"Come, come again, whoever you are, come! Even if you have broken your vows a 1000 times, Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are." - Rumi
Meditation – the Art and Science
Meditation has a broad spectrum of meanings and is an umbrella term for many different techniques and philosophies. All are designed to understand and ultimately quiet the incessant activity of the mind. Uncontrolled mental activity causes pain and suffering, whereas a controlled mind is a powerful tool that enriches our lives. The goal of all meditation practices is to simply understand and control the mind. Of course, this is easier said than done.
All spiritual, religious, or philosophical traditions have developed a plethora of meditation techniques in order to deal with the uncontrolled mind. In all of them the ability to focus on an object, sound, or technique is paramount. Without the ability to focus nothing can be accomplished in your meditation practice or in life.
It is important to understand that meditation is a very idiosyncratic exercise. Every individual will have their own unique and personalized experience and results. It will be helpful if you have some idea of what you expect from the practice or what you hope to gain. While this may not seem important at the moment, it will become meaningful to you as your practice develops over months and years. The practice of meditation is a long-term exercise, more like a marathon rather than a sprint. You will have great satisfaction with your time spent if you try and make it sustainable. One of the ways to do this is to keep a journal so you can reflect on your progress. But in order to track your progress you need to know where you are going and what you are trying to achieve.
While it is important to view the development of your daily meditation practice as a marathon rather than a sprint, it is also heartening to know that the results can be felt and experienced very quickly, if you have a good teacher.
There has been a great deal of research into the benefits of meditation for the many mental, physical and emotional ailments or diseases afflicting humanity. This research has escalated dramatically over the last ten or fifteen years. One of the early pioneers of the meditation process and its medical benefits is Herbert Benson, MD from the Harvard Medical School, and Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. In his latest book, Relaxation Revolution -The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, he outlines fourteen different medical conditions including anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, PMS, and nine different kinds of pain and much more that can be remediated or substantially improved with a simple twenty-minute protocol that is called the Benson-Henry Protocol. The results of his forty years of research have been peer reviewed and published in various medical journals over the years. It is noteworthy that the technique he developed is nothing more than a simple relaxation technique and short visualization, all done in twenty minutes each day or less. It is also noteworthy that results are observed by participants in his program in a matter of days or weeks (usually less than 30 days) not months or years. This quick result to meditation practice is also reported by other meditation techniques, like Transcendental Meditation, and these results are also well documented.
There is high level scientific research being done at approximately 20 institutions in the US at the present time. All are leaders and pioneers in the nascent field of contemplative neuroscience. A couple of energized stars are Amishi Jha, PhD. associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, who is working with high impact occupations like the US military Special Forces teams as well as high performance college athletes. Her work is producing paradigm shifting results, one of which is the effort to establish minimum dose requirements for the meditation practices they teach.
Possibly the most progressive and innovative program is going on at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the lab of Richard Davidson, PhD. He and his lab has the distinction of analyzing more long term (veteran) meditators than any researcher in the world. The story and the results of his work is described in detail in is latest book, Altered Traits – Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, written with long time associate, best selling author and journalist, Daniel Goleman. Both Drs. Davidson and Goleman are long time meditators and deeply committed to the science behind the practice.
The final take away here is, meditation is efficacious and backed by science, It is completely accessible by anyone at any point in their life. From my personal experience teaching thousands of people to meditate, anyone can do it. You just need to want to and engage the process. My final recommendation is, find an experienced teacher and begin the process today. Wishing you the very best in your quest. Let me know what I can do to help.