Meditation is the Intersection Between Biology, Psychology, & Spirituality

And it was the birthplace of Spark Perception!

Meditation optimizes body, mind, and spirit – the 3 essential facets of your life.

I don’t know a lot of people who meditate.

In my opinion, everyone should meditate. But it is not something you push on people.

You discover meditation by yourself.

To be fair, my social circle is small. They tell me, “I just can’t meditate, I get too impatient.” They do meditate through prayer, tarot, affirmations, yoga, and stretching. But this post isn’t about those kinds of meditation.

We will be talking about meditation centred on the breath. Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up all teach this type of meditation. They’ve helped take meditation to the mainstream.

Why is it mainstream now?

Because the modern world hasn’t been as prone to distraction as it is now. And once people catch a glimpse of what meditation really is, they’re hooked. I took the bait 4 years ago and meditation reeled me in.

Now, I have come to understand why it has had such a positive effect on me.

It’s because meditation acts on all 3 levels of the human organism – body, mind, and spirit.

Or put another way: our biology, psychology, and spirituality.

These are the main themes of my blog, sparkperception.com, and that is NOT a coincidence.

In many ways, sparkperception.com was birthed through consistent meditation sparking a change in my perception.

It did this by acting on my body, mind, and spirit.

This post will explain how meditation benefits each and how the breath is the common thread that seamlessly binds all 3 facets of human life together.

Meditation and Biology

Our minds function to sense the environment.

This environment consists of both the outer and inner worlds. Each can be chaotic or calm, loud and silent, charged or subdued.

Perception of our inner world is interoception whereas perceiving the outer world is exteroception.

A paper titled, “A Wandering Mind is An Unhappy Mind” by Killingsworth and Gilbert shows that the majority of people are interoceptive by nature and biased to be up in our heads. This, they argue, takes away from our happiness during everyday tasks.

Three brain regions govern our perception: the pre-frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the insula. These regions talk to each to make sure the internal “tone” matches the outer environment. When there is a mismatch, like an increased heartbeat when at rest, or feeling anxious when you’re not in danger, these brain regions let you know.

Neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman, recommends a 2-step mediation protocol:
  1. Recognize if you are interoceptive or exteroceptive at any given moment of the day.
  2. Meditate on the opposite end of the perception continuum.

i.e. If you are particularly interoceptive at the moment, meditate on your external environment by focusing on sights, sounds, smells, and the physical senses.

i.e. If you are hyper-aware of your environment and exteroceptive, close your eyes and shut down your vision. Huberman states that vision takes up 40% of our brain’s capacity. Therefore closing our eyes to focus on our internal state and breath inevitably shifts us to a more interoceptive state.

To learn more about this in detail, I recommend watching this episode of the Huberman Lab podcast.

Meditation is not our default state. We have the ancient limbic (i.e. instinctual and emotional) architecture of reptiles. This favours reaction over conscious response.

Meditation trains our fight-or-flight mode of being to be calm in the face of adversity.

Meditation and Psychology

“Stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation.” – From A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind

Psychologically speaking, the human mind is a universe of chaos.

We perpetuate our psychological turmoil by ruminating on it. Unless we train to redirect our focus, we remain in this chaos jumping from thought to thought. Thankfully, concentrated action calms us automatically. This is the reason why flow states can be so pleasurable.

As flow quiets our minds, we become one with the activity. However, they are impossible to enter if our minds wander away from the activity at hand. Science says this disconnect from what we are doing makes us unhappy.

But if mind-wandering is our brain’s default mode and it makes us unhappy during activities, why does it occur?

The Purpose of the Mind Wander
Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

I believe that it is what makes humans the most intelligent and adaptable species on Earth. Independent of any stimulus, our minds can project into the past and future to plan our next move. This imaginative capacity allows us to mould future actions based on the whims of our mind-wandering.

It is clearly adaptive for survival, but not for happiness.

And since most of us are fortunate enough to have our survival taken care of, this mind-wandering is largely maladaptive to tasks of this day and age.

We neutralize this maladaptive trait through meditation.

Any task requires a certain level of focused effort. Relax into this effort, and breathe as you work. Apply attentive grace, like a master-chef churning through orders with effortless flow.

Action makes meditation easier because you have something to focus on.

  • The dishes
  • Your desk job
  • And meditation’s traditional favourite: the breath or mantra

It doesn’t matter what, just try to do it with 100% presence. I am wrong in saying the word “try.” Once you become a seasoned meditator, you realize there is no “trying” to do it.

So let me rephrase: whatever action you find yourself doing, just “be” it.

Meditation and Spirituality

There are 2 reasons people are spiritual:

  1. To cope with the pain of existence
  2. To accept the pain of existence

They couldn’t differ more.

To cope means that there will always be an underlying problem you’re masking with spirituality.

Contrast this with acceptance…

You accept that existence and death are inevitable, beautiful, and natural. Acceptance means the cessation of all your wanting, clinginess, and striving for more. When we accept that life is suffering, we are less aversive towards the pain.

To be spiritual isn’t to live forever, it is to accept our mortality.

There is one and only one way suffering perpetuates in your life: if you ruminate on it.

Rumination is excessive thinking and concurrent worry. If we do not take control of our minds, you can be sure that rumination will. Meditation gives us control over rumination.

Stopping our rumination naturally moves us from thinking into being. Facilitated by meditation, this transition is the beginning of accepting our mortality. The worrying stops. The pain ceases. And silence is all that we’re with is…

The Breath – The Intersection of Biology, Psychology, & Spirituality

No action is as automatic and deliberate as the breath is.

Thankfully, it is automatic most of the time and occurs under our conscious awareness. A rare disorder, termed Ondine’s Curse, is when breathing ceases to be automatic. When we are asleep, breathing turns automatic. But people with Ondine’s curse, and its less severe cousin, sleep apnea, wake up frequently because they can’t breathe automatically. This can lead to death.

For most of the population, the autonomic nervous system largely controls breathing.

This is for the most part a good thing, as we have seen what the defects amount to in Ondine’s curse.

However, you gain an advantage when you can know when and how to voluntarily control your breathing.

In bouts of anxiety, this knowledge would’ve saved me a lot of unnecessary trouble. Whenever I am feeling anxious now, I breathe into it. I recognize the shallow chest breathing and opt for a deeper belly breath.

It literally reverses anxiety in a bottom-up fashion:

  • From the voluntary control of my biology which in turn changes how I feel and therefore my psychological reaction to it. All of this culminates to allow me to live spiritually.

I’ve said it before: there is no spirituality without first taking care of your biology and psychology.

And knowing how to meditate and control your breath is the ultimate self-care protocol there is.

The breath built Spark Perception.

And so are we…

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

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