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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Mental Distillation

Whether it’s from cringe-worthy midday television talk shows, side advertisements on webpages or on the local newspaper listings of weekly activities, we have all come across the promotion of meditation as a tested and proven method of health maintenance. But how many of us follow through to a point of action – and RSVP to the advertisement to say yes, I’ll be there? Or even something easier, clicking subscribe to a lifestyle guru’s Youtube channel? You know the answer, most of us will simply acknowledge the potential benefits of adding meditation to our saturated daily routines and raincheck it to the “will attend to” list.

Our disregard for meditation practices may stem from its association with corny midday television talk-shows. We may think that it’s an activity reserved for housewives, life after retirement and the category of people blessed with an abundance of time and leisure. In the day to day running of normal university students, 9 – 5 clock workers, working parents and business executives it would be laughing matter to have the luxury of 20 minutes of deep, undisturbed mental distillation. So the meditation begins for one minute. Then? The kids come yelling for dinner. Or the mental note that the electricity bill needs to be paid. Or the ringing cellphone reminding you that work does not stay within the confines of 9am to 5pm. Quite simply, it may not be that people don’t want to meditate, it’s that at any point in time, there are so many other pressing matters that slipping into the state of meditation itself would simply take too long.

But what’s the problem here? It’s that meditation is seen as a practice of added value, and not as an essential with the same weighting as cooking breakfast for your kids (or yourself). Switching on a YouTube channel to calmly watch TheHonestGuy’s latest video is often relegated to calmer Sunday mornings, as a routine afforded the same value as a tempting sugary snack. Occasional but relished when experienced. But whilst the sugary snack poses the only benefit of a serotonin-induced satisfaction rush (and zero biological health benefits), meditation comes with only mental and physical health benefits.

The modern world is convenient, agile and in-your-face. Whilst the perks of a wrist-watch being able to receive phone calls is sung loud and clear by glossy white Apple commercials, the less considered side of the matter is we are now, more than ever, under the influence of technology and the broadening world of the Internet of Things. And whilst a counterargument may posit that the very purpose of technology exists to aid us in a smoother running of our lives, the commercial world makes it less of this situation. We are easily convinced that we need a subscription, and whether it be to an online fitness publication or an on-demand entertainment service, we often become trapped in a cycle of subscribing, realising that they are superfluous, and then struggling to cancel our subscriptions.

What relation does this have to meditation? In a world of instant alerts and information entering or invading into the sanctity of our minds, we need to decide what is purposeful and what just constitutes temporary spurs of excitement. Do we really need to have Snapchat on ‘Popup notification’ status or would our time be better spent reading articles about pertinent world issues. Meditation reduces agitation and mental fidgeting. Admit it, how often do you absent-mindedly open your Instagram feed just because your brain has been conditioned for the instant gratification of curated pictures of sometimes contrived happiness? Your real source of energy is where pure concentration draws from, and is rooted from deeper motivation, whether it be a desire to nurture your family or building a fortune to one day, travel the world. Definitely not adrenaline surges to ‘one-up’ your friend’s social media boasted achievements.

Given the increasing popularity of anti-anxiety medications, there is a visible trend of stress-induced agitation affecting the population. Too often, we are replacing needed moments of inner rest with continually advancing our work interests or attending to our chores, thus increasing our demand for drugs to artificially regulate our emotional and nervous system. Sure, money is necessary, but will the short term suffering for a long term financial safety net result also in long-term irreparable health damage?

Meditation, for a paltry 20 minutes per day, may be a slow practice to make a habit, but its benefit in self-regulation will ripple in effect to all other areas of our functioning lives. Studies have shown that as a result, brain signalling in the left part of the prefrontal cortex will increase and activity on the right side, will decrease. As both sides are respectively responsible for positive and negative emotions, the gradual benefit is clear. Moreover, our ability to internalise ambition and disregard the mercurial nature of ‘temporary highs and lows’ parallels with the elevated self-awareness that meditation brings. In professions such as banking and finance, when attentiveness to detail and operation occurs at break-neck speed, the ability to be unperturbed to outside distracting factors is crucial.

When times get tough and solutions don’t appear, the adage of just “go with the flow” often is advised. But what is the flow? Intuition? A product of a backlog of circumstances which brought you to this current predicament? Meditation visualises the “flow” in clearer light, and you may just find it easier to go with it.

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