Meditation is very ancient, and has many uses. Benefits include:
physical and mental healing, relaxation, ability to cope more easily with
everyday problems, a more balanced and happier personality, even better
concentration and emotional stability.
Meditation can help to bring peace and relief
from stress into your life.
Many people are unaware of the benefits of learning to meditate. Science and industry have changed our world profoundly, yet relatively few people have any kind of strategy to deal with the growing stress and complexity of life. Meditation
is one of the best and maybe easiest way to cope. Regular meditation
opens the intuition, makes the mind calm and steady,
reduces stress and improves overall health, and awakens the
to new levels of attention.
It can be said that meditation is a kind of filtered
attention. Like learning to ride a bicycle, it takes focused attention
until you get the hang of it. Classic meditation techniques start with
focusing the attention on breathing.
Meditators, and alternative health practitioners have known for a long
time that conscious
breathing can help increase relaxation and decrease pain.
In her new book Molecules of Emotion, famed neuroscientist Candace
Pert tells us that bringing our attention to our breathing during meditation
brings many such benefits. Such mindful breathing helps us "enter the mind-body
conversation without judgments or opinions, releasing peptide molecules
from the hindbrain to regulate breathing while unifying all systems." The
key here, it seems, is simply to be present to our breathing, using our
inner attention to follow our inhalations and exhalations as they take
place by themselves. So if you want to increase relaxation and reduce stress
and pain, try sitting quietly each day for at least several minutes and
simply follow your breathing with your attention.
is a pioneer in exploring the therapeutic uses of meditation. As a clinical
psychologist, he has spent over thirty years working with cancer patients
to promote healing and well-being. Dr. LeShan has developed a profoundly
new approach to psychotherapy which focuses on assisting an individual
(often a cancer patient) to find a source of joy and meaning in his life,
rather than focusing on neuroses. The question to ask, says Dr. LeShan,
is not "what is wrong with me?" but "what is right within me? What
brings me joy and a sense of purpose in my life?"
His book, How
to Meditate, is one of the simplest, most straightforward books
on the topic. Dr. LeShan takes the approach that mediation is not
mysterious; nor is one form of meditation ideal for everyone. Dr. LeShan
outlines a variety of meditation techniques, and teaches four distinctly
different forms of meditation: Breath Counting, Contemplation, Insight,
The idea of consciousness
fascinates us. The word itself literally means "knowing things together,"
and is derived from the same Latin root as the word "science." And "con"
means "with or to together." In fairly recent times there has been a lot
of change about how we deal with the contents of the mind.
coined a convenient term to describe the flow of our thoughts and perceptions
which he called the "stream
of consciousness." This is a metaphor which is difficult to talk about
in that we quite often take the words we use for the reality we want to
communicate. We must remind ourselves that the recipe is not the meal.
The map is not the territory. Getting away from the map and actually experiencing
the country-side can be surprising!
Yoga, buddhism and the other mystical
traditions, as well as the psychologists have been concerned with how
one brings about changes in the mind. In a sense this has been the technology
of consciousness. And, as with any technology, there is a tendency for
the technology to become an end in and of itself. Or a sense that there
is a resource to be exploited, resulting in a kind of tunnel vision. Each
of us perceives things with our own unique awareness. Consciousness is
our personal experience of life and is that portion of your being that
There are various states of consciousness,
but we actually know little about them. For example, there is a state of
mind between waking and sleeping that is called the hypnogogic
state, which is a very interesting area of consciousness. One of the most
striking discoveries about the hypnogogic state is that there are memory
banks devoted only to this unique state of awareness. These memories are
not normally available and are revived when you come back into that state.
You simply may have no remembrance of these experiences, except in
the hypnogogic state. This is somewhat comparable to dreams not recalled,
or dimly recalled, so that the first thing you remember is often the last
part of the dream. You recall the experience in reverse order, following
a thread through to the beginning. But even more amazingly, there seems
to be awareness of things removed by a distance in space or time.
images thoughts and feelings are difficult to verbalize because they
really belong to another state of consciousness, resembling a dream state.
The artists and poets are the best communicators of the dream state.
The film makers, painters, photographers, and the musicians can often capture
and communicate vividly the unique contents of their
awareness. Despite the uniqueness of each persons thoughts, there are
common frameworks that enable us to characterize the different states and
contents of our awareness. For example, our consciousness is formed, to
some degree by our culture which teaches us values, what is important to
have in the foreground and what is to be kept in the background.
The relationship of foreground to background can change at any time.
In the background is always a steady, constant awareness of the self. A
deliberate shifting of this awareness can give us overview or insight.
Is the cup half empty or is it half full? Nearly all discoveries in every
field appear to involve sudden right
brain inspiration. At an idle moment, maybe even in a dream, intuition
makes an intellectual leap sensing the solution to a long standing problem,
arriving at fresh understanding, reaching a new level of appreciation in
one quick burst of illumination.
