The Morality of Meditation

Everywhere you look these days, there’s another study touting the benefits of meditation. With just a few weeks of meditation practice, we might be able to reduce anxiety, increase attention and boost creativity among other things. Now it turns out that a person who meditates might not be the only one reaping the benefits.

David DeSteno, a professor at Northeastern University, conducted a study that showed that people who participated in an 8-week meditation course were much more compassionate towards strangers in distress than people who had not completed the course. He outlined the study in a piece in the Sunday Review section of the New York York Times last July.

Dr. DeSteno set up an experiment in which the participants came into a room with three chairs, two of which were already occupied. The study participant of course sat in the empty chair. At that point, a person on crutches hobbled in, moaned in pain and leaned against the wall. Like a Candid Camera set-up, the two other people, who were paid to participate in the scenario, ignored her, and the study participant had to make a choice. Follow suit, or give up his own seat. Fifty percent of the meditators chose the compassionate option, compared to only 16 percent of the non-meditators. DeSteno speculates that the reason for this difference lies in meditation’s ability to make us aware of the interconnectedness of all living things.

If meditation can make us more compassionate towards strangers, imagine what it can do for the important relationships in our life.

Turning inward mindfully for a few minutes each day can allow us to have a more compassionate understanding of our spouses and partners. It will make us less reactive with our children when our buttons are being pushed. It can alter our feelings towards our neighbors and co-workers. It literally can change our world and it all starts with a few deep breaths. You can read more about Dr. DeSteno’s experiment here.