During most of our waking life our minds are engaged in a continuous internal dialogue in which the meaning and emotional associations of one thought trigger the next. We hear a snippet of music and suddenly we’re thinking about the first time we heard that song with an old boyfriend or girlfriend and how that relationship ended. If we’re still holding emotional pain over that ending, those feelings may bubble up and then our mind may veer into criticism, self-pity, or worries about the future.
All day long our mind spins stories about our work, our health, our finances, our family, or that funny look the store clerk gave us. Often we’re not even conscious of the internal soundtrack unspooling in our mind and yet it is the greatest source of stress in our lives. Although the mind is capable of creating life-affirming stories, it has what neuroscientists refer to as a negativity bias, a tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive ones. The negativity bias evolved as a survival instinct millions of years ago, as our ancestors focused much more attention on avoiding potential threats than on rewards. Stopping to savor a delicious meal or admire a Paleolithic sunset would have used valuable attentional resources, leaving our ancient ancestors more vulnerable to attack by a predator. Those who survived to pass on their genes paid a lot of attention to danger. Their legacy is a brain that is primed to focus on negative experiences and has a tendency to get stuck in conditioned patterns of thinking, returning again and again to thoughts of anxiety, depression, and limitation.
The Healing Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is one of the best tools we have to counter the brain’s negativity bias, release accumulated stress, foster positive experiences and intentions, and enjoy the peace of present moment awareness. A large body of research has established that having a regular meditation practice produces tangible benefits for mental and physical health, including:
Let’s look in more detail at how meditation benefits the body, mind, and spirit.
Meditation Reduces Stress and Burnout
Chronic, unmanaged stress can make you sick and accelerate aging. As many scientific studies have found, prolonged stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach ulcers, autoimmune diseases, anxiety, cancer, insomnia, chronic fatigue, obesity, depression, and accelerated aging.