May 26, 2016    Psychology

Unexpected Consequences of Meditation

I jumped on the bandwagon and started meditating about six months ago. I was expecting that I would be a happier person but that’s not what happened. Even if I am indeed a happier person now, the effect is too subtle. The only noticeable effect of meditation for me is that now I value human beings more than inanimate objects or animals. I understand that this is how you are supposed to feel if you are a normal human being, but I wasn’t—probably still not. If a MacBook, a dog, or a human being (assuming I don’t know them personally) were to call for my help simultaneously, I would have had a hard time choosing one. Not anymore.

Now after meditating 20 minutes twice a day for the last six months, my priorities have clearly shifted to humans. Ideologically, I find this disturbing because I still do not see any rational reasons for privileging humans, and some of my friends (and my MacBook and dog) might accuse me of selling out. It’s hard for me to describe how strange this feels.

Most of you take for granted that you prioritize humans. You’ve spent your whole life with those priorities, and have probably never even thought about what it’s like to flip them around. But, you are actually the weird one. Think about it. Why humans? Humans are destroying this earth through overpopulation, pollution, and exploitation of natural resources. Our earth would be better off without us humans. There is no logical reason why we should help a human being before we help a tree, pigeon, or even a rat.

This shift has caused cascading effects in many other areas of my life. Although they are subtle, it’s pretty significant. For instance, miraculously, now I don’t mind having small talk with strangers. I used to feel that small talk is an utter waste of time, especially with strangers. Many of you would probably argue that you can learn and gain a lot from interacting with strangers. That is true but have you thought about interacting with inanimate objects, plants, and animals you randomly come across in your life? The same benefits apply here. Humans aren’t all that special in terms of learning and gaining. You gravitate towards humans simply because nature has programmed you that way; it’s not because you have methodically proven that humans yield better results.

Now that my preference has shifted, I enjoy talking to strangers. A few days ago, I walked into to a Subway sandwich shop, and asked, “Hey, how ya doin’? How’s business?” The rational side of my brain was internally asking, “What am I doing?” I noticed that it’s not about the content of the interaction; it’s the interaction in itself that is enjoyable. After all, when I play with a Rubik’s Cube, I don’t talk to it but still enjoy it.

If you did not have the preference for humans, you would find that interacting with an object is actually more reliable in terms of the probability of enjoying it. When you go to a party at someone’s house, you might see a plate full of exotic cheeses. What is the likelihood of not enjoying it? In contrast, what is the probability of enjoying a conversation with a random person? When you are not prejudiced in this way, you would find that playing with a robotic vacuum cleaner your friend has in his apartment is more enjoyable and educational than talking to a stranger.

Another thing I noticed with the shift is that I feel less frustrated with human behavior because I no longer judge humans against the standards of inanimate objects like MacBook. I also became more accepting of my failure to achieve the same standards. This is a form of favoritism and self-indulgence. Ideologically it’s dubious.

As to why meditation caused this shift in me, I have no answer. Right now, I’m quite curious to see where this leads. And, it’s fascinating to finally see how normal people see the world. After all, I’ve spent nearly 50 years with my way of seeing the world; I’m happy to see a different movie from here on.