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Each morning, I meditate for 30 minutes. Within 45 minutes to an hour after, I commute to my university. For the first hour or two that I am at university after meditating, I feel almost overwhelmed by the intensity of external stimuli (car noise, sights, sometimes even internal thoughts and physical feelings). Conversely, on days that I do not meditate, I feel relatively stable and at ease walking onto campus.

Does meditation increase sensitivity to these stimuli? If so, how, and what is the purpose of this with regard to meditation practice?

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The sights and sounds were always there. Since your question is about why it is different when you meditate as opposed to the days you don't, may be you need to understand what happens on those days in order to understand this increased sensitivity ?

Maybe your mind was caught up in worrying about fulfilling commitments, like reaching university on time. Maybe you were daydreaming, or probably just scanning the environment and only noting novel and interesting stimuli.

Probably this doesn't happen on the days you meditate. I don't know about your typical meditation session, so I am assuming you are watching the breath. So you watch the sensations that make up the breath for a period of time. You are not only looking at interesting sensations during this session, you are looking at all the sensations - if you are doing it right. So after this session, when you go out, its only natural that you are not looking at just interesting sensations or worrying about getting somewhere, but looking at all the sensations that make up the external reality.

If so, how, and what is the purpose of this with regard to meditation practice?

You need to observe all the sensations of your meditation object for making progress in mindfulness meditation. It is normal to have some spill over effects of practice in normal life. If you can, you can maintain mindfulness while interacting with the world as well. If you can't, that is fine, as it is generally considered to be more difficult. So increased sensitivity is normal, and it is result of being open to all sensations during the meditation practice.

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From my experience, yes. That is obviously your experience too. When you say meditation, what type of meditation are we talking about? Mindful-meditation? Are you focusing the mind on the breath and clearing your thoughts? If so, then you are creating a vacuum in your mind. Nature abhors a void, therefore you naturally become more aware and connected to the external.

When I was living at the Temple in Brooklyn, I shaved my head and noticed that I was even MORE connected to the external. I could literally feel the temperature of the air in the room change. Sensory overload. Oddly enough, my Sensei would go outside in the winter with no hat on. I thought, his head must be so cold. But what is cold? Cold is of the mind. You can choose not to be cold. Just as you can choose not to be overly affected by cars and the panoply of urban life. It is all in the mind.

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Ian,

Meditation does not necessary increase sensitivity. If it is merely a "switch off" or "ignoring" infuences training then, because of becoming used of a certain as pleasant recognised state of "defusing" it seems to have reasonable influence of the non-defusing parts of time with it's dislike.

Generally sensitifity should be trained from gross to fine and the steps are traditionally generosity, virtur and reflecting the Dhamma (dana, sila, bhavana). Then, having got valid sensibility (not in a sense of dislike), it might be proper to go into Samatha (tranquillity) meditation. In this way, by being really more sensible, it will also be easier to come and go into Vipassana later on, or even before.

If doing just a "ignoring-training", used often as well-ness tool, it naturally has it's good and it's bad, but does not really work on the cause. Like doing fitness training for compensation.

A possible useful talk on the first steps might be: Sensitivity through generosity.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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The purpose of Buddhist meditation is not worldly achievement. The purpose of meditation is to increase mental sensitivity so to realise the worldly things are disturbing & suffering. The Buddha did not teach meditation to corporate entities. If meditation is interfering with your studies, I suggest to stop meditation.

Dhammapada 75. One is the quest for worldly gain and quite another is the path to Nibbana.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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Does meditation increase sensitivity to these stimuli?

In abhidhamma, mind can does just an object, focus, per a arising. And there are over than a trillion mind arise per a second.

On non meditation day, the practitioner has too much several objects per second. So, practitioner's sense perceptions are over sensitivity more than his ability can notice all objects on his sense perceptions.

But on meditation day, the practitioner has just only one main object, main focus, per a meditation, maybe through an hour or a day. So, it is easier for him to notice unusual object, that is out of meditation's object and appear on his sense perceptions.

If so, how, and what is the purpose of this with regard to meditation practice?

If it's possible, the practitioner should move to the better place, to avoid to waste the time on non meditation's object, because mind can have just one object per arising. Or if it's not possible, ignore them, don't focus on them. Because the practitioner must has just meditation's object, focus. So the practitioner must take his mind back to meditation's object, such as breath of ānāpānassati meditation.

For an advance insight meditation practitioner, balava-vipassanā, he has a powerful ability to meditate in every situation. But the beginners practitioners can't act like him, because their mind's focus can easily stolen by non meditation's object more than his powerful skillful meditation's object.

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I think the main purpose of Buddhist meditation is to increase sensitivity, not as much to external stimuli but to th contents of your mind and the way it processes the world. Meditation is not a end by itself, but a means between many to attain final liberation from suffering, aversion, craving and ignorance.

Right concentration should be used as a means for clearing the mind in order to pay attention to our reactions, intentions and habitual tendencies. Wih due time and training, you will become more sensitive to aspects of your mind that you never pay attention to before. As you progress on the path, you'll understand the details and mechanisms of the mind, cutting to your previous well-established beliefs, wrong perceptions and preconceptions. That's when you start seeing reality for what it is, and so, you'll experience by yourself the deepness and accuracy of the Buddha's teachings to eradicate suffering and ignorance.

The reason behind this increased sensitivity is that your attention and understanding get sharper. You stop being dragged by the torrent of emotions and impulses that used to fill your mind. And as a consequence, you can see clearly the mind for what it is: impersonal, interconnected and mutually conditioned processes. Each process has its causes and each process has its consequences. Each process has requirements for existing, and when you uproot those nourishments, the processes cease.

Have a wonderful day!

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