Reuniting Humanity With Their Divinity...It's Time
"Meditation." Just the word can summon many images. Some imagine a person sitting cross-legged in silence, with the eyes closed. But that's not what meditation really is. This discussion is my attempt to explain what meditation is, using all that I've come across, as simply as possible.
Meditation is a very simple activity to explain, but it's difficult in practice. But only because it's difficult that there are benefits. You don't have to enjoy meditation, because the process unfolds without your enjoyment. Merely spending time frequently in meditation is enough, and future times are guaranteed to be easier.
The benefits of meditation are many: better peace of mind, better immune system (proven by research), better ability to cope with negative events (proven by research), better self-knowledge, more insights, better problem solving, increased ability to focus and pay attention...and many more. Deeper meditation holds many mysteries for each one of us to unravel, if we wish.
The drawbacks of meditation is that to start, you have to take time to do it. And it will likely be unpleasant. But that's ok. It's not about enjoying oneself - that is a result of all the hard work. Another drawback is the inconsistency of enjoyment throughout the practice. We can have several sessions where it was pleasant, and then one that can be very unpleasant. But in fact, the greater the obstacle, the greater the improvement. So don't give up! And if you do, you can start again and again, until the end of your physical life.
This post is in the form of questions and answers. I laid it out this way because it is the way that a beginner would see the practice, and it helps me consolidate my own knowledge in a helpful way. As more knowledge becomes available, I intend to refine this discussion group, perhaps creating a different one that explains the basics in a better way.
-What is meditation? - the most important question, perhaps
Meditation is something you do with your mind, and it has to do with what you place your focus on.
We, humans, like to have a sense of control. This probably comes from our evolutionary roots as animals. A squirrel with a large supply of nuts is probably a happy squirrel, and we like to have control over our own lives.
But according to my counselling sessions and mindfulness workshop, we can control only two things in life: our behaviour, and our focus of attention. Our thoughts and emotions are out of our control, largely, but we can choose to act in a certain way, and we can choose to not give our thoughts any attention. If we try to ignore thoughts, inadvertently we are creating a mental barrier against a target, and our mind becomes less free than if you just watched that thought, and whatever else is happening in the present moment. So the practice of meditation is not to give thoughts any energy, but to just watch them. Some thoughts are more useful than others, and it's up to you to learn to discern them.
(Side note: Contemplation meditation is suggested to those who already have mastered the skill, and can be used to ask oneself a question repeatedly, in order to come up with an answer that arises out of mind or out of stillness.)
Having said that, meditation is about learning to control where we put our attention, nothing more. The practice of putting our attention back is meditation itself, rather than having a mind clear of thought (which comes later, naturally). Each and every time we put our attention back to the target, meditation's core activity is being practised.
-What types of meditations are there?
Firstly, there are two types of meditation - formal and informal.
Formal involves taking time specifically to meditate, be it sitting still, or walking slowly in a labyrinth, for example. Informal meditation is when you apply the mindfulness meditation mindset (curiosity, compassion, non-judgement) to any activity that you regularly do. For example, one basic exercise in mindfulness meditation workshops is to eat a raisin, from the viewpoint of a curious extraterrestrial who has never been on Earth. It involves first looking at the raisin as a novel object, and noting all the possible details for a few minutes, eventually slowly eating it and observing the body's impulses and reactions. It's possible to carry the mindful perspective everywhere in life, being rooted in the present moment and observing everything non-judgementally. Informal meditation can be anything, including washing dishes, walking up stairs, going on a roller-coaster...anything. It's about being the witness to the experience, staying present, and watching the mind and its patterns.
Formal meditation is a little more rigid. There are two basic branches of formal meditation: single-pointed focus, and broad, all-encompassing meditation.
In the first type of meditation, we try to focus on a single thing, and bring our attention back to it whenever we get distracted. Our objective is to bring attention back - that very act is what meditation is. It's not about staying glued to something as it is to come back to it, nonjudgementally, whenever we drift off to something else.
A basic focus is the body. Most often, people start with the breath. We can focus on the stomach rising and falling, the passage of air through the nose, or something else. The point is to choose a target of focus, and to stay on it. It can be something visual, something tactile, auditory, or a taste or smell. It's up to you.
