science of us

Why Does Everyone Want Me to Meditate So Badly?

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc/Getty Images

Look, I know what I said, okay? I swore I would meditate, and I didn’t. That weekend, like every weekend, got away from me, and there just wasn’t any point at which I thought to myself, what I really need to do right now is sit and do nothing for 30 minutes. Or, well, I did think that, but I wanted to watch a show, or read, or, you get it. I remain lightly interested in the many promised benefits of meditation, but not so interested that I am actually doing anything about it.

Here, apparently, is where getting shocked in the scalp could help (please stay with me, but if you run, I understand). According to a story at Popular Science, a technology known as transcranial direct current stimulation (or tDCS) could help reluctant, wannabe meditators like me get in the habit by, literally, shocking ourselves in the brain.

This technique, introduced in 2001, is under study as a possible treatment for a number of conditions, including depression, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, addiction, and insomnia, though Popular Science reports that the results are, so far, inconclusive. Still, because the tDCS process essentially rewires connections in the brain (by changing the electrical frequency of the brain through one positive and one negative shock to the scalp, which makes neurons “more or less likely to fire”), researchers remain interested in its potential use a “magical thinking cap.”

Indeed, what evidence does exist for the benefits of tDCS seems to suggest its ability to enhance learning, ostensibly by making it more likely that brain cells will fire. Because learning a new skill requires that the brain make new connections, and tDCS seems to facilitate that process, it follows that tDCS could provide a useful supplement to the learning process. However, as Popular Science puts it: “One important caveat to the research is that no one is really sure how well tDCS works.” So you could just be shocking yourself in the scalp for no reason (???).

It isn’t totally clear why the connection between tDCS and meditation, specifically, was drawn in this story, which sort of makes me suspicious. Why does everyone want me to meditate so badly, hm? Aren’t there probably hundreds more useful skills I could shock myself for, if I must shock myself at all? (Let me be clear: I’d really prefer not to, if that’s okay.) Is there a Big Meditation lobby, and if so, what do they want? It can’t simply be improved health and happiness for as many people as possible. I don’t believe that for a second.

Why Does Everyone Want Me to Meditate So Badly?