“All of man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit, quietly, in a room by himself.” – Blaise Pascal
It seems that we can never find time for the things that really matter. Time for your family, time to exercise, time to clean your flat, so on and so forth. Running through a busy day at work, stuck commuting, stressing about your problems, bills, debt, we can never find the time. An ancient practice born in Asia can bring about a number of benefits to your life helping you look differently at your time and how you use it. It can also help you to stay calm and collected so that you can face the hard decisions and problems in your life. Meditation holds the secret solutions to helping you face challenges every day. The simple practice of mindfulness takes small periods of your time each day so that you can be more relaxed, focused, and energetic in achieving the rest of your daily tasks. Mindfulness teaches you to be in control of your mind so that your mind doesn’t control you. By training your mind to focus only on the present, you learn not to get lost in regrets from the past or worries about the future. You learn how to be in control and really focus on the particular task or situation. When you are mindful, you do just one thing and you pay close attention to that one thing. You don’t judge the present moment or dwell on the past. This doesn’t help to solve problems.
So where does meditation come from? The practice of mindfulness and focused attention have firstly appeared in scripts of Hindu Vedas in Nepal and India. Around the 6th or 5th BCE, other forms of meditations are found in Confucianism and Taoism in China. Meditation is found as part of the texts of other religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and early Buddhism. Meditation plays a fundamental part of the practice of Buddhism. The Pali Canon dating back to the 1st century BCE considers meditation as one of the steps towards liberation. Different meditative and mindfulness techniques can be found throughout other religions as well. The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 names of God, while in Christianity divine reading and prayer could be seen as a way to be mindful. Chanting, Praying, breathing exercises, Contemplation in nature, yoga, qigong, tai chi, and many others are ways of focusing your attention, breathing and being mindful.
In present times, the hectic pace of modern life makes us think that we can never find time for being mindful. Although meditation is quite simple to practice, it requires discipline, focus, and effort to acquire it as a habit. Try it out. Sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice your emotions. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath. Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.
STOP reading at this very moment. Close your eyes and give it a try. See how long can you manage without thinking about the time.
Congratulations!! You were just present at this very moment wherever you were sitting and reading. Now you would wonder. What type of meditation this was? We have already mentioned that there are other ways to meditate as the practice is observed in many different religions and cultures. There are three general types of meditation. Focused attention meditation is about focusing your attention on a single object during the whole session. This object could be your breath, a mantra, visualization, body part, external object, etc. Open monitoring meditation focuses your attention on all aspects of the experience without judging or attaching to anything. Finally, Effortless presence is about not focusing on anything at all but focus on itself – quiet, empty, steady, and introverted. These interconnected types of meditation combine in different ways in different meditation practices. Here is a list of popular meditation practices which could be fitted to different people’s personalities and liking:
- Zen Meditation (Zazen)
- Vipassana Meditation
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)
- Mantra Meditation (OM Meditation)
- Transcendental Meditation (TM)
- Yoga Meditations
- Self-Enquiry and “I Am” Meditation
- Taoist Meditations
- Qigong (Chi kung)
- Christian Meditation
We have learned about meditation, its history, practice and different types, but we haven’t really looked at the many benefits coming from it. Meditation has a number of benefits which could affect your physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It reduces symptoms of panic disorders, improves psychomotor vigilance and helps reduce alcohol and substance abuse. Dr Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has published results from brain imaging studies of monks meditating. He found that during meditation the regions of the brain thought to be related to happiness increase in activity. He also found that the longer a person has been a meditator, the greater the activity increase will be. In the infographic below, we can observe many of the benefits grouped in 3 areas if you should start meditating now:
In the video below, we can observe the scientific side of meditation. The practice decreases anxiety and depression while increasing your tolerance for pain, memory capacity, self-awareness, empathy and helps with goal setting. Meditation increases your mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence. Additionally, it reduces your blood pressure and boosts your immune system.
In conclusion, everyone should take some time and do nothing. No overthinking, planning, stressing about the future or trying to forget the past. Just take 5 or even 10 minutes a day to be mindful and present through the practice of meditation. Take a moment for yourself and as the Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe suggests, let the transformative power of meditation take control.