What is Meditation? Why is it relevant? Should you ever try it? What happens to your mind and body, with committed practice? This article is my initial exploratory documentation for the public view about the topic of Meditation, arguments for and against (I will be arguing for the practice of it), why it should definitely be encouraged in our modern Westernised culture, and the perks that it provides to those who healthily practice it. With information I have obtained from a book on Yoga which was bought for Christmas by my Grandfather, from various knowledge obtained from many lifestyle websites and also from asking around my friends & family; this article will also serve as an expression of theirs and my perspective on the matter, which hopefully will then encourage you to either begin or to further pursue your development of self awareness and mindfulness.
Originally, the practice of meditation was practised Meditation, in its basic form, is a method of formally practising mindfulness to become more aware of ourselves, and the world/life in which we live. There are many established benefits to meditation; foremost gaining an internal insight to ourselves, slowing down, relieving stress, becoming more calm and appreciative of what we have.
This is a brief account to what practising meditation has done for me: I’m fortunate enough to have been introduced to meditation and mindfulness at a much earlier stage of my development, as a child. First, it was on a large-community camp, where my Uncle was the community leader for the camp’s duration (which was 2 weeks during the summer); and during some of the group meetings, my uncle would lead a ‘Mindful’ exercise, instructing everybody to close their eyes, and fully take in all the sounds and sensations of what Mother Nature had to offer us, in our solitude from the bustle and chaos of city life, where most of us had travelled from.
There were frequent times after that, however, when I’d simply feel the need to slow down and take a breather from my situation. Adolescent years are challenging to the best of us, with a gradual introduction to the stresses of society, the hormonal whirl-wind, establishing our places in the world, wanting to pass exams and courses in education, figuring the complex rules of society, and frequently falling hard from mistakes made in doing so. For a while, all the social, emotional and mental stresses threatened to sweep me off my feet on any day. With the perseverance in which many of us rely, I came through scratched and bruised; and into another massive challenge of leaving home for the first time, to go to University. So, in the Spring-term of the first year of my course, I decided to look deeply into the subject of meditation, in hopes it would help grant me some clarity and stability into my increasingly complicated life. In this time, after a lot of emotional/mental confusion and turmoil; meditation started its growth as a prominent essence of my life.
The first revelation I had at this time of getting into the practice of meditation was around this time, when, during the early hours of the morning in my first student room, away from home. I was kneeling on my bed, and just making the journey inwards to focus on what I was feeling and thinking- without scrutinising it all with a logical and sceptical view. A wave of mixed and intense emotions that felt that I had been suppressing since moving from home, breaking up with both my ex’s, social dramas, academic pressures- and all the rest of it, swelled up and breached the flood gates. This was highly overwhelming, and made my heart light up like a supernova. I couldn’t hold back some tears, which were released by the massive relief of emotional and mental burden. Soon after, I fell asleep- and awoke the next the next morning feeling emotionally, mentally- and to me, personally; spiritually alleviated and refreshed.
The most obvious and effective way, commonly known, to meditate; is by finding a comfortable straight-backed position, fully or half-closed eyes, and quiet spot, free from intruding distraction- then to slow down the mind by focussing on the breath, or something external (such as a candle flame) to keep the mind centred. This may not appeal or work for some, however. Which isn’t a bad thing! As there are many alternative ways in which we can ‘meditate’. The most common way of doing so, is usually just practising what is called ‘Mindfulness’; which comes naturally to every one of us. It is simply the exercise of not being stuck in ‘Auto-pilot’ mode, which is where we fall into a singular state of going through our busy lives, distracted from what our lives really mean- to be alive. In this I mean eating food without tasting it, travelling from A to B without taking any of the view in, not realising the birds are singing, how your home really smells, and not being aware of how the mouse feels, under your fingers.
When we go into this form of being, we blunder through life as if everything is a blur, and each day a dull chore. Mindfulness allows the natural escape in which to use when you feel the need to feel that there is far more to experiencing life, than that is offered to us through a ‘cultured’ perspective, by our society. It teaches us we can slow down, and enjoy our lifetimes, continuously.
Many of us already practice and experience informal meditation, which is also known as ‘Mindfulness’- through a creative hobby; such as painting pictures, reading a novel, writing a story, doing some exercise, appreciating nature, the evening sunset and the expanse of sky over our heads- the sound of running water, and a cool spring breeze caressing our faces.
