Emotional control – understanding and accessing the benefits of meditation

Regular readers will know that I’ve been meditating for three years now and it’s an important part of my life. Meditation helps me deal with stress, make better decisions, keep my energy levels up and feel happier. For a while I was a bit of a meditation zealot, but I stopped that because it wasn’t helping people. The learning curve for meditation is too steep and the benefits too unclear for most people to make it a habit. Since then I’ve been looking for ways to make the benefits clearer and the learning curve easier. Headspace and Calm.com are great, but I’m looking for something that goes further.

I was at a breakfast with a group of leaders last week organised by my friend Rohan Narse where we meditated a little and took some time to reflect on where we are with our lives. It was a peaceful yet invigorating experience. Rohan introduced the session with a quote from the philosopher Viktor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Rohan was making the point that the more we learn to pause the more we can take control and exercise our power to choose. A quick focus on the breath, as taught in meditation, is a great way to pause and take control.

There’s a good article on CityAM this morning which talks to this subject. Their point is that by regulating our breathing we can first learn to recognise the emotions we are feeling and then later learn to change the emotions to help us do whatever we are trying to do. The examples they give are the ability to switch from frustration to determination or to conjure up a feelings of excitement or enthusiasm.

They say there are 34,000 distinct emotional states, but if we can start to distinguish as few as fifty on a regular basis then we have the potential to start changing what we feel.

That’s very powerful.

It is for wiser minds than mine to explore, but I’m wondering two things:

  1. if ‘taking a pause’ is an easier way to access the early benefits of meditation than learning to meditate
  2. if learning emotional control is a clear enough benefit that people will find it easier to motivate themselves to build a habit

I like to make an analogy with exercise. Fifty years ago nobody much did exercise and the health benefits weren’t well understood. Now everybody knows the benefits and a large percentage of people have built good exercise habits. I believe that in fifty years time we will be able to say something similar about meditation.