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Meditation myth buster #3: "Meditation will turn me into an unfeeling zombie!"

As climate change ramps up, social issues abound, and our modern globalized society enters uncharted waters, it can sometimes be difficult to see how meditation can help.


"Sure," you might think to yourself, "it must feel good to sit around navel-gazing all day, but now is the time for action! Also, won't meditation just turn me into some kind of emotionless zombie anyway?"


The truth is that the world needs meditators now more than ever.


There seems to be a lingering misconception that meditation will deaden your emotions entirely, or give you such a "zoomed out" perspective on reality that you'll no longer care about your fellow human, or participating in activism, for example.


It's true that meditation does give you increased perspective on your thoughts and emotions. Over time, you start to take your thoughts less personally, to see them as weather patterns that arise, circulate for a while, and then dissolve. In other words, you become less attached to your thoughts as being ultimate arbiters of truth, and so gain the freedom to choose to act differently.


But, in the context of meditation, being detached from thoughts and emotions doesn't mean a lack of emotion, or a lack of empathy. Usually, when we use the word "detached," it conjures up images of an uncaring sociopath, someone who sees the world as a sort of dream, or perhaps someone overly-permissive who has no value system or morals guiding them.


In meditation, detachment from thoughts actually gives rise to compassion. By seeing our thoughts and feelings less personally, we begin to realize that we are so much more than our thinking. We see that we're the witness, the consciousness that is seeing all the thoughts, emotions, and sensations coming and going. We are so much more than a set of opinions, or preferences, or judgements. As Walt Whitman would put it, we contain multitudes.


Detaching from a fixed perspective or set of opinions about the world allows us to gain firsthand insight into how interconnected we are with all people, animals, plants, and minerals. Even classifying the world into such categories starts to feel a little bit silly: from the meditator's perspective, we're all one beautiful, seething cosmic soup.


Additionally, by gaining some critical distance from our thoughts, we see that our perceptions and judgements, especially about others, may not be as ironclad as we thought. We realize that every human on earth wants the same things that we do: connection, happiness, health, and security for themselves and their families. When we see past the veil of mind, we see how much more alike we are than different.


Finally, when you relate in a healthier way to your own emotions, it also has the secondary benefit of allowing you to have healthier relationships with others. When you take care of your own inner world, only then do you have the energy, capacity, and empathy to care for those around you, or to deal with difficult relationships in a more sane way. Rather than cutting you off from human connection, meditation allows you to foster truer connections with others, based on deep compassion and the insight of the interconnectedness of all beings.


As our global civilization enters into an era that is bound to be rife with some of the greatest collective challenges humanity has ever faced, it will be crucial for there to be individuals of integrity and compassion helping to steer the ship amid the chaos. Will you be one of them?


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