The research I obtained from twenty of my peers; including friends, family, acquaintances made in person and also over Facebook, told me of their opinions on Meditation, and what it means to them. I used both direct interviewing, mostly through text-chat on the internet, and also a ‘Survey Monkey’ questionnaire. Using no more than 5 questions, I aimed to get their most natural and straight-forward responses in regards to their opinion of the subject being a mental, emotional, social and spiritual views on the matter.
The questions asked were:
A) What is your perspective/opinion on meditation, when you first think of it?
B) Do you meditate + How often?
C) Do you believe there to be physical/mental benefits?
D) Do you think it would benefit our society/culture to encourage others to meditate?
E) How do you think meditation can be spiritual?
The most frequently answer for the first question was; encouraging the mind to be peaceful and content, ”Release. Stilling the endless internal chatter”, breathing, Yoga, training the mind. A few people said that the word made them picture an orange-clad Buddhist monk sitting crossed-legged, yet my uncle said ”…Although that makes the concept initially appear faraway, and exotic.” When in fact people will meditate at least one point in their life, even without realising, when they are ”… someone may watch the sunset, rapt in music, mind slowing and falling into a deeper part of themselves.” The question also made others think of Zen, peace and power.
When the group of twenty interviewees were asked the second question, most people said that they had tried it, or are endeavouring to do it more frequently. A surprisingly small few said that they weren’t interested in doing it. When asked, one of my house-mates said that he wasn’t interested because; ”I’m not a monk.”. Simply stated like that. Which has made me wonder if it is possible for meditation to improve a person’s perspective to be broader. One person claimed to practice meditation three times a day, no less! Another said around twice a month, during the night-time. Some subjects also said that they don’t meditate in the ‘conventional’ or formal sense, but regularly pray, spend time quieting their mind, and being alone with nature.
In regards to the third question, if there are to be any physical, mental and/or spiritual benefits to the practice; there seemed to be a more apparent pattern and outcome with the mental dividends than the physical. The most obvious answer was that it is stress relieving. An interviewee have said that the mental and emotional sense of calm can directly benefit the body, with results in lower blood pressure, with also a better physical performance in competitive sports- rather that than being stressed or angry.
Another said she believes that it allows her to observe her emotions, without letting them become her. Another interesting answer was that Meditation is a way of training and clearing the mind, which can improve all aspects of life; to decisiveness, mental/academic performance, and to enhance creativity. Another person said that practising meditation through mantras and yoga, she has learned how to trust herself more, and more receptive and generous in sharing all manners of love.
The most prominent and logical answer for the third question, in how meditation can benefit society; is that- ”Immensely beneficial to society, leading to a consensual rather than confrontational model of behaviour. But you cannot coerce, legislate or cajole people to do it.”, and; ”Definitely.To not be so impulsive and to relax. Something that we have seemed to forget.”.
A fairly opposing argument made by a couple was that it shouldn’t be impressed upon other people to do something that would disrupt their way of life- as this could potentially turn their livelihoods upside down. Also, not everybody is open minded to it, so their could be a social division between those who do meditate, and those who believe that the other people are better off for doing something that they aren’t.
To the last question (the interesting part about spirituality), there were some fascinating results. One young man said that meditation is his way of connecting to the universe; much in the way many other people perceive their way of connecting to God. It allows him to channel his energy into what really matters, and get rid of bad habits which he has developed.
Others said that it surely is, as it can allow the practiser to discover themselves deeply. Most said that it doesn’t necessarily have to be spiritual, and it depends on the person doing it. It can be a means to become more connected to the universe, or simply just to oneself, and relax. One stated that it can also ”… lead even the most sceptical of person to some pretty spiritual revelations.”
In conclusion. my search for answers about if meditation can be relevant to people who aren’t Buddhist monks, residing in any parts of the world, is a definite yes. People have stated that it is highly beneficial on an individual basis; in reducing stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. It can develop a better society, where people are less aggressive, upset and angry with one another; and more love and compassion can be generated and shared around.
On a spiritual level, it can be taken simply as a medicinal/holistic method of gaining more personal benefits in mental and physical health, to connecting more deeply to the universe, and finding more genuine happiness when experiencing one’s lifetime.