Meditation is the process of deliberating, reflection or getting into thought. The word in its specificity resonates strongly with the Buddhism culture/religion or the common yoga practice. Yes, history has it that this practice has its roots in India and with the Buddhist religion.
But what is exactly meditation?
Well according to the Buddhism teaching, it’s a practice best believed to put one’s mind away from any distraction so they can listen to their body no better than anyone else. It’s further believed that this process has an ultimate healing effect.
Because of our different religious affiliations, and in the interest that we understand the concept, I would encourage that as we read through the article we try to distract ourselves from the fact that this is a predominately Buddhist practice. So I’ll bring it out as a stand-alone practice and labor to discuss it based scientific literature.
In our daily lives often we encounter challenges, these most times draw us into hard thoughts which are potentially stressful. Largely in our community today, stress factors range from endless pay bills, insecure relationships, fear about the unknown, etc. Stress begins from the Brain and reflects in our bodies in many ways including loss of appetite, anger, mood swings, not to exhaust all.
There is scientific evidence that meditation offers immense benefits. These were first discovered by Dr Herbert Benson at havard when he studied the relaxation response.
He found that there were numerous beneficial effects of meditation on our physiology, including decreased sympathetic nervous system activity with a decrease in our heart rate, respiratory rate, and cortisol levels, as well as decreased oxygen consumption, decreased blood lactate levels, implying better metabolic activity, with an increase in alpha and theta waves on the EEG (deeper, calmer states of consciousness), with hemispheric symmetry (symmetric brainwave patterns in both the right and left brain) .
Other researchers have since moved on to demonstrate the benefits of meditation on health and healing. For example, one 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the practice of loving-kindness meditation produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms, as well as decreasing symptoms of the patient’s illness. Similar studies verified earlier work, where mindfulness based stress meditation has been found to have health benefits, such as decreasing anxiety, allowing patients to better cope with their illness.
Today in hospitals, there anti-depressants; pills responsible for reducing stress levels in one. Counsellors on the other hand have also come up with their own healing approach to help victims overcome their depression and post-traumatic experiences.
In church, most common with the Pentecostals is the meditation session, were the church goes into dead silence and the congregants are given the opportunity to reflect upon themselves. This relaxes you from your present worries so you can comfortably leave with your suffering.
When you analyse these approaches, together with any other that I might not have hinted on here, you’ll realise that the fulcrum is one; ‘the brain’ and the intention is to calm it, relieve it of distracting thoughts and allow it to listen to your body. This is the first step in meditation practice-and its called calm abiding meditation.
According to experts, before we can realise this secret power in meditation, It’s important that we understand the motivation behind our meditation. I am certainly sure that the driving factor is to find peace and happiness and relieve our own sufferings. But also, because other people are suffering, then developing a broader motivation of loving-kindness and developing compassion for others would bear the greatest fruit. Love is wanting others to be happy and compassion is wanting others to be free from suffering.
After one has understood the motivation behind their meditation, then the next step is the meditation practice itself.
In this article, we shall be looking at the calm abiding meditation and run you through the simple steps to actually perform it.
According to Dr Richard Horowitz, he advises that one starts to practice meditation in short, five minute sessions, and eventually expand this to a half hour per day. All you need is a space where you can be quiet and alone during your practice.
Your physical posture is important when meditating. This allows the proper flow of energy to take place during the practice so that we do not fall asleep or become too agitated. Be free and easy and deeply relaxed with the posture! Do not force the posture, and do not hold the body too tight or too loose. Simply be aware of the posture of your body and gently try and keep the following seven essential points in mind while performing the different meditation exercises.
- Sit with the legs cross legged on a cushion (sattva posture), or if you are an experienced meditator and have experience doing yoga, you can sit in a full lotus posture (vajra posture). Never force the position. If either of those are too difficult, simply sit in a chair.
- Position your arms and hands so that the hands are folded on the lap with the right hand resting in the left hand (“gesture of equanimity”), or the hands are placed on the knees, palms down, with the fingers extended towards the ground (“the gesture of ease”).
- Sit with the back straight and upright in either a chair or cushion. This allows the energies in the subtle channels to flow more freely and straight, allowing the mind and attention to remain at ease.
- Extend the shoulders and elbows until they are straight.
- Slightly tilt the neck, and tuck the chin in slightly towards the chest.
- Connect the tip of the tongue to the palate. This helps stop the flow of excessive saliva.
- Keep your eyes open, gazing towards the tip of the nose (45 degrees downward)
Then start on your first meditation: Calm Abiding Meditation
In the seated posture described above, you will perform the following meditation for five minutes, three times a day. Over time, you can combine these sessions into one longer session, working your way to a total length of one, 30 minute session once a day. If you are new to a meditation practice, work with this exercise until you are not distracted by your own thoughts and feelings. When this occurs, you will know that you are ready to move to insight meditation.
There are two different techniques which can be used: calm abiding meditation with a support, and calm abiding meditation without a support. Calm abiding meditation with a support means choosing a mental support as a physical object, to tune your focus. You could look at a wall hanging, the bolt of your door or anything. The technique is simply to gently place your awareness on the object. Don’t examine the object and mentally discuss its qualities, just use the object as a way of anchoring your attention. Don’t follow thoughts of the past (the past is gone), don’t follow thoughts of the future (where fear lies), and don’t follow thoughts of the present (which are gone the moment you notice it). Just place enough attention on the object to anchor the mind and not be distracted. Constant mindfulness and awareness are necessary. If you lose your mindfulness and your attention wanders off of the object of meditation, as it is likely to do, once you notice that you have been distracted, bring your attention back to the object.
One simple way to practice calm abiding meditation is to focus on your breath. Watch your breath go in through the nostrils, and watch it go out. Breathe naturally, and try and follow the breath non-distractedly for several minutes while the mind is in an open and relaxed state. Another variation of this practice is to count your breath twenty-one times, where an in breath and an out breath are counted as one breath. If you make it to twenty-one without being distracted, start over again. If you notice that you have forgotten what number you are on, or are no longer watching the breath, start counting again. This method allows us to track our progress, and see how far we can get before we are distracted.
Once you have attained some level of stability with the meditation practice where your mind is no longer frequently distracted while observing the object, you can practice calm abiding meditation without a support. This means that you simply fix your attention on the mind, without the support of the breath or a physical object. If you get distracted by thoughts, bring your attention back to the mind. Again, do not follow thoughts of the past, thoughts of the present, or thoughts of the future. Do not block thoughts and do not analyze them in a conceptual manner. Be natural and simply rest non-distractedly looking at your mind, resting in the nature of whatever arises. You can alternate doing calm abiding on an object and calm abiding meditation without an object during the same meditation session. You can also keep it fresh by occasionally changing the objects of meditation during the same session, or in different sessions.