What is Meditation?
Meditation is one of the most important techniques to use in your pursuit of personal development. There are almost as many different forms of meditation as there are places to learn how to meditate. Most places just tell you how to meditate, not what meditation is. I use the following definition of meditation which is general enough to encompass the vast majority of meditation techniques, while being specific enough to be useful.
Meditation is a psychophysical technique used to attain a state of pure consciousness.
Meditation has effects on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels
Meditation's most obvious effects are on the physical level, and is one reason many people become involved in meditation. It's primary effects are experienced through the normalization of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These lead to a decrease in the effects of stress on the body with positive physical benefits including:
- A decrease in arteriosclerosis (heart disease)
- Increased relaxation
- Improved blood pressure
- Decreased susceptibility to pain including that caused by headache and arthritis
- A decrease in the symtoms of pre-menstrual syndrome
- An improvement in immune system function. This can also lead to improvements in arthritis and gastrointestinal disorders which are immune system and stress-related, as well as a decreased susceptibility to viral infections
- Increased energy levels.
- Possible improvements in fertility
- Improvements in skin disorders, which are often stress related
- Improvements in post-operative healing
- Improved ability to deal with withdrawal from drugs
- An increase in sensory acuity
- A decrease in the need for sleep
As you can see, the physical improvements resulting from meditation make the practice worthwhile on their own.
While the positive physical effects of meditation are impressive, the psychological effects of meditation are even more important. These include:
- A decrease in depression. On the physical level, meditation increases the serotonin levels in the brain
- A decrease in anxiety. Breathing meditation has also been used in minimizing anxiety attacks.
- Improvements in the self-image and self-confidence
- Improved ability to live in the now without worrying about what will happen in the future or dwelling on what has happened in the past
- Improved self-understanding
- Improved ability to relate to other people
- Improved creativity
- Increased ability to concentrate
Over a period of time meditation brings about a restructuring of the personality. It decreases your attachment to your internal belief structures, increases your awareness of these belief structures, and enables you to have a more objective view of yourself. You become kinder to yourself, and to those around you.
Paradoxically, meditation increases anxiety in some people. As you meditate, you become more open to what is happening both inside and outside of you. As the contents of the mind are reshuffled by the meditative process, buried memories can come to the surface, feelings you have suppressed may again come to the fore. If this occurs with you, belief work and/or time with a sympathetic therapist are called for. Meditation is doing it's job by bringing to your attention beliefs, experiences, and emotions that you didn't feel ready to deal with when you first encountered them.
The techniques of meditation first became formalized for religious and spiritual reasons, as a way to attain the mystical experience. I have heard it described as "listening to God". This is where it's prime focus lies. The psychological and physical benefits are side effects - important and productive, but side effects none the less. It's goal is to produce an experience of a state of pure consciousness, freedom from psychophysical conditioning.
Long-term meditators have reported that, over time, meditation brings about an integration of the states of consciousness. You begin to retain awareness during waking, dreaming sleep, and dreamless sleep. You also become aware of the interrelatedness of all things. You begin to realize that you don't begin with your brain and end with your skin - that you are more than your mind and your body.
Though he didn't coin the phrase with meditation in mind, Maslow's peak experience denotes one of the effects of long-term meditation. By this Maslow meant a state in which you are intensely happy, content, and feel at home in the world. While the peaks of mystical experience may not be attainable by all of us any more than we can all be a Rodin, Shelley, or Shakespeare, the peak experience is accessible to us all.
Meditation has beneficial physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits. You can see specific forms of meditation on this site at Concentrative Meditation, Bare Attention, and Emptiness Meditation. You can also do a web search to find many other sites that talk about this important technique. Many people say they don't have the time to practice meditation, but it only takes ten to fifteen minutes a day to see beneficial results. A more important question is - do you have the time not to practice?