Then the left brain intellect laboriously works out the details of
this hunch, step, by step. Finite mortals find hope and inspiration in
the infinite. In a dream state, there may be no background awareness. Without
background, you don't relate to the experience in the same objective way.
You seem to BE the object or experience. A lucid
dream state is when you are dreaming but you KNOW that you are dreaming.
There are elements of ordinary consciousness, but interestingly,
you think differently because you know you are in a dream state. You can
allow things to happen that are extra-ordinary. So, if you don't like what
you are dreaming, you can just change it! Similarly, in the hypnogogic
state of consciousness, you can learn to structure the outcome of the experience
so that the INTENT of the experience becomes the NATURE of the experience.
It seems apparent that we must go into the hypnogogic state daily
when falling asleep. But, in fact, we don't go there, but go through there.
Normally when you go into the hypnogogic
state, you go right through it into sleep. We rarely dwell there for
any significant period of time. But when you train yourself to linger there
awhile in that state of consciousness, you can learn to effect very real
changes in your normal waking life experience!
This is, in fact, a powerful technique, and we are beginning to comprehend
that its potentials are quite valuable. In the stream of consciousness
you can go foreword and backward in time, and you can focus externally
on the objective world of things, or you can focus internally on your own
subjective world of thoughts feelings, and images.
This attention, this focus is a continuum deep within us that is
constantly tuning in and out areas of awareness, like tuning a radio or
switching channels on television. We may be completely absorbed in something
outside of ourself such as reading a book or solving a puzzle. Or we may
block out external stimuli as in a daydream, where we are experiencing
only inner realms. We tend to be unaware to what extent we control consciousness.
We adjust the images or sound on a TV using a remote control almost automatically.
We are just as unaware of shifting the focus of our attention.
Quoting from Evelyn
Underhill, "True illumination, like all real and vital experience,
consists rather in breathing of a certain atmosphere, the living at certain
levels of consciousness, than in the acquirement of specific information."
It has been said that to understand the human condition is to understand
the difference between our thoughts and our actions. Such understanding
implies the possibility of balance between what we think and what we feel.
Since the mind is the place where both happiness and suffering are
stored. It is also where we might well seek the means by which we can release
ourselves from our own suffering. Imagination and visualization
are keys to your inner mind. Dreams bridge the gap between what is and
what might be. You are creating the kind of experience you choose. The
focus or direction of your attention amounts to your purpose in life. Your
mind is like a garden plot. Neglected it will produce weeds. But tended
and cared for it will grow whatever seeds you plant and cultivate.
that the brain can be seen as a kind of funnel or filter that keeps the
mind from being overwhelmed by all the stimuli it receives. In front of
"the veil" in the conscious mind are survival and procreation, and some
say, not much else. Behind "the veil" in the unconscious is everything
else. By considering these broad areas of the brain and their corresponding
kinds of activity; objective, subjective, we begin to understand more about
the implications to our behavior.
Many attempts have been made to systematize and understand the thought
process such as the conscious and unconscious mind, ego and id, right
brain and left brain, inner parent and inner
child, etc. These seek to divide the mental functions into categories
that would explain our process of thinking. At the most basic level these
categories make reference to the idea of polarities, now you see it, now
you don't. At the very threshold of conscious awareness are subtle impressions
and biddings clamoring for our attention.
Certain things must be taken for granted as the given in any situation,
and others must not. When you jump out of bed in the morning you must be
able to assume the floor will still be there. This process of simplification
is a kind of exaggeration
but it is also at the heart and core of that which keeps the funnel from
overflowing. It requires imagination and conscience. This is what makes
But to be given over to either too much feeling or to become too
rational and unfeeling is to be lost. When the subjective id is opposed
to the objective ego, the id will grow stronger until it prevails. You
can hold your breath until you pass out but you then automatically start
breathing again. Similarly you can regulate your emotions up to a certain
point but beyond that your reactions become more or less automatic.
Evidence suggests that persuasion
to act comes from subjective values (the
intuition or id) rather than from objective reasoning, (logic
or the ego). So most of our choices are apparently made on a subjective
level by our unconscious mind. That is, what we do about something depends
primarily on what we feel about it.
Estimates vary as to what portion of our minds are given over to
conscious vs. unconscious processes, but by far the greater portion of
the total is apparently instinctual, connotative, and emotional. Research
indicates that probably 80% or more of our choices are made subjectively
unless we make the effort of choosing consciously which happens only about
10% to 20% of the time.
