theories as to why this is the case, but the human mind has a peculiar way of turning in on itself. We're particularly prone to self-absorbed moods, worrying about our adequacy, worry about the future, or what others of our kind may be thinking about us. Next time you're out for a walk and see a bird, squirrel, cat or dog- consider: Are they worried? (Noting that some household pets suffer depressed or anxious moods in response to, for example, the behavior of their human friends.)

The mind is arguably humanity's greatest asset, the tool with which we've achieved global dominion. We don't dominate other species because of our bigger muscles or sharper teeth. Rather, it's because of our ability to think, and imagine solutions. Through creative and strategic thinking we've developed ingenious ways to dominate or avoid dangerous species and create comfort for ourselves. Of course these mind-generated advances have also caused great harm to the environment and other species, and to other people in our competitiveness to get what we want.

Powerfully creative as it is, the mind is also our kryptonite. Left unsupervised, the human mind can stumble into destructive patterns of worry, envy, resentment, anger and depression. Empathy for others (and for ourselves) tends to be put on the shelf when the mind is under stress. We can do much harm through following the mind's habits of judging others or ourselves, and reacting to mental cravings- for power, satisfaction and certainty.

The human mind's capacity to imagine stuff and create things can go very dark, envisioning scenarios of personal doom, harsh judgmental views of self or others, and a litany of unhelpful mental clutter, traps and bogeymen. The emotional part of the mind that can react with excitement and energy to positive visions also reacts to negative thoughts, making our dark ideas feel all too real. It's easy to get caught in this thinking-feeling negative spiral, and soon enough one's behavior is dictated by it. We can become destructive and impulsive, or frozen and inactive. We can become entangled in our own distorted thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Unsupervised is the key word in the previous two paragraphs. Leaving the mind untrained and unguided is like driving a car with one's eyes closed. The car is a great servant, but it needs to be steered, and used skillfully. So too the mind, or it may drive us into a ditch.

Meditation is a form of mental training, a way to supervise, steer, and use the mind- so it doesn't use us. But what can be confusing is the popular idea that meditation is primarily a way to relax. That is sometimes true, but it's the tip of the iceberg of potential. Meditation is ultimately a way to access the controls of the mind. It's a training to understand the mind's patterns, and a way to step out of it's way when it goes on a binge of unhelpful activity, like worry about the future.

Think of meditation as the user's guide to the mind that should come in the box with each new human. It teaches a variety of practices to better use our mental functions. These include:

  • focus-enhancing skills to reduce time spent in unhelpful thinking, like tangents of worry; and to increase attention on more helpful thoughts

  • the ability to observe one's own thoughts, emotions and reactions from a crucial slight distance, to be less at the mercy of the mind's unhelpful content

  • the capacity to stay present and cultivate equanimity, the ability to sit through difficult moods, thoughts and experiences without drowning in them or needing to avoid them

  • cultivating a calm inner center, and a sense of your own perennial, unconditional well-being, rather than seeking 'conditional' well-being in trying to control things you can't control, or when the control brings its own compounding problems

  • experiencing contentment and ease, delight and curiosity, satisfaction in life's pleasures, and affection for those close to us on an increasingly regular basis, such that these mind states become one's default

It's been said that if every 8-year-old were taught to meditate, violence would be eliminated from the world in a generation. With the resulting (and researched confirmed) increased understanding, capacity for patience, empathy for others, and the habit of not reacting to agitated emotion, it would become far less likely to do harm to others, internationally and inter-personally. It's a fascinating thought experiment, and perhaps something that will come to pass.

But until then, meditation is available to you, and the mental harm you experience can begin to end. Meditation is available as your peace treaty with yourself and the world around you.


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