- focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
Are you happy? Where do you derive happiness from? In this COVID-19 situation with a lot of negative news around the world, I actually don’t find myself smiling/laughing as much as before (it also doesn’t help that I’m partly separated from my family by the borders).
Recently I watched a TED talk by Matt Killingsworth who did a study on people’s happiness moment-to-moment. Shall not dwell into the details, if you’re interested you can watch the entire video in this link. Anyway, the result of the study showed that people who are focusing on their task are generally happier and mind wandering is likely a cause of unhappiness. And it also suggests that people mind-wander at least 30% of the time.
Let’s do some self reflection here, how many times in a day are we actually single-mindedly focused on our task at hand? I’ve got to admit that I’m guilty of overloading my brain and mind, I even find it hard to watch a YouTube video by itself, there is always a window to play Tetris beside the YouTube video. Especially since this COVID-19 outbreak, working from home has introduced a lot more distractions. How many of us let our minds wander during a telcon, thinking about what to eat for lunch/dinner; thinking about that laundry that has yet to be done; thinking about when we can get to travel again?
I might have wandered off, but we’re going to talk about meditation real soon. In a research that was conducted on 48 undergraduate students who were split into nutrition class and a mindfulness class (which consisted of focused-attention meditation and 10min of daily meditation outside of class) over a 2-week span. Results showed significant improvement in the working memory capacity of students who were in the mindfulness class.
In both the probe-caught task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) and self-reported TUTs, students in the mindfulness class showed a reduction in mind-wandering after 2 weeks.
Before I go into the scientific explanation as to why the results are this way, would like to talk a bit about meditation and what it is. The 6th limb of yoga is Dharana, defined as “The mind thinks about one object and avoids other thoughts; awareness of the object is still interrupted.” (Maehle (2006: p. 234)). This is the pre-step before meditation, Dhyana, the 7th limb of yoga. In layman terms, meditation technically asks for the mind to be blank without any outstanding thoughts, not even one.
Students in the above mentioned research are introduced to Dharana, where the mind is trained to concentrate and focus on only one thought, which could be the breathing. Like how athletes train to improve their performances; how we run to improve our stamina, we can also train our minds to concentrate. This is what meditation is about. We let go of the distractions in the world and learn to control our mind. We can concentrate on that one item we set our minds to without it wandering off thinking about what to eat next.
If you’re just like me who struggles to maintain focus, there is good evidence (scientifically backed if you’re science-driven) pointing to meditation as a method to dampen distracting thoughts and reduce mind-wandering. I have been very long-winded, but to answer the question of whether to meditate, my answer is yes.
P.S: Besides the points that I’ve presented above, there were also studies relating better working memory capacity to improvements in IQ. So, if you’d like to be happy and improve your IQ, I suggest you start meditating today!