‘I went back to the office and found a mistake on the masthead that I would never have found before I took this course.”
That’s what this woman, in publishing for a large prestigious university, had to say after a brief stint with mindfulness meditation. She went on to explain how much time catching that mistake saved them all.
And, we can figure that, since time is money, good chance finding that mistake saved them money too — if nothing else the cost in time and money of issuing an apology or correction for whatever it was.
This happened about 20 years ago and, of course, as a student, teacher, and practitioner of mindfulness myself, it was then — and still is — music to my ears.
But is was not until this week that I found the research to explain why and how that happened for her.
There are many different kinds of meditation. Researchers at Michigan State University took 200 participants through one 20-minute open monitoring meditation exercise. Unlike concentration meditations that have the mind focus on one thing, like a mantra or the breath, according to MSU’s Jeff Lin, open monitoring meditation:
…has you tune inward and pay attention to everything going on in your mind and body. The goal is to sit quietly and pay close attention to where the mind travels without getting too caught up in the scenery.
The meditation I practice and teach also notices mind and body events as they emerge and then brings the attention back to the breath, until the mind wanders again, which it does. Rinse and repeat as they say.
So, as I understand it, both mindfulness mediation and open monitoring meditation emphasize the noticing. And, I believe it is the practice of noticing that’s key, but feel free to look into distinctions yourself.
In any case, we humans mistake and miss a lot. How much attention are we actually paying to our surroundings when we are driving a car. Or, if someone quizzed us after we read a few pages of our book, we might flunk — because the mind was somewhere other than on the road or the page at the time.
And yet, these researchers found that only one 20-minute exercise, even for people who had never meditated before, was enough to increase the strength of the brain signal associated with error detection.
Pros and Cons
Meditation is touted for all sorts of professional advantage. For example, here is an article on open monitoring meditation for investment professionals, who do well to see the world more as it as than how they want it to be. Again, noticing the eruptions of one’s own mind for exactly what they are— eruptions of the mind — is key.
On the other hand, meditation is not a be all and end all. In fact, there are times when devotion to the practice, or the app that has the practice, can get in the way of other sources of health and well-being — like attention to and from our loved ones, which requires getting out of our own head.
So here is an earlier piece on that from me to say that inside/outside can work together, doesn’t have to be either/or:
…even though a number of experts I happen to respect make the point themselves that mindfulness is not for everyone and everything, they add that there are enough well crafted studies to indicate that there are ways in which it really can help. Some of it is in cultivating the kind of focus, calm, and compassion that finds and fortifies connection to inner and outer world love.
Everything in good measure. Goldilocks Principle: Not too much, not too little, but just right for you and yours.
If you are not already meditating, want to give it a try? There is an easy-peasy one sheet on my website in the “Complimentary…” pulldown called The Breathing Room to teach you how. And it doesn’t even have to start with 20 minutes. You can set a shorter time, 5, 10, 15…minutes and let us know what you find.