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How the brains of master meditators change

The scientist joins The Ezra Klein Show to discuss what he learned from bringing the Dalai Lama to his lab.

Richie Davidson has spent a lifetime studying meditation. He’s studied it as a practitioner, sitting daily, going on retreats, and learning under masters. And he’s pioneered the study of it as a scientist, working with the Dalai Lama to bring master meditators into his lab at the University of Wisconsin and quantifying the way thousands of hours of meditation changed their brains.

The word “meditation,” Davidson is quick to note, is akin to the word “sports”: It describes a huge range of pursuits. And what he’s found is that different types of meditation do very different things to your brain, just as different sports trigger different changes in your body.

This is a conversation about what those brain changes are, and what they mean for the rest of us. We discuss the forms of meditation Westerners rarely hear about, the differences between meditative and psychedelic states, the Dalai Lama’s personality, why elite meditators end up warmhearted and joyous rather than cold and detached, whether there’s more value to meditating daily or going on occasional retreats, what happens when you sever meditation from the ethical frameworks it evolved in, and much more.

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