Putting the Science of Meditation into a Spiritual Perspective

In my last post I referred readers to the Psychology Today web site where Rebecca Gladding, M.D., author of “This Is Your Mind On Meditation” does a nice job explaining the science of how the mind responds to meditation in a relatively short article. She takes on a very complex subject, but in a short article important information gets left out. The key information in her article is how the self-assessment function of our brain, when strengthened through meditation, helps us to respond with compassion and empathy for others who are not like us. A reader posted a question, “What about those who typically fail to think about themselves, but can empathize with others, and are, in general, more concerned about others than self? Will the meditation harm them?” The question, referring to this movement toward compassion and empathy, seems to ask if the “direction of change” during meditation is one-way. Dr. Gladding responds by referring to a previous post on the Psychology Today site, “Is Compassion For Suckers?” Dr. Gladding describes compassion as “…concerned with understanding someone’s situation, being present for them, loving them and wishing for things to be different…compassion is other-focused. It is not about us or what we need.” She goes on to say that compassion for others must be balanced by compassion for oneself and having appropriate boundaries. Without self-compassion and appropriate boundaries we are susceptible to being abused and taken advantage of by others. We can give so much of ourselves that we end up exhausted, without resources, and unable to continue providing help.

Dr. Gladding’s articles provide valuable insight, but there is more to understand about how meditation functions and how the mind contributes to our well being, especially from a spiritual perspective. Let’s sort through the issues.

One of the most important results of meditation is perspective. Meditation helps us to see other people and the world around us for what they are. We should not place intention or motivation in places—like inside another person—when we do not have knowledge of their inner condition. This perspective includes the ability to see oneself truthfully. In other words, a better understanding of truth is an important result of meditation. In understanding these principles of perspective and truth, we understand that the self-assessment function enhanced by meditation that Dr. Gladding describes is not one way. That is, something is wrong if meditation leads us to use compassion and empathy in a way that could harm us as the giver. Meditation will eventually reveal self-destructive behavior because it moves us in the direction of truth, the direction of seeing clearly. The spiritual corollary of this is found in Jesus responding to the question about the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). To love God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul is also to love the truth. We find that in the Oneness of God love and truth are joined together and cannot be separated. What we might identify as love without truth is not love. Without truth we confuse obsession, infatuation, physical sensations, and other forms of selfishness with love.

Understanding why we are in relation to others helps us work through the dynamics she is describing. We are in a mutual relationship with God, where God, through the world in which we live, provides us with everything we need physically and spiritually. Again, taking note of what Jesus taught in Matthew 25 and John 14, our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship to God. There is a synergy that Jesus is describing. Here are all the related components:

-Love and truth are joined together and are part of the Oneness of God.

-What is true for us is true for every human being: God is within us and we are within God.

-Having love for Truth, love for God, love for others, love for oneself— are all related, like mirror images of each other.

This world functions synergistically when everything is in the proper balance. If we lose truth, our love loses perspective. If we love others, but not ourselves, we deny God as the source of all life and love because we deny ourselves. If we love only ourselves and not others, again, we deny God.

Meditation helps us gain perspective, it helps us acknowledge our wholeness in God, it functions to restore balance. Compassion and empathy keep us functioning well in our relationships—love and truth energizes this vast network of mutuality in which we exist. Our relationships are like mirrors that reflect back to us the information that tells us when we are in balance and when we are out of balance. Giving and receiving become acts of restoring balance. We experience this balance, or lack of balance, through the absence or presence of suffering in our lives. When we are selfish, or unnecessarily generous (both are an imbalance of giving and receiving) we suffer because the process of mutuality is violated, our wholeness is temporarily unacknowledged. We are nourished by life, nourished by giving, restored by love, transformed by truth. Suffering is essential because it is the clue that our network of mutuality is out of balance. To repeat: Meditation helps us gain perspective, it helps us acknowledge our wholeness in God, and it functions to restore balance.