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Mindful : December 2017
That idea excites Davidson. “In this historical era,” he says, “I think we have a moral obligation to bring these practices to as many people as we can, to heal the world and cultivate a more collective kind of warm-heartedness, which I think most people would agree the world could use more of. It’s akin, I think, to what the climate sci- entists are doing. We can’t just collect data and sit in our labs anymore.” “In most parts of the world today, people practice some kind of personal physical hygiene,” he continues. “My aspiration is that people will care for their minds in the same way. They will engage in simple practices that will be disseminated very widely. I’m convinced the world would be a very different place if we can cross that tipping point.” ● Eventually, Davidson believes, future research will lead to a much more personalized approach to meditation: “We will be able to specify with more precision which kinds of practices will be most helpful for which kinds of people.” Certain kinds of biological changes, for example, are more closely asso- ciated with retreat practice than with daily practice. But it’s unclear whether it’s the long hours of prac- tice, the community support, or other factors that produce the results. There’s not much good research on length of practice either. If a new meditation student decides to allocate 20 minutes a day to practice, should he or she do all 20 minutes in a single session or four five-minute sessions or even 10 two-minute sessions? “Right now we have absolutely no idea what the optimal strategy for producing enduring change is,” says Davidson. “These are critical questions that can be addressed scientifically and need to be if this work is really going to have broad impact.” The good news is that it doesn’t take much time meditating to generate measurable results. “ We’ve shown in the laboratory that meditating for a half hour a day for two weeks is enough to produce changes in the brain,” he adds. “Most people recog- nize that if you go to the gym for two weeks and work out every day with a personal trainer, you’ll feel a differ- ence. But those changes aren’t going to persist unless you keep exercis- ing. Meditation is very similar. It’s a form of mental exercise. And once you begin to experience beneficial changes, it will inspire you to continue practicing for the rest of your life.” Eventually, Davidson believes, future research will lead to a much more personalized approach to med- itation. As our scientific knowledge of how meditation works expands, he predicts, “we will be able to specify with more precision which kinds of practices will be most helpful for which kinds of people.” This is not unlike the revolution that’s currently underway in medicine, where doc- tors are prescribing treatments based on patients’ genetic makeup. But, in the case of meditation, Davidson thinks the practices will be based on a configuration of your cognitive and emotional strengths and weaknesses— a profile of your well-being. Hugh Delehanty is a former editor for People, Sports Illustrated, Utne Reader, and AARP The Magazine, and coauthor with NBA coach Phil Jackson of the bestseller Eleven Rings. He embarked on a creativity and mindfulness retreat for Mindful in June 2017.