Our experience is largely a matter of attention. Webster's defines
attention as, " a selective narrowing or focusing of consciousness and
receptivity." Sounds simple enough, but try to concentrate on a single
idea for any length of time it becomes apparent that it isn't all that
simple. The mind has been compared to an "unbroken horse," or even a "drunken
monkey." It follows its own bidding. Until very recently only a few
people were thought to have any control over their autonomic
Heart-beat, respiration, and so on, were thought to be exclusively
unconscious. We now know that our minds can single out and activate a single
cell within our body under the proper circumstances. The brain sorts through
various sensory impressions, making determinations as to what should be
saved or remembered. These impressions are flagged with emotion, so that
they can be indexed, stored, sorted and recalled.
Those thoughts flagged with the greatest emotion take priority in
the order of things to be considered by our bio-computer.
Value judgments such as the aesthetic and symbolic meanings of our experience,
are deeply subjective.
qualities and feelings, the "shoulda, woulda, coulda," values are primarily
relagated to the unconscious
mind while quantitative and objective judgements may be thought of
as the conscious mind. Thus we are usually more obliged by fear or instinct
than by logic. Bad news automatically might get our attention more easily
than good news.
Life on the planet evolved from and remains closely linked to the
sea. Our bodies, composed mostly of water, are essentially plastic bags
filled with this sea water and able to move about. A hole in the bag means
the water ends up in the sea again unless something is done quickly. We
must maintain conditions very similar to ocean water and within a remarkably
limited range of tolerance of temperature, salinity, acidity, and so on.
And we have a whole set of more or less automatic
built-in defenses to maintain these conditions.
Together these reactions comprise what we call conditioned responses
which helps us to protect the integrity of our plastic bags of seawater
in ways beyond just our powers of logic. A conditioned
reflex allows immediate self-preservation reactions to each threatening
stimulus. In the presence of danger, we don't have to think so much as
When a child burns his finger, his body learns, so that the next
time it happens, the body begins removing its finger from the hot object
even before the child is consciously aware of the danger. A newborn animal
is capable of remarkably complex behavior. In a sense we are hard wired
to follow certain patterns of behavior having to do with
and avoidance. For example, when we are threatened, a "fight
or flight" response is triggered in the body which automatically increases
levels of adrenalin in the bloodstream accompanied by tensing of the muscles
This "fight or flight" response is genetically ingrained.
is any perceived demand placed on you whether physical, mental or emotional.
Stress is a condition of life, and can bring about physical and emotional
discomfort. Stress arises from psychological tension created by the pull
between opposing pairs of possibilities. As we approach any situation in
our lives we compulsively think, "If this happens then I will be ok, but
if that happens then I will not be ok."
So, stress is our PERCEPTION of what is coming our way and can cause
problems. This inner tension, besides being inherently painful, results
in a continuous flow of concern and preoccupation which undermines our
ability to accurately read and relate to other situations, thus creating
further difficulties and more pain. All of this suffering arises from the
core belief: "I am not ok. I will only be ok if..."
masters have taught that what we pay attention to is what we become.
And that the real cause of our suffering is the lack of skill in utilizing
our minds. And that true meditative concentration is pure mindfulness without
any sense objects. In the Taoist
view you become pure and clear and being totally clear at all times
and in all places about everything pertaining to true nature amounts to
liberation from suffering, pleasure, worry, sorrow. Taoism
When a student monk once asked a Chinese Chuan or Zen
Master, "What is the gateless gate to satori,
or enlightenment?" The Chuan
Master replied, "Attention." "Well," the student nodded impatiently,
"of course, we know that attention is the first step, but then what?" The
old Chuan Master looked at him, "The second step is attention, the one
hundredth step is attention." The student asked, "Then what do you mean
by attention?" The old Chuan Master replied, "Attention means attention."
Meditation is a unique kind of tuning in on the focusing of attention
in a way that sensitizes you to the larger awareness of your life. The
simplest definition of meditation is attention. Meditation begins with
the premise of an inherent, unconditional okness, or oneness, sometimes
referred to as "Buddha
Nature," or Christ Consciousness."
Wu-wei embodies a feeling that aesthetic experience necessarily crosses
conventional boundaries of mind and body, subject and object. Wu-wei
is a Taoist term meaning, literally, "no-mind." In Zen art, the word yugen
describes a mysterious vagueness, a subtle order of beauty sometimes referred
to as cloud-hidden. Buddhist
mediation is sometimes called the path of peace.
The I-Ching supposes
that the key exists within each of us. This is the premise of all divination.
Divination surmises that there is a part of us that is at one with everything,
including time, and therefore knows what everything knows. The English
root word of divination is divine. The Latin root word is
meaning a deity, and also, to foretell.
"Our emotions and thought can determine our health, researchers say.
The more we learn about the mind-body connection,
the closer we can come to treating and preventing disease."
- Lara Pizzorno, M.A.,L.M.P.