“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” - C.G. Jung
So what is the unconscious mind? Is it a storage place for our memories, does it filter our experiences, does it guide our beliefs? It depends on who you ask.
Neuroscience sees it as cognitive processes that we need to further explore. Many psychologists regard it as its own unified entity with purpose beyond processing. And more than a few spiritualists see it as a tool for accessing a higher realm or plane of awareness.
The fact of the matter is, we cannot be completely sure. The unconscious is a vast and untapped entity that is difficult to observe much like the far reaches of space or the bottom of the ocean. But scientists are making some headway in this quest for observation and recently discovered that those who meditate reach a level of unconscious awareness that is unparalleled to those not practicing mindfulness.
This new study out of the UK indicates that those who meditate recognize unconscious brain activity earlier than control subjects. They essentially had a keen awareness of their own intention to act. But what does that mean exactly? These subjects can better “hold” and “sustain” thought and awareness before action. One interesting way this manifests itself is shown in this study about hypnosis. Meditators, with their greater ability to hold unconscious awareness of self and thought, were less influenced by suggestion.
So, tapping into unconscious awareness could help meditators be less reactive and add a new depth to their level of self and mind control. This new development about the powerful influence of meditation on the mind, is the top layer on an already impressive stack of proven cognitive and health benefits.
Here’s what science has already uncovered about the effects of meditation on brain processing and plasticity.
It Blocks Out Churn
It is possible that a key part of this deepened awareness is due in part to the frontal cortex shutdown that happens while meditating. After it goes offline, your parietal lobe slows down, the thalamus blocks sensory data, and your brain’s arousal levels shift into low gear. This serves to immediately reorient our perspective from the daily distraction and mind chatter that we all realize is not essential long term. Inevitably, escaping self-interested and small minded obsessions help us gain wellbeing.
It Improves Focus
This ability to downshift and hold attention at an unconscious level has also been proven to improve concentration at a cognitive functioning level. MRI studies find that those who meditate have greater network activation in brain regions typically involved in sustained attention. Correspondingly, they “ had less brain activation in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotions and more activation in regions related to response inhibition and attention.” And the researchers believe this is altering the plasticity of these brain regions and mechanisms, which implies that benefits extend beyond the moments of actual meditation.
It Permanently Alters Brain Form & Function
On the subject of increased plasticity, this research specifically found long term benefit, even after meditation was through. Brian change activity, “increases sharply during meditation… and remains higher than the initial baseline in the post meditation baseline. These data suggest that mental training involves temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short-term and long-term neural changes.”
Permanent change has definitely been seen on the physiological level. Cortical areas thicken after practicing long term meditation as well. Cortical thickness has been shown to influence cognitive ability. So, meditation may essentially make you smarter and healthier by influencing cell development in the brain and the immune system.
Undoubtedly science will continue to uncover what spiritualists have known for centuries -- meditation increases well being, health and broadens perspective. So what are you waiting for? Go meditate.