07/21/2014 12:56 EDT | Updated 09/20/2014 05:59 EDT

What Meditation Can Teach the World

Being on the brink of a third intifada, a plane in Ukraine being shot down for no apparent reason, 223 schoolgirls still missing in Nigeria, there's plenty of injustice going on in the world right now.

I am, myself, dealing with injustice as I write those lines. Don't we all?

The hardest thing to deal with as a human being might just be in fact injustice, as we have absolutely no power over it. Being wrongfully judged, or to pay the hard price for an unjust act or occurrence is something we are all bound to be confronted to.

My problems are petty compared to the state of the world we live in. Yet, we're all looking in the same direction: where can we find hope? How do we put an end to suffering?

For Sharon Salzberg, a New York Times best-selling author and influential teacher of Buddhist meditation, the syllabus of meditation is pretty clear: it consists of practical, accessible tools to help deepen concentration, mindfulness, lovingkindness and compassion.

"We rely on these qualities when things change though we would much prefer stability, when we feel out of control of events, and above all when we want a quality of happiness that is not so fragile, so dependent on shifting conditions", she writes in her book Real Happiness.

And life is nothing but movement, change. After all, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote, "Loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature's delight." That was in 168 AD.

Ironically, the saying itself is as valid as ever.

One of the fundamental features of all living things is that you change over time, and to stay still, in chemical terms or biochemical terms; to reach equilibrium, is to die.

Meditation might just offer what the world needs, if only human beings could be gifted with a modicum of mindfulness. And mindfulness is, if you ask me, widely, appallingly underestimated. Not to be confused with self-awareness!

In fact, according to a 1999 study entitled, "The effects of mindfulness and self-consciousness on persistence" not all self-awareness is a good thing.

Are you familiar with the "meditating president', Joachim Chissano of Mozambique? In 1992, Mozambique's civil war finally came to an end, after roughly two decades of destruction and around a million casualties. Chissano -- who had won the war, behaved, surprisingly, in a rather highly empathetic way. Chissano went as far as to treat the rebels with respect. There were no prosecutions or punishments on his part.

That is because Joachim Chissano had learned transcendental meditation a few years before.

In 2003, scientists at the University of Wisconsin scanned the brain of people with a long experience of Buddhist meditation. They found that their left pre-frontal lobes (the areas of the brain linked with positive moods and emotions) were unusually active i.e. they seemed to be happier than normal. In a 2011 study at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness sixteen people meditated for an average of 27 minutes each day. MRI scans showed after 8 weeks, increased 'grey matter' in parts of the brain associated with compassion, introspection and learning.

"Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet this is not what is meant by compassion. Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception," Sharon Salzberg brilliantly wrote.

I think it's self-explanatory. The world would greatly benefit from meditation.

*Sharon Salzberg, one of the top influential meditation teachers in the world will be offering a conference in Montreal on August 23 and 24.


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