In the wake of the recent tragedies in Boston and elsewhere one can’t help but get somewhat mired down in this dystopian world that the media shows us on a daily basis. I think I can speak for the great majority when I say it’s exhausting and overwhelming to watch such destruction when most of us generally just want peace. As I listen to people in the media, and even engage in conversations with people in the community it seems like events like these leave people with many more questions than answers. The most common questions I hear though are “why is there so much violence in our world today?” and “how can a world that is filled with so much violence ever be transformed into one of peace?”.
The problem and the answer is education. Education has been so mechanical in the past, meaning it has had no real impact on our Souls or our Spirits. We have been pushing kids through a system that basically teaches them to be good at memorizing facts. Maybe we are educating the brain but what good is it if you fail to educate the heart? There have been many violent dictators that held a wealth of knowledge learned in books and schools. Knowledge is only one part of education. Part of educating must also be teaching love, compassion, and service. But I’m not talking about educating someone on the facts of love, compassion, and service. That is just a continuation of this outdated educational system that’s failing us. What I’m talking about is education through a holistic experience. We cannot have such a fragmented education and expect holistic results. If we integrate education to include the mind, body, and spirit and then we can physically transform ourselves and our children into more compassionate and empathetic beings. How do we do that? The answer is MEDITATION.
Many people spend 3 hours or more a week training their bodies in some way with cardiovascular exercise, weight training, sports training, etc. How many people spend that same amount of time training their minds with meditation? I think one of the problems is because until recently we didn’t know about neuroplasticity. We didn’t realize how flexible the brain really is. Not only is the brain always growing and changing but it is extremely trainable as well. Just look at the documentary Dhamma Brothers. It’s about a group of prisoners from the Donaldson Correction Facility in Alabama who were taught meditation. It is called the Vipassana Program. Research shows that this program increases mindfulness and emotional intelligence, improves physiological and psychological well-being, and decreases stress and anger. Imagine the difference in our society if a criminal went into the correctional system with one type of brain chemistry and came out with another. Imagine a criminal going into prison with rage and hate and coming out with compassion and forgiveness. But what if these brain changes could occur before they even had the chance to commit a crime? Can you imagine a society that trained minds to be compassionate at a young age?
The crazy thing about an idea like this is that it requires such little effort and hardly any money. How much money do we invest in weight rooms for football players? Whatever the cost you can be sure it is far more than the cost of a meditation mat. Every school has the means to teach meditation. If every school taught compassion meditation or mindfulness meditation for just 10-15 minutes per day, by the time our children graduated from high school, in addition to having obtained the necessary knowledge for college they would also be empathetic and compassionate beings.
Psychologist Richard Davidson who heads up the new field of contemplative neuroscience compares the act of strengthening neural systems to the act of strengthening our muscles. His studies show that meditation strengthens the brain circuits that are responsible for empathy. When studying the brains of monks who have meditated for more than 10,000 hours he found that there were permanent changes to the limbic system. In other words, their brains had been physically transformed to be more empathetic.
Re-wiring our brain circuits for compassion doesn’t have to be left up just to our schools alone. We don’t have to wait one more day before implementing some kind of meditation practice in our own homes. Meditation should be a priority in our families as a healthy mind is the foundation for our well-being. The Dalai Lama said “we can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” This is so true. The outer world is a reflection of our inner world. Transformation must begin from within. If we re-wire ourselves internally to be peaceful beings then the external world will naturally become peaceful. World peace is not a far off fictional utopian fantasy that can never be obtained. On the contrary it is closer than you could ever imagine because it isn’t “out there” that we have to search for it. Peace is waiting to be found right here, right now, within me, and within you.
Rev. Marcy Ellen is the author of The Soul Truth; Reflections for the Waking Soul. She is also a spiritual channel, a Reiki Master, and a radio host. www.revmarcyellen.com