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Meditation. Part 5: Summary

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Article by Blue Banyan Meditation Products

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Westerners are in the process of adopting meditation into their culture as a form of mental exercise, and this is at once with and without precedence. As discussed throughout this exploration of the topic, meditation is so integral to humanity that it appears to be practiced spontaneously both in green settings and in numerous seemingly unrelated rituals, such as the after dinner glass of wine and prayer rituals.

On the other hand, meditation as a regular practice has never been brought into a culture where there was not already some form of meditation routinely exercised. The focal points and practices may have been exchanged, but there was always an fundamental practice of mindfulness and concentration meditation in place.

This summary will contain a brief look at the earlier concepts and trends with an eye toward expanding understanding of each with further examples. The basis of the growing acceptance of meditative benefits will be considered alongside the historical and modern context. Some of the ideas in previous sections, such as meditation within the psychotherapeutic context, will be developed further. This summary of the exploration will conclude with a consideration of the meditative frontier in the context of rapid technological innovation.

Establishing a Cultural Context

Anthropologists have confirmed the findings of meditation in every extant and extinct culture available for study. If excitement to live is the highest expression of any self, it is easy to see why meditation appears as a fundamental part of every culture. The practice allows growth of the intuitive faculty, which is essentially the ability to discern intellectually and to feel connections between seemingly discrete phenomenon.

The cultural/religious contexts of meditation where ever it appears tend to be focused on a few different areas of particular to humans. These include finding one's niche in the community, increasing one's understanding of humanity's place in the existence of all life, and strengthening the mind-body connection for better health. Most traditions do not recognise a difference between these goals.

Most traditions have also never referred to meditation as such. This creates difficulties for researchers and has prompted the need for a definition. There is no single definition accepted by the consensus, but the many proposed definitions have one concept in common. All consider the conscious retraining of attention to be meditation. This wide net captures Buddhist mantra concentration, prayer, Native American medicine circles, and many other routine practices. It excludes the spontaneous forms used by the mind to recover from stress, which is unfortunate in some senses. It certainly points to the need for further study.

Religious Origins

Every world religion contains a strong thread of meditation. It is used as both a means of binding the community together and a tool for spiritual growth. Over time some of these rituals have become dogmatic. This simply means they continue to serve as a binding force, a way of distinguishing one group of people from another, but the practice becomes rote or method of punishing innovators.

Some sects of Buddhism, for instance, are extremely strict about the timing and practice of meditation. The precepts of the Buddha in these communities has ceased to function as a guide and is more a series of ultimatums. Deviance from the rituals can mean expulsion from the community. The same is true of Islamic prayer rituals. Once held to be primarily a meditative practice, Muslims in some communities will be ostracised for failing to take part.

Most Westerners do have a basis for meditation in the religion of Christianity. Whether or not they are believers, most were raised with Christian practice in the home or grew up with Christian friends. The most long-lived traditions remain with Catholicism as reflection on the rosary, Sacraments, and lives of the saints. Those Christians who pray with an effort to hear the "still, small voice of God" are certainly engaging in ritualised meditation.

Paganism or Goddess worship is Western tradition with a strong emphasis on meditative practice. Pagan communities were largely destroyed or driven underground by the Catholic Inquisition, but the traditions have been revived numerous times. There are many Pagan materials for study now on the confluence of moon cycles, agriculture, herbal medicine, and ritual magick.

Cultural Adoption

At several points meditation has appeared poised to enter mainstream culture. The most famous examples can be seen in the early preservationist movement. John Muir wrote of the beauty found during his explorations of the natural world in such a moving way as to inspire Presidents and citizens to protect these places. Rather than follow any tradition, Muir made a life out of spontaneous meditation in the wild. "Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature."