Points of focus can be whatever we want. Generally, they have to do with our senses. For example, singling out an instrument in a piece of music is one. Listening to the sounds of a bird in a park is another. Paying attention to the movement of your body as we slowly walk is another one that I personally practice often for brief periods. I encourage everyone to find your own methods, and get acquainted with them. Meditation can happen anywhere, anytime.
The second type of meditation is completely different, because it is about opening the mind and letting it wander, instead of restricting it to a target. The point is to open our minds to everything around us, and then watch our minds without directing focus anywhere, but also not giving anything more attention than anything else. Basically, practicing equanimity. So, sitting in a park, you could listen to the wind, the people far away, the birds chirping, and the cars in the far distance, not thinking about anything in particular. When your thoughts start distracting you and you lose your degree of awareness, notice that kindly, and let the thoughts go like water in a river. Bring your focus to the present moment, nonjudgementally, with compassion, perhaps noting what caused you to stray off for future reference. In all types of meditations, patterns of thought emerge after some time observing them, and they can be very important.
All of meditation derives from Hinduism, which inspired Buddhism. Buddhism formally perfected meditation, with Chan (Zen) Buddhism in China. Derived from it is a new part of psychology, focused on the meditative practice itself. It's called "mindfulness", and the approach now being introduced into many areas in the world. Research is getting more and more attention, and very interesting things are being found.
Psychology defines mindfulness in this way:
"Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgement."
The key aspect here is "without filters or the lens of judgment". Staying in the present moment is easy, at first, but we all inevitably slip up and start thinking again. Often, beginners have to overcome the tendency to punish themselves mentally for lapses in concentration. Willingly having any additional thoughts, even self-chastising ones, is not the point of meditation - it's to return to the original target immediately upon catching oneself. In the moment of catching yourself, you're already present, and have a choice - to continue the practice, or continue thinking.
Now, for some science.
-What exactly happens when you meditate?
The direct, instant result of meditation is increased blood flow in the brain to the prefrontal cortex, and with increasing duration of practice, brainwaves slow down temporarily from Beta to Alpha and to Theta in deep meditation.
Our brain is always working, and its electrical impulses can be measured. They vary in frequency, and certain frequencies are associated with certain states of mind.
In the Beta frequency, we do all our thinking. Our memories, our future expectations, our conscious calculations are happening in this state. Higher frequencies correlate with more work being done by the brain. This is the waking state for most people. Higher frequencies correspond to busier minds.
The Alpha frequency is lower than Beta, and has to do with the present moment. It's the state of our brain when we are peaceful, relaxed, and/or meditating. This is a brainwave state we can learn to carry with us throughout the day, if we practice meditation regularly and use the insights. When we are emmersed in the present moment and thoughts don't intrude (as much, and not at all eventually), we are most likely in the Alpha state. If we meditate and go deeper, our brainwaves slow even further into the Theta state. Even deeper is Delta, the slowest brainwaves, and this occurs with the loss of body awareness (perhaps in very deep meditation), and is generally associated with deep, dreamless sleep.
Both sleep and meditation have been proven to improve your immune system. Sleep is well-known to help people overcome illnesses (and it makes sense), but meditation was just recently proven to be better than relaxation therapy or exercise in staving off things like colds. Research exists supporting this claim.
-How is the brain affected by meditation?
It's been proven recently, with studies on experienced meditators and ones that just start practising, that the brain undergoes actual physiological changes with meditation.
For example, the grey matter (the connecting material between neurons) becomes thicker, mainly in the prefrontal cortex. This means impulses travel faster, and the brain works more efficiently.
The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that is very advanced in terms of evolution, and its presence separates us from lower animals. It governs our focus and awareness, and is essential for free will to function. It is the part of the brain we train when we engage in meditation, by choosing to maintain focus and bringing our focus back. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to mature, and starts seriously developing in the late teens, until the mid-20's. This partially explains the difference between adults and children in having power over impulses and being able to maintain focus.
If we have full power to focus on whatever we want, we can be unaffected by unwanted things and find it easier to focus on important ones. If, however, this part is underdeveloped, we will be prone to impulses, and will not have much control over your life. So it's essential, especially in spiritual work, to have this faculty of your brain functioning well. It greatly helps reduce stress in regular life as well, and can really help you out in decision making.
