Friends often tell me when discussing Vipassana that they are scared of becoming “mute” to the world by meditating too much. If you are wondering why mute, meditation (broadly speaking) teaches people not to react to the emotions that they feel or notice. While this description is generally true, it is missing a few things. Firstly, the word “immediately” before “react” in the description. It’s not about not reacting; it’s about not having a “knee jerk” reaction to what we experience. Instead, being conscious or thoughtful about your reactions. For example, imagine a colleague says something rude toward you, instead of immediately reacting or getting upset, you’d quickly pause to reflect on your emotions and determine what the best response is (no response is also an option). As you become a stronger mediator, this happens naturally, simply because you have more control of your state of mind.
Secondly, science is beginning to confirm that mindfulness meditation can literally change how our brains are internally connected and the size of certain parts of our brain. These changes have been shown to make us more compassionate, while decreasing areas in the brain that are related to fear and stress. For some people, when they see something disturbing or upsetting, they literally shy away from it. The experience or image triggers something within their minds that is too hard to handle. We often see the same reaction occur when we turn away from a gory or scary scene in a fictional movie. This is because of different physical attributes of our minds (it varies from person to person). With a mindfulness meditation practice, it has been proven that, instead of looking away, practitioners are able to have more control of their emotions.
This would potentially mean being able to take action, instead of being completely incapacitated.
Lastly, the practice of mindfulness meditation is about being continuously aware of your breath or the sensations on your body. This requires one key thing: attention! As you continue to practice, the level of improved attention carries throughout your normal life. So, instead of “turning off” our brain as we might while doing dishes, watching TV, running or even hanging out with friends, we’re incredibly present. In the past those things might have been tiresome, stressful or tedious to focus on; especially after a long day at work or stressful social situations. With regular meditation it is no longer an issue.
Mindfulness meditation is like a workout for the mind. It is like going to the gym and lifting weights for a month. Next time you have to to carry a few grocery bags or a large box, it would feel much easier.
So don’t worry, Vipassana or other mindful meditation practices aren’t going to turn you into a monk (not that being a monk is bad), or cause you to lose interest with the world. On the contrary, if anything, you’ll become more excited about life and connected with everything around you.