The Transcendentalists certainly influenced Muir. The poetry of Whitman and Emily Dickinson was inspired from lives of deep awareness of what it was to be human living in their time. Emerson believed a revolution in man's awareness was necessary to counter the corruption caused by institutions arising from the Industrial Revolution. The groups desire to enhance and enshrine the self expression of all people was born of a belief in the inherent unity of Creator with all of creation, meditation on the Hindu Vedas, and European mysticism.

The latest wave of meditative practice coincided with the 1960s Cultural Revolution. In the wake of the movement's recession, some few researchers attempted to found a scientific basis for claims made by practitioners. Losing traction and access to research funding, meditation began to be investigated in the frame of health care. Steady increase in rates of chronic disease over the past six decades provided strong impetus for adoption of inexpensive preventive and complimentary therapies.

Research is focused on standardized forms of meditation, yet most meditators are using imported practices from various Asian traditions. Yoga, Zen Buddhism, Universal Tao, and Transcendental Meditation are all examples. Meditation can be differentiated into two basic practices, but there appears to be little difference between these traditional forms and clinical ones.

Choice of Experience

Life is the ultimate experience, and it is what you make of it. This is sometimes acknowledged in photos of smiling children living in the poverty of Somalia and Ethiopia. It is another way of saying that life is essentially meaningless, and it is each individual's perspective that provides the personal and collective meaning. It is sometimes taken too far when people begin pointing fingers and laying blame on others for their unfortunate circumstances.

  • What role does meditation play in this experience of life?
  • Can it change your negative experiences?
  • Is experience really a personal choice?

Changing Perspectives

Two men are each sitting in total darkness. They are unable move outside an area of ten square feet. The way outsiders perceive these men does not change their experiences. Their experiences are, however, radically different. One man is crying in despair. No information is available on his family, and he imagines the worst. He is lonely, hungry, and feeling rather hopeless. He does not know how he came to be in this cell, and he cannot see a way out. He will die here, or so he believes from the available evidence.

The other man has a small smile on his face. His eyes are wide open in the complete darkness, and he sees a small ball of light. It travels from his crown chakra to his heart, and he silently thanks his heart for all its work. He is filled with an emotion of gratitude. He hears his stomach growl loudly, and the ball of light goes to the sound. He imagines his wife and child smiling at him. He experiences the pain of hunger, but it is distant compared to those smiles. He imagines walking out of the confined space briefly, but this is quickly replaced with the memory of the patterns on his mother's prayer blanket.

Evidence of Efficacy

The research on meditation shows very real benefits that confirm the ability of the mind to control sensory experience and alter the body's physiology to strengthen this control. Long-time meditators can rapidly entrain alpha state brainwaves, and scientific research conducted by Elizabeth Blackburn, winner of the Nobel prize for physiology in medicine, confirms they can reverse at least one part of the cellular death cycle by lengthening telomeres.

Meditation has long been taught in the context of pregnancy. Some of the more familiar programs are Lamaze and the Bradley Method. Most people are at least passingly familiar Lamaze breathing, yet it is primarily understood only by mothers who have used it. The meditative focus on breathing is a powerful way to reduce the sensation of pain. Women are taught in Lamaze classes that the breathing technique must be practiced, and greater control over pain will be possible with more regular practice. The benefits are seen in studies finding reduced reliance on pain medications and reduced number of complications.

The answers to the above questions are made evident by the research. People are capable of a type of internal alchemy made possible with regular practice. Seemingly negative objective experiences are always open to interpretation and redefinition by the mind. The meditative mind can in fact allow the individual to regulate their experience of any stimuli and in turn control their response to any given stimuli. Gandhi's hunger strike carried out in protest of the British occupation of India comes to mind as a powerful example.

Stepping Toward Awareness

People with little to no formal training in meditation are likely to experience some difficulty in learning the practice. This is to be expected and should not become a hindrance in the path of retraining the mind. Traditional Buddhist meditation offers a lens through which to view the problem of attachment to negative emotions.