When you meditate, as my workshop leader and counsellor says, you are "exercising the mindfulness muscle." That is, you are directing your focus. What that does is direct blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, and this in turn helps build more connections and supply the region with nutrients for more growth.
Neuroplasticity is a relatively new, groundbreaking scientific fact: our brain actively rebuilds itself based on experience. If you exercise a certain part of the brain, it will have more, better-connected neurons as a result. This takes time, of course, but it applies to everything you do.
Physiologically, your brain is constantly producing new braincells in the very middle of the brain, that travel through the fluid to places where they are needed. This can explain why something is difficult to do at first, but becomes much easier with practice. Your brain becomes better wired and significantly denser in areas that are necessary.
The rate of new cell birth is governed by a hormone, and this hormone's availability can increase if certain things are done. Specifically, exercise has been shown to increase the generation of new brain cells. This can help you gain new skills faster, and later in life can help overcome brain degeneration and the problems that come with it. With all the research out there, we should all be exercising.
- How much should I meditate?
That's a very important question. The most powerful thing is to do it regularly, every single day. At first, it can be a minute of undivided attention. Then, it might grow to several, and eventually to half an hour and even more.
The science so far says that at 15 minutes' duration, the big effects start to show up. Because it can take a few minutes to "settle down" mentally, 20 minutes is recommended.
After 4 hours of cumulative meditation, it has been shown that the brain is beginning to be significantly changed in the prefrontal cortex. It's best to spread out the practice during the week, rather than bunch it all up in one day. Sitting for four hours is not that comfortable, and won't have the same benefit as several sessions of 20 minutes.
The difficulty might discourage the beginner, but this is inevitable with an untrained brain. The brain will get more connections, and it's not important to enjoy the process - merely doing it is enough. If you sit down every day for a few minutes and focus on something, that's a great start.
It's good to build a pattern of meditation, and do certain things with the mindfulness perspective. You can schedule your meditations each day at a certain time, and this is best, largely because you are more likely to actually do it. The current Dali Lama meditates for four hours every morning, and finds it difficult. So don't expect it to be easy for yourselves either!
The most frequent problem with beginner meditators is starting it, and actually doing it consistently. We can start again an infinite amount of times, so don't get discouraged. It becomes easier with time, and we don't have to enjoy the practice to get its benefit.
It's best to set small, attainable goals, and build on them, rather than set large, ambitious ones. The reason is, we are more likely to achieve small, reasonable goals, and large goals that are failed can really set people back in terms of their self-esteem and willingness to continue. We can start with one minute sitting still, and increase it by one minute each day until the target goal, or have another pattern, if we wish.
Remember to be kind to yourself, and treat yourself with compassion. Don't blame yourself for straying off target, or for thoughts that arise. That will only distract you further. Instead, re-focus every single time on the thing you chose to do, and activate your prefrontal cortex. With time, this practice will become woven into your life, granting you a high barrier against stress, more and more peace of mind, and compassion for yourself and others.
I hope this helps any newcomers to meditation, and to any experienced meditators that want to have a refresher course. I by no means am claiming to be an expert in this field, but this is an area of high interest in my university education, and my personal practice. If you find something wrong with my account of meditation, I will correct it as quickly as I can. My goal here is to be as close to the truth as possible.
I can attest that the skill of mindfulness has gotten me out of many negative states of mind, often quite serious ones. And it has given me the tools to enjoy the present moment, every day, often catching something beautiful but fleeting, that would otherwise be lost among my thoughts.
As I have said, mindfulness and meditation are now being researched by psychologists, and research is cropping up all the time. Upon request, I can look for the research online (and may even be able to get some papers that you have to pay for, because I can use my university for that.) If you know of any research worth mentioning, please share it with everyone, and provide a link if you can. Any other articles from newspapers would also be welcome.
There is a wealth of resources online for anyone who wants to learn more about meditation. Youtube has many guided meditations, and you can download audios of guided meditations elsewhere on the internet. Often it's more effective to have a guided meditation than to do it by yourself, especially in the beginning of one's practice.
Thanks for your time! It's a long read, and I hope it helped everyone who read it. Best wishes to you all.
My sincere pleasure :) A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.
I loved reading this and wished to thank you for writing and sharing this with us, also I would like to wish you heaps of great success with your studies.
