By Lorraine Ireland Of Mind And Health Matters
What Is Meditation ?
Meditation is a means of transforming the mind to enhance the development of concentration, clarity, mindfulness and emotional stability. There are many things in life that are beyond our control, however, it is possible to take responsibility for how we choose to relate to life experiences by changing your state of mind. Within the practice of meditation you can learn the patterns and habits of the mind. With practice and patience these calm and focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly tranquil and energised states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life. Meditation techniques have also been used by Western theories of counseling and psychotherapy. From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness with the goals of achieving spiritual enlightenment, transformation of cognitive attitudes and improved health.
An altered state of consciousness, also named altered state of mind is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking “beta wave” state. The expression was used as early as 1969 by Charles Tart and describes induced changes in one’s mental state, almost always temporary. A synonymous phrase is “altered states of awareness”.Wikipedia
In modern society, most people are striving for worldly perfection, happiness and success through their desire for material gain. These addictive desires cause suffering, for when the desires are being fulfilled people are content but soon feel empty again, as the “better more best”treadmill starts all over again, eventually they despair, or can even, become mentally unbalanced. People can easily become the victims of failure simply because they cannot realise that success and happiness lie within themselves.
There are many different ways of meditating. All of them may be described as a way of “training the mind”. Different meditative approaches encompass a wide range of spiritual and / or psychological / physiological practices, which may focus on a wide range of different goals, from achieving a higher state of consciousness, the ability to stay in the present moment, greater focus, enhanced creativity or self-awareness, or simply to achieve a more relaxed and peaceful state and greater understanding of self. The cultivation of a calm and peaceful state of mind being the foundations of all practices.
Training the Mind
“The untrained mind is like a wild over excited monkey on a huge leash darting from tree to tree with a continual trail of thoughts; one after another and we powerlessly follow the monkey wherever the monkey wishes to take us, believing that we have to follow – we have no control over our thoughts. But we do – all we have to do is to let go of that leash – sit and still our minds daily and train our minds not to follow the monkey to just let it be – aware but unaffected by the thoughts – just seeing the thoughts for what they are – just energy” – Lorraine Ireland
It has been found by scientists who have studied the brain / mind responses of those who meditate regularly that not only do they cope better with stress during meditation, but also that their brains cope better with outside stress in general. Calmer thinking allows for clearer thoughts to be readily accessible to those who meditate often, as they seem to be able to tune in to this response relatively easily as becoming accustomed to steady and rhythmic breathing and a lower pulse rate which are bought about naturally during meditation practice.
Over centuries those who have practiced some form of meditation have spoken of its benefits, but it is only recently, that Science is able to see the extent of the benefits that meditation offers to the human brain / mind. It is now thought that those who meditate regularly generally have a thicker outer cortex to their brain: The outer cortex is the part of the brain responsible for decision making and the processing of information. It is not yet known, however, if meditation is literally responsible for enhancing the structure of the brain, or whether it is the case that those who have a brain with a thicker outer cortex naturally have a propensity to choose to meditate!
More recent studies have shown that meditation stimulates the area of the brain responsible for rational thought (the left pre-frontal cortex), which enables us to make rational decisions even under pressure. This can be very helpful in a society where those parts of our brains designed to deal with primitive threats i.e. attacks by wild animals, may become stimulated by similar but comparatively non-threatening situations, such as arguments / disputes, day to day stresses, anxiety provoking or phobic stimuli. Those who choose to make meditation a part of their day to day life find they can naturally calm the part of the brain responsible for reacting in an inappropriately aggressive or fearful way, to responding in a much more calmer assertive, relaxed manner.
Meditation works on a number of different levels and in a number of different ways, restoring a natural state of relaxation. Meditation also helps people to go along with the flow of life’s continual changes and unexpected challenges giving a more profound awareness of interconnectedness with the world in such a way that is not only beneficial to self but to others around you.
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries to your mind. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves.” – `Abdu’l-Bahá
Mind and Health Benefits Of Meditation
It has been long known that meditation can help you to relax and so it therefore has always seemed to follow that meditation can also help you to use your brain more effectively. As the mind and body are so inter-related it goes hand in hand that inner work done with the mind will in turn benefit the body too.
Meditation has been clinically shown to be effective for the management of stress, anxiety and panic, chronic pain, depression, obsessive thinking, strong emotional reactivity, and a wide array of medical and mental health related conditions.
Listed below are some of the many benefits:
- Calmer Relaxed State of Mind.
- Reduced heart rate / Improved breathing.
- Clearer Thinking – Ease of Decision Making.
- Feeling More Content / Happy with Life / More at Peace.
- Strength to overcome Phobias and Obsessive Thoughts.
- Self Acceptance and Acceptance of Life Situations and Circumstances.
- Relief from the Feelings Of Stress, Worry, Anxiety and Depression.
- Improved Concentration and Focus.
- Increased Motivation.
- Strength to Overcome Addictions.
- Ability to Improve Relationship Interaction
- Improved Sleep Patterns
- Connection, Empathy towards Others
- Ability to see self in others and others in self
- Being less judgemental to self and others
If everybody learned to meditate people would live more peacefully, problems like crime and drug abuse would likely diminish. We would have a more caring society.
