Today's Meditation Findings: Electric Shock or Stress Relief?

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Two studies were recently released, one from Carnegie Mellon University and the other from the University of Virginia. While the first shows the benefits of meditation in stress reduction (really? haven't we proved that already?), the second came with headlines like, "Most would rather receive an electric shock than meditate."

I call bull. In the University of Virginia study, participants weren't asked to meditate, they were asked to "be alone with their thoughts." They called these bouts "thinking periods."

I don't know about you, but as a kid I spent a lot of time in the "thinking chair." The idea was that I could think about what I'd done wrong. How I'd transgressed. I like to meditate, but if someone asked me to sit and be alone with my thoughts, well, I wouldn't like that so much. In fact, it's exactly the opposite of what meditation actually is.

It's true, you can't shut off the mind and not think. But meditation is not free-form, random thinking. The whole idea is to not think about things. Traditions differ but typically encourage focusing the mind on either a mantra, or the breath, or some kind of visual (often a mandala). When thoughts emerge, the idea is to let the thoughts pass by, rather than embroider them with more thinking.

To say people would rather administer an electric shock than meditate is to vastly misunderstand meditation. It would seem the study organizers have little to no experience with meditation, or in their academic zeal to not influence the study, they went too far in the wrong direction. It's meaningless.