Overcoming Emotional Stumbling Blocks

In Buddhism, the five hindrances are referred to as desire, worry, anger, lethargy, and doubt. The means of overcoming these are a central part of the philosophy. Some religious sects view these quite strictly, but newcomers to meditation should give themselves allowance for setbacks. After all failure itself is merely a matter of definition. Thomas Edison tried again and again to invent a viable light bulb for mass production, and his assistant asked why he continued after failing so continuously. Edison replied, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Another concern was mentioned only briefly in the previous discussion of meditative practice. Some of those who attempt the practice do not continue due to difficulty in reconciling growth in awareness with some already existing emotional focus. It may be guilt over a past wrong, anger at an abuser, feelings of worthlessness resulting from rape or abandonment, or overwhelming grief over what is perceived to be the premature loss of someone or something dear to the person. Often these emotions are repressed and manifested in seemingly unconnected ways. The source of these emotions is made apparent during meditation, and the process can be uncomfortable.

Instead of attempting to compartmentalise or medicate these emotions and miss out on the wonderful benefits of meditation, the experience of these emotional stumbling blocks should be viewed as an invitation to seek help. Everyone is worthy of discovering their mind's potential to heal and strengthen the body. Counseling and/or therapy can be powerful tools to use with meditation.

Evidence from Addiction Treatment

Recognition of the role meditation can play in a therapeutic context can be found in the numerous addiction treatment centers offering a more holistic approach. The old models of addiction saw it as either a disease or simple lack of willpower. Both approaches disempower the individual, which is seen in relapse rates that commonly exceed three quarters of all patients.

In contrast holistic treatment begins with epidemiological evidence. Not surprisingly, nearly all addicts were victims of childhood abuse or neglect and had no adult present to help them process complex emotions caused by this trauma. Meditation is used to help the addict, who is now referred to as a student, discover the basis for emotions. Therapy is used to help process these emotions in a healthy manner. This understanding is becoming more important with more inclusive definitions of addiction that reference consumer addiction, gambling, and emotional eating.

New Frontiers

Many benefits of bringing meditation into rational-minded, scientific culture of the West have yet to be realized. Further research will yield ever more fascinating evidence of health benefits, but there are other avenues of exploration that have barely received attention from researchers.

  • Can technology be used to enhance meditation and to what degree?
  • Will meditation lead to fundamental changes in physical and chemical theory?
  • Is it possible for humans to manipulate the external environment through meditation in ways similar to proven abilities to manipulate the internal environment?

External sounds and other stimuli have long been part of meditative traditions. Modern meditators often use CDs and other media to good effect. These can enhance movement into the alpha brainwave state by relaxing the mind and providing familiar focus. Sounds and visual images can also be matched to an existing brainwave frequency and used to guide the meditator rapidly into the alpha state. Neuro-mirroring is an established practice in behavioral science, and it works on this deeper level with the use of biofeedback sensors in glasses and other devices available commercially.

Sound is an obvious avenue for research as it has a readily verifiable frequency. Other stimuli have yet to be seriously considered in scientific studies, including smells and the frequencies emitted by minerals and geologic formations. Western meditators have much to explore, and clues can be found throughout the past and present cultures of the world. Expansion of the intuitive mind will prompt researchers to find creative new ways of witnessing the effects of these and other stimuli on the human experience.

It is clear that rational thought alone creates a lack. Dissociation of people from each other and from their natural and spiritual contexts causes a state of disorder. The planet is now suffering from a lack of human understanding that all things are connected. Major advancements in technology are constantly trumpeted as promising a better life for people, but these promises fail and are forgotten with the next innovation.

Marriage of scientific principles with meditative practice will provide a wholeness not possible with either alone. A revolution in consciousness may be as Emerson believed, the only possibility of successfully countering an overly rational culture. In either case, meditation has entered the mainstream and will make it possible to answer many vexing questions in time.

24 Jul 2012

Article/Information supplied by Blue Banyan Meditation Products

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.