So many people claim to have the perfect recipe for a happy and healthy life. Don’t let them fool you, only you can discover what that is for yourself. Of course, our society often prescribe common guidelines such as exercise well, eat well, etc. We are often encouraged to maintain life practices that are akin to habits of ancient humans, so that we maintain proper health as well. We are encouraged to exercise because our ancient ancestors exercised often. We are encouraged to have a balanced diet because we assume that is the healthy kind of diet from our past. I will attempt to make an argument that meditation is a similar life habit, and should be considered as an addition to our common guidelines.
A portion of this idea came to me while watching the track and field Olympic trials in 2021. It always interested me how during a very long distanced race, all racers are lined up in a single file fashion on the inner most portion of the track. Of course, I understood they all wanted to be in the inner most side to minimize the actual distance they had to run. It was confusing however, that for the majority of the race, no one attempted to pass the other. Why is the person in the back of the line satisfied in his position in the race? Why doesn’t he/she try to pass the person in front of them earlier on? I had the fortune of being able to ask this question while watching the Olympic trials, because I was watching it with two of my friends who were college athletes in track and field. I was amazed by their response to the question. They began by explaining how the two individuals at the front of the single file line were not actually racers, but individuals called pacers. Their job, was to dictate a pace of the race, so that those behind them didn’t have to think about their own pace. In fact, the purpose of this is to allow the racers to have a clear mind, and this allows for the racer to conserve energy so that they can run longer. The reason there are two pacers is because eventually the one in the front tires due to cognitive processing of pace and cannot endure the length of the race, so the second one then picks up the slack. Once the second pacer tires and leaves the track, the racers must start thinking independently and the true portion of the race begins. At the highest level of athletic performance, the energy used to process information in the brain is put into consideration to maximize athletic output. Racers are trained to clear their mind to maximize their performance and use pacers to help them do so. This blew my mind, and I couldn’t help but consider how this relates to the science of meditation.
I soon began to relate this to anthropological statements of ancient human life. When anthropologist discuss how ancient homo-sapiens hunted, they say we did so through exhaustion hunting. This form of hunting is characterized by chasing an animal for hours on end until the animal eventually keels over from exhaustion. When the animal does so, we are able to kill it and eat it. To chase after an animal in this manner would have required an incredible amount of endurance on behalf of the human. It got me thinking about how humans, aside from the physical fitness, were able to maximize the probability that they had a successful hunt. We likely used the speed of the animal as our pacer: clearing our mind of everything to maximize our stamina needed to catch the animal. Alternatively, we could have delegated a certain member of the hunting party to be a pacer while the other hunters conserved energy for the chase. If clearing the mind is a vital part of peak athletic performance in humans today, then surely it was a deciding factor in what determined a good hunter in ancient times. In essence, the ability to clear the mind was a vital aspect of our survival, and therefore could have been a key aspect of how our bodies developed over time. Additionally, clearing the mind may be a vital component of healthy bodily function.
It seems very possible that mindfulness meditation is a key component to the human condition and was fundamental the process of survival in nature. Perhaps this is why the Vedas, the ancient Indian texts fundamental to the development of Indian culture, discuss and teach the technique of meditation. Additionally, the DaoDeJing often refers to meditation and similarly claims that these practices are the way of the ancient sage. These ancient eastern peoples recognized the important of meditation, and likely understood that it was a practice rooted within human life. Perhaps the lack of meditation within modern human life largely contributes to the rise of mental health concerns. On the same note, read here about how meditation is capable of alleviating issues of mental health such as anxiety, stress and depression.
I began this post by discussing how the major practices in life that we all agree are fundamental practice to a healthy life often come from, intentionally or not, and understanding of the ancient human condition and what is needed for our bodies to thrive. If the act of cleaning the mind, a simplistic description of what the act of mindfulness meditation is, was a fundamental aspect of human life and survival, then surely, we should consider adding it to our list of healthy practices such as exercise and eating a balanced diet.