Two ways meditation improves insight

By December 4, 2019 January 26th, 2020 No Comments

I’m a massive believer in the power of meditation and I’m far from alone. These days there’s a lot of talk about how good meditation is for us.

But there isn’t much explanation of how or why.

I’d love to see more, and hat tip to Shinzen Young and John Vevaeke who are thinking and talking about exactly that, and who provided the inspiration for this post.

So for me, there are two reasons why a good meditation practice brings a consistent improvement to our ability to generate insight. That’s certainly something I’ve felt for myself, but until now I didn’t understand the mechanism. (And for the cynics out there, I acknowledge I might be kidding myself 🙂 Certainty of what’s going on in our minds is highly elusive…).

Mechanism 1: Meditation improves our self awareness, specifically of our emotions. Shinzen Young calls this “Sensory Clarity”. Gone (at least partially) are murky feelings that cloud our thinking and bring unconscious biases which frustrate our ability to see clearly and generate insight. Instead we are better able to isolate and understand our emotions so we can see things for what they are, making it easier to see the new connections and different perspectives which are the bedrock of insight.

Mechanism 2: Meditation makes us practice zooming out and zooming in. Sometimes we are focusing on our breath, and then to do that well we might zoom in to focus on the sensations at the tip of our nose as the breath comes in or out. At other times we are zooming out from being inside the thoughts in our minds to watching them drifting in and out of our consciousness from above (this is sometimes called meta-cognition). Zooming in and out like this is a practice for both breaking problems down into their constituent parts and stepping above to solve them laterally. Two well understood methods for generating insight and solving problems.