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Why Meditate?

As a researcher in Affective Sciences, I explored the structure of our affect, which is the present feeling that is our life. I discovered that it is supported by the three dimensions: activation, tension and representation. These same three dimensions define us at any moment of our life. In other words, we live in those three dimensions: our level of energy, our level of tension, and the well-being or malaise that we feel (whatever the cause we assign it).

Through neuroscience, we can explore the area of the brain generating the affects; the limbic system which is located in the temporal lobe. The main function of our limbic system is survival, memory assessment and storage are its secondary purpose. Two of the major parts of the limbic system are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala is responsible for our ability to feel and to perceive feelings in other people. It mediates and controls major affective activities like friendship, love and affection, the expression of mood and mainly fear, rage and aggression. Being at the center of our system for danger identification, the amygdala is fundamental for self-preservation. When triggered, it gives rise to fear and anxiety which lead us into a stage of alertness and ready to flee or fight. On the other hand, the hippocampus plays an essential role for long term memory, it allows us to compare the conditions of a present threat with similar past experiences thus enabling us to choose the best options to guarantee our survival. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can show us which parts of the brain are more active, but its temporal and spatial span is still far too large to pinpoint the trigger of an affect that takes only 250 milliseconds. The technology to study affects with precision is still to be created.

My interest for meditation rose when I noticed that the three dimensions of affect have to be lowered as much as possible when meditating. Activation as we stay still, tension as we relax, and representation as our thinking shuts down. After practicing meditation for over a decade, I believe it is fundamental in developing our affective space, in the same way that education develops our representative space. When we grow up, we learn new concepts and we get the ability to play with them in our mind as we play with ideas, representations. We can process or manipulate them while still dissociate ourselves from these concepts, “the name of the thing is not the thing”.

Meditation allows us to do the same with affects, with our feelings. We can see them from the inside, observe them, and distance ourselves from them. Meditation helps me to see that I am sad, helps me to see that sadness inside myself. I am not my sadness, in the same way that I am not a policeman or a thief when we played policeman and thieves as kids, the name doesn’t make me become what it represents. I can think a concept and not become it, with meditation I can feel something and not become it. I exist separately from what I feel. This distance is a form of freedom, as I am not triggered to react to how life events make me feel; I can choose my own path. Through regular practice of meditation, we become more skilled at distancing ourselves from negative feelings and embracing positive feelings. The natural path of any human being is happiness, when we practice meditation we smile and laugh more easily and more often.

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