“Meditation entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction in 1976; the Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares reported in the Medical Journal of Australia, the regression of cancer following intensive meditation. Meares wrote a number of books on the subject, including his best-seller Relief without Drugs.
As a method of stress reduction, meditation is often used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress including a depressed immune system. There is growing agreement in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund research in this area. Dr James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported in his landmark book, Zen and the Brain (Austin, 1999), that Zen meditation rewires the circuitry of the brain. This has been confirmed using functional MRI imaging which examines the activity of the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the “relaxation responses”. The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Benson and his team have also done clinical studies at Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains.”Wikipedia
“Mindfulness is the miracle that can, in a flash, call back our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can truly live each minute of our life” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
Mindfulness is the ability to live your life in the present moment as you pay attention to whom you truly are, you recognise that the present moment is all that exists. Your past is history, your future a mystery that has not yet come, therefore you only have the here and now which is called the “Present” because it is a beautiful gift. You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts take you away from being in the here and now as you dwell on your past or worry about your future. Indeed your future is just a continual series of present moments. When you focus on your breath which always occurs in the here and now it draws you back to the present moment. When you follow your thoughts into the past or future you are not present, but to simply observe your thoughts and emotions in an acceptant neutral manner, neither labeling them as bad or good, without being critical or judgmental is what many people call Mindfulness. You are no longer a slave to your thoughts. If you continue to come back to your breath which always occurs in the here and now, it draws you into the present – the gift of now. Mindfulness gives us space in the here and now to empathically observe our attachment to the past and future without being affected, just watching, observing, whilst staying with the peacefulness and happiness that is always present within oneself.
Mindfulness is an activity that can be practiced at any time, not only within Meditation. You can be mindful when you are walking, working, eating, listening to nature, touching something, by being fully present of what it is you are experiencing in the present moment you are practicing mindfulness.
“Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment; Mastering others requires force; Mastering the self needs strength” – Lao Tzu
Enlightenment usually is associated to a state of being, experienced by someone who has practiced meditation for a long period of time. Enlightenment has been described as an awakened state of eternal peace or a being of oneness with the universe. Enlightenment is unique to the individual. Some report a sudden rush of bliss, love and profound peace, a heightened awakeness, or awareness, like they have never experienced before in a timeless dimension.
Buddha defines enlightenment as “the end of suffering.”
The Dalai Lama says “The purpose of life is to be happy.”
Eckhart Tolle went from self-loathing to bliss overnight and his ‘negative emotions’ completely dropped away.
A Guided meditation is a meditation technique which usually involves listening to a persons voice, sometimes accompanied by pleasant peaceful background music, leading you into a deep level of relaxation where you are free to embark upon an imaginative journey/story full of meaning and purpose in relation to the particular title you have selected in essence to where you are in your life or where you wish to be in your life, incorporating deep and meaningful contemplation, realisations, reflection, inspiration, comfort, direction, truth and a deeper meaning and understanding of self in an enlightening manner. A simple guided meditation will help you to achieve deep relaxation and release negative emotions or beliefs that are preventing you from being further enlightened.
You could have someone speak or read a guided meditation to you, listen to a professional recording on a CD, MP3 audio file or record your own script of choice and play it back to yourself. The idea is to allow your subconscious mind to follow the words that are spoken. Many people prefer guided meditation because even if you fall asleep you will still benefit from it subconsciously. Some people prefer to listen to a voice other than their own as they find listening to their own voice can be distracting.
The journey or script typically can last from 5 to 30 minutes depending on individual preference and comfort. Time distortion often takes place and 30 minutes can often seem for some like 5 minutes or 10 minutes.
At the end of the Guided Meditation session, the guide will bring you back to an alert, refreshed and rejuvenated state of consciousness. A definite plus with guided meditations is that even if you fall asleep while listening, your subconscious mind can still follow the story or script and your mind and body will still reap the benefits.
Instructions For Self Meditation
Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight, cup your hands together in your lap. (if you are not able to sit then lay down with your spine straight).
Tell yourself how long you wish to spend in Meditation – your body clock will alert you when this time is up.
Scan your body from toes to head to see if there is any discomfort, adjusting any part that needs adjusting.
Focus your attention on your breathing, breathing in and out through your nose at your own gentle rate and just watch your breath with curiosity, noticing is it shallow, deep, slow or fast, sometimes maybe it feels like it is non existent and that’s fine – just let it be as it is. Is it more comfortable to breath through your mouth or your nose – maybe you can try breathing in and out through your nose or if you feel more comfortable breath in though your nose and out through your mouth.
Stray thoughts may come into your mind – let them be – each time you notice a thought bring your attention back to your breath and focus all of your attention on your breath again.
Thoughts are natural – a part of who you are but you are training your mind, you are not a sheep and do not need to follow them as each time you are aware that you are following a thought bring your attention back to your breath.
When you are ready to end your meditation open your eyes and take a few moments to re-orientate yourself.
Remember to practice daily as you become more proficient with practice.