Jiddu Krishnamurti once said: “Meditation is one of the most extraordinary things, and if you do not know what it is, you are like the blind man in a world of bright color, shadows and moving light. It is not an intellectual affair, but when the heart enters into the mind, the mind has quite a different quality; it is really, then, limitless, not only in its capacity to think, to act efficiently, but also in its sense of living in a vast space where you are part of everything.”
He also said, “Meditation is the movement of love…”
Meditation is a “present” moment experience. It is a vehicle to become more aware of self and everything around oneself. Although we may have goals, directions and aspirations, meditation practice is focused on the moment we are in and not the promise of the future or remembrances of the past. When we can be in the present moment, we are on our path to understanding, calmness, freedom, and peace. Meditation is a technique to assist in the re-discovery of these mind states so that we become more in touch with one’s own consciousness and body.
By being more in touch with one’s consciousness, our actions towards goals and aspirations will become more mindful.
My first experience of meditation was over 50 years ago in Irvine Park, CA and it changed my life. From that day, I understood that the practice would be part of my life, and I was right. Over the years, meditation has given me a way to learn more about myself and others.
I’ve sat with many different types of people from lay yogis and meditators such as myself to people who use meditation in their religions, as well as with monks in their monasteries. I’ve sat in formal structured and unstructured retreats lasting from a day to ninety days. The structured retreats took place in the U.S., England, Germany, and India. Unstructured meditation sittings in halls and religious settings have been in a forest monastery in Thailand, England, U.S., Jain and Sikh meditation halls in India, and Tibetan monastery halls in India, Nepal and Tibet.
I’ve led meditation sitting groups in my home, at places of my employment, and at other small venues.
Benefits of Meditation:
The benefits of meditation are physiological, psychological and spiritual.
Physiological - Studies report that meditation:
Decreases metabolic rate, lowers heart rate, and reduces workload on the heart.
Lowers of levels of cortisol (the so-called stress hormone) and lactate, two chemicals associated with stress.
Decreases blood pressure.
Lowers cholesterol levels.
Raises skin resistance (lower skin resistance has been correlated with higher stress and anxiety levels).
Assists in and with pain management.
Reduces free radicals which are unstable oxygen molecules that can cause tissue damage.
Improves airflow to the lungs.
Decreases the aging process.
Psychological - Studies and experiential reports show that meditation:
Enhances depth, quality, and texture of present awareness.
Increases brain wave coherence.
Assists in creativity.
Improves memory and learning ability.
Increases feelings of vitality and rejuvenation.
Decreases irritability and moodiness.
Increases emotional stability.
Spiritual Benefits - Experiential reports show that meditation:
Increases desire for self-awareness.
Increases interest in the realm of spirituality.
Increases understanding and self-acceptance.
The benefits of meditation come over time. Many people experience some changes right away, but deep and profound effects are generally noticed years down the line.
Goal and Types of Meditation:
Meditation has the simple, yet difficult goal of letting the mind release itself from its thoughts and internal dialogue long enough to receive and accept the truth as it is, not as we are.
There are many different types and forms of meditation. Many of them reside, in some form or another, as part of a spiritual or religious practice. There are six basic types of mediation and they are:
Concentration: The idea behind a concentration practice is to focus the mind on one thing thereby reducing the amount of natural internal scattered chatter of thoughts and noises the mind creates. In a concentrative focus, over time, the mind sort of gives up and releases itself from the internal chatter allowing clarity to arrive. Items used in concentration practice include: Counting, Mantras (TM), Visual cues (image or object like a candle), and Sound cues.
Mindfulness (Awareness): Mindfulness meditation has a specific goal of seeing into the true nature and reality of self and things outside of self. It uses Insight (Vipassana) and Contemplation as vehicles for seeing reality as it is. Often in Insight meditation, paying slight attention to the breath the breath is used as the way to help the mind let go of thoughts. In Contemplation meditation, questions or koans are used as tools to cut and break through the typical noise of the mind of the meditator.
Meditations of Motion: Motion can also be used to assist in freeing the mind of its everyday chatter and noise. Types of motion meditations include: Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Chi Neng. Often during formal retreats, Walking and Eating mediations are introduced to bring a deeper awareness to everyday activities. There are branches of Yoga that include meditation as part of its practice.
Guided Meditations: Guided meditations are used to transport the meditator through a “story.” Often this story will create a sense of peace and relaxation. Guided Loving Kindness meditations are often used to assist the meditator in being kind to oneself and others.
Transformational: These meditations are solution based. There is a goal of being able to see or do something differently than how the meditator has seen or done it before.
Prayerful: Meditations of a prayerful nature are found in religious groups or contexts. They often serve as a way to bring a group to think about and share good will towards a particular person, group or subject.
Qualities and Foundations of Meditation:
Nearly all meditation traditions and forms share the following qualities:
Attention: The ability to establish ourselves in the present moment with focus and simplicity.
Awareness: The ability to develop a consciousness that is light, unburdened, sensitive, and clear.
Understanding: The ability to understand the forces that move us in our actions, speech, relationships, and beliefs to gain deeper wisdom.
Compassion: The ability to not be narcissistic or self-interested. Compassion is the foundation on which we build love, integrity, and respect into our daily lives.
Mindfulness: Being aware of your present moment with the heart and mind as one. You are not judging, reflecting or thinking. You are simply observing the moment in which you find yourself. Moments are like a breath. Each breath is replaced by the next breath. You're there with no other purpose than being awake and aware of that moment.
Seven Foundations of Mindfulness:
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is an author, founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at UMASS Medical School, and founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program has defined seven foundations for mindfulness when practicing meditation. These foundations are:
Non-judging: Mindfulness is cultivated by being an impartial witness to your own experience.
Patience: Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.
Beginner’s Mind: To see things as they are, many who practice meditation cultivate “beginner’s mind”. Beginner’s mind is the quality of seeing everything as if for the first time.
Trust: Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation. Buddha said, “Trust your own deepest experience.”
Non-striving: Almost everything we do in our lives is for a purpose. In meditation this attitude of striving can be a real obstacle. Just watch. We are simply allowing anything and everything that we experience from moment to moment to be here, because it already is.
Acceptance: Acceptance means seeing things as they are in the present. Acceptance does not mean you have to like everyone and everything and that you have a passive attitude, abandoning your principles and values. Acceptance as we are speaking of means that you have come to a willingness to see things as they are and can then act appropriately.
Letting go: If we pay attention to our inner experience, we quickly discover that there are thoughts and feelings our minds want to hold on to. With good thoughts we keep the story going because we enjoy what we think. And with unpleasant experiences we sometimes bring them up over and over again thinking about what we could have done differently to make it a good experience. (An example of letting go is when we sleep, we let go just as we fall asleep).
Photo of Palden Gyatso is a photo of an original Phil Borges photograph I own. Palden was arrested at his monastery in 1959 and spent 24 years in prison, where he was tortured frequently - losing 20 teeth in one beating. He managed to flee Tibet in 1987 and came to Dharamsala, India. He told Phil “I no longer have anger for my captors. However, I feel it is my responsibility to let the outside world know what is happening in Tibet.”