What is Meditation?
For centuries, people the world over have pursued the cultivation of consciousness, and meditation has stood at the forefront of tested and effective techniques. For as long as there has been an awareness of the "Monkey-Mind," our undisciplined, conflicted, distracted day to day consciousness, there has been a desire to find discipline of thought and peace of mind.
Essentially, meditation in the Western form is centered around diverting the focus of the mind onto a single topic. In this style, meditation is often seen as calming and relaxing the mind and can also be an aid to a religious practice. Western meditation implies concentration of thought on a specific goal.
The Eastern form, on the other hand, involves quieting of the mind, a cessation of thinking. Focusing the consciousness on the apparent emptiness of silence and non-thought, subtle aspects of the consciousness (and even the universe) become more apparent.
What is Meditation Like?
Eastern meditation has to do primarily with quieting the mind toward the achievement of enlightenment. Random thought and precise goals are eliminated from the consciousness and, while still awake, the mind is allowed to step above consciousness and beyond distraction to take in everything as a whole, without focus. This approach usually requires calm surroundings, various prescribed postures, working with the breath and, in some systems, chant.
On the other hand, western meditation is an active function where you remain alert and focus on a specific thought or goal. It functions to open the mind to different perspectives and levels of awareness, including many different sensations. Western meditation is less concerned with posture, though specialized breathing and chants can be used. Meditation is often achieved through focus on a visualized scene, object or idea, or on an external source such as a candle.
On the outside, both systems appear much the same, but the inner work is quite different. Some people prefer one approach over the other. Others may use both systems, as appropriate to the situation.
Definition of Meditation
Meditation may be defined as achieving a state of deep reflection within a mental state of strong focus. The word itself is derived from the Latin words "mederi" which literally means "to heal" and "meditari" which means "to think, exercise the mind". The Sanskrit derivation of the word, "medha", simply means "wisdom".
This is done in two different ways, depending on whether the meditator is using the eastern or western technique. Western requires a certain line of thinking, while eastern meditation discards thinking, toward a non-thought state that is essentially an awareness of inner silence. This is not an obvious thing to achieve, and can easily be mistaken for a sleep-like or a hypnotic state. Meditation is also not simply a state of calm.
Meditation is Very Safe
Meditation, as a self-guided process, is quite safe. Occasionally, breathing techniques in some forms of meditation are difficult for persons with respiratory difficulties, such as asthma, and some cardiac patients. If you suffer from respiratory or cardiac illness discuss your chosen form of meditation with your physician before beginning.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation and Cancer
The calm and relief from stress that are part of a regular meditation practice are extremely important to cancer patients, helping to develop the positive attitude that assists healing. Meditation is taught and used in cancer centers the world over, and a growing body of research is confirming the experience of clinicians: meditation and healing work together. Meditation cannot heal cancer, but it brings peace of mind and emotional health, important elements in any cancer treatment strategy.
Meditation and HIV/AIDS
Meditation helps the mind and the body find greater calm and relaxation, and helps to obtain focus and quiet amidst our stressful and busy lives. This is an important part of health and healing for people with HIV and AIDS, where stress can play a powerful role in the function of the immune system. There is a great deal of stress involved in this illness, and meditation can help to calm feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless while gaining perspective. Studies have also shown that meditation improves immune function for HIV and other patients. While meditation cannot lengthen life for those with terminal diseases, it can make considerable improvement in the quality of life, an important factor for anyone.
Meditation and Cardiac Patients
In medical studies, meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Further study continues to measure the impact and benefit of meditation on the risk factors to cardiac problems, as well. These include high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, obesity (specifically abdominal obesity), and insulin resistance.
Meditation and Sports
Meditation and visualization have been used by athletes on a regular basis. Amateur competitors were using meditation and visualization techniques in training. Polish, Soviet and other athletes were trained in highly structured meditation systems that resulted in measurable improvements in athletic performance.
Meditation and Pain
While the causes of pain are physical, the experience of pain is entirely in the mind. Meditation techniques have been used with success to control both acute and chronic pain. In fact, meditation techniques are employed by soldiers around the world to manage the pain of battlefield wounds and to resist torture. Through meditation, the mind experience of pain can be controlled and even eliminated.
Meditation and Stress
We live in a stressful, fast-paced world. We are pressed to multitask, and accept information and emotions from a dizzying array of sources. Stress at home, at work, on our commute: we have become a culture addicted to stress, driven by coffee and other stimulants. Meditation is a key to managing stress, bringing peace into a noisy, conflicted mind. Through quieting the mind each day, you can gain perspective over stress. Meditation also improves creativity, sleep, and self-confidence, all useful states of mind from which to approach our busy lives. Many people, from Fortune-500 executives to students, from overwhelmed stay-at-home mothers to over-committed healthcare workers, rely on meditation to find sanity and peace.