I'd also like to suggest to your post that it might be interesting to talk about the more peculiar aspects of meditation or what can happen during meditations; I'm talking about self experiences of other realities, altered states of consciousness, visions, hearing otherworldly things and becoming aware of the multidimensional nature of the self. :)
Thanks again starbrother, it's an honor to read something from you. Namaste
Namaste Gareth, and thanks for your input.I'll definitely be thinking about your suggestions.
I learned about the spiritual aspect of meditation before its scientific aspects, and I find that a lot of people still think of it as a strictly spiritual activity. So my objective here was to give some well-agreed facts to guide the beginner, and to give some foundational knowledge to the experienced people.
I'm very interested in the spiritual ramifications of meditation, and I believe it really deserves more than I've written here. For example, Ra (in the Law of One books, aka Ra Material) mentions one of the benefits of meditation. I should probably mention that I approach Ra Material with much less criticism than I could, and I'm biased towards believing what I've read there. So take my words with a grain of salt about this topic. Ra has said that our Higher Self can be accessed in meditation to provide whatever answers we need at our stage, to facilitate our return to it at 6.5th density. According to Ra Material, this happens because the Higher Self's very job is to provide us with the most efficient route to get there. At 6th density, all time is simultaneous, and pathways can be easily seen from that perspective. Here in 3rd density, we can train ourselves to listen to our Higher Self, and use the guidance to surpass this illusionary existence much more quickly, with less suffering. And there is much more information about the spiritual benefits of meditation.
Having said all that, I think it's important to first clarify what meditation is, and to get everyone on the same page. The basics we all have to start with is our bodies - our vehicles, if you will, through which we experience this 3rd density existence. These facts have to be consistent across everyone, and should be the foundation we must trust to stand upon. The less dispute there is, the longer an account will hold over time.
My stress on the foundation comes from personal experience, and the research I've done to ameliorate whatever problems came into my life. Most people have unbalanced chakras, and many people who are prone to be interested in spirituality use it as a way to cope with real-world concerns. As such, they get more and more detached from physical reality and identity (corresponding to the lower chakras), and activate the higher chakras more and more. This can easily make one susceptible to negative influences, create an inability to deal with the real-world stressors of life, and make relating to the non-spiritual humans much more difficult. I've seen all these things in myself, and recognize that I've got to work on my lower chakras. The root chakra is responsible for grounding us in the present moment, and this is a core skill to learn, cultivate and master if one is serious about the spiritual path. This is definitely not just my opinion, although I do have a personal connection with this issue.
So to sum it all up, I am definitely interested in adding a more spiritual, esoteric aspect of meditation in the near future. However, I think it should be separate from the type of information I've added. There's also room for improvement in what I've written already, and although I've got some ideas, I'd appreciate more. What's up there is already quite a long read, and I hope to shorten it.
The spiritual/esoteric aspect of meditation is very important, but I cannot do it justice in a few words, so I expect my description of it to be quite lengthy. So I've got to plan ahead. If anyone has any ideas as to what I can add to it, I'd appreciate them. Doubtless there will be aspects I've overlooked, and this can help me plan.
Thanks again for the comments! I look forward to reading more.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, Kirill. This will definitely help me with my new meditation practices. I will start in small steps. It seems like quite a challenging skill to master. But I know it will benefit me in this journey.
thank you, much love namaste <3
Another insight into the Art of Meditation is from Jiddu Krishnarmurti. I have personally met him in India and studied with him for many years. He is authentic, direct, simple, articulate and clears up the ego for good!!
Very effective for stripping the ego of all pretenses and layers and then, freedom into the unknown state of peace, love, happiness and oneness. The Art of Meditation proposed by JK is about the cornering of the Thinker to stop all escape into Thought, and then, Thinking naturally dissolve. The Observer sees that it is not separate from the Observed. Check out http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/
very nicely written and though out. I always like to bring presence to my meditation, it's not about blanking out the mind but being with what you are which is a sliver of the divine creator.
Great Post and thank you :)
A wonderfully written post and It is well presented. As someone who has been searching for the "correct way" to meditate for years and years, I ran across an article that helped me to understand that meditation is unique to each individual. I have found it to be a wonderful way to get to know my Self. Below is an article I found that put my mind to ease when searching for the "correct way" to meditate. I hope it helps.
I most enjoyed this even reading this in human form vs Spiritual. You have done a fab job with this. Keep on keeping on...