Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson are both well-known names in the fields of psychology, science journalism and neuroscience, and they have recently co-authored a book laying out their most recent research on the benefits of meditation.
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, published September 2017
To begin with, the authors make an interesting distinction between meditative states, and meditative traits.
“… beyond the pleasant states meditation can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting traits that can result. An altered trait—a new characteristic that arises from a meditation practice—endures apart from meditation itself. Altered traits shape how we behave in our daily lives, not just during or immediately after we meditate.”
They discuss new data that appears to confirm how with practice – and particularly, with intensive retreat practice – deep and lasting transformations do occur. There’s a clear development from meditation as a method of experiencing pleasant states, to one that results in lasting changes, or traits.
They also distinguish between the “wide path” of practice: the mainstreaming of meditation techniques into mindfulness apps, for example; and the “deep path,”
“… which has always been the true goal of meditation. As we see it, the most compelling impacts of meditation are not better health or sharper business performance but, rather, a further reach toward our better nature. A stream of findings from the deep path markedly boosts science’s models of the upper limits of our positive potential.
The further reaches of the deep path cultivate enduring qualities like selflessness, equanimity, a loving presence, and impartial compassion—highly positive altered traits. … Now we can share scientific confirmation of these profound alterations of being—a transformation that dramatically ups the limits on psychological science’s ideas of human possibility.
The very idea of “awakening”—the goal of the deep path—seems a quaint fairy tale to a modern sensibility. Yet data from Richie’s lab, some just being published in journals as this book goes to press, confirm that remarkable, positive alterations in brain and behavior along the lines of those long described for the deep path are not a myth but a reality.”
Most people reading this post will already know this, and may not need any more proof of the benefits of meditation! Still, this book should be a useful resource to those who might be newer to meditation practice – or to anyone surrounded by hard-core sceptics – because their research debunks some of the pseudo-scientific hype that has been used to sell meditation as a mainstream cure-all.
” … we bemoan how the data all too often is distorted or exaggerated when science gets used as a sales hook. The mix of meditation and monetizing has a sorry track record as a recipe for hucksterism, disappointment, even scandal. All too often, gross misrepresentations, questionable claims, or distortions of scientific studies are used to sell meditation.”
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book, as an antidote to some of the wilder misrepresentations of meditation that seem to becoming more and more widespread.
Podcast interview with Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, by Dan Harris
For more information, check out this recent interview between the book’s authors and Dan Harris (of 10% Happier fame)