There are many factors which affect the quality of our lives, and we all desire to improve our existence. We would like to have a positive influence over things like our stress, our health, our intelligence, and our world. There are many different methods we can undertake to create better lives for our fellow humans and ourselves. We might do volunteer work, donate to charities, or join an organization that exists to elevate the human condition. Although these approaches, and others, are effective, they often require more of us than we are willing, or able, to give. So, we desire a better world, but we find ourselves unable to fulfill this need–what are we to do? The suggestion is simply this: we meditate. Meditation is an easy and efficient way to effect positive change in our lives; it is something we should all partake in.
Many of us, due to misunderstanding, would never think of taking up the practice of meditation to influence our reality. We have many unjustified reservations when we hear of meditation.
Perhaps the most common qualm is that of religion: we often find that we have inappropriately linked meditation with some aspect of religious interest. It could be that we feel that we would become immersed in a faith which is foreign to us, or it may be that we would have to renounce our current religious beliefs (if we happen to be partial to a particular faith). Nothing could be further from the truth. Meditation requires no specific religious commitment; it is not prejudiced to any belief system. Faith does play a role in meditation; however, the practice of meditation aligns itself with our existing beliefs, and not the other way around (Benson and Proctor 111). Thus, we are able to benefit from meditation regardless of our religious views.
We also make the error, perhaps because of poor representation in the media, that meditation involves long periods of maintaining strange and uncomfortable postures. “They sit like that for how long?” we ask ourselves, amazed, when we see Yogis with their limbs folded and crossed in ways, which to us, look quite unnatural. Although meditation can be performed by Yoga, it is certainly not the only way. In fact, it is best to find a posture which is comfortable to us. Dr. Benson, with his co-author William Proctor, inform us to “sit in any comfortable position that won’t disturb [our] thoughts” (112). Again, we learn that meditation accommodates us; we do not have to be exceptionally limber and dexterous to enjoy meditation.
Nor do we have to posses some sort of special mental ability or divine intelligence to meditate. Actually, we have probably all participated in meditation without even knowing it! Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word “meditate” as, “to think deeply” (367). This definition is further clarified by E.E. Rehmus as, “A means of allowing the deepest self to speak:deep thinking, concentrated and free from distraction” (151,152). It is obvious that we have all found ourselves in “deep thought” about something at some point in our lives. The only difference is, that in meditation, the act of deep thought becomes a regular occurrence in our lives, which we enter into with intent.
Let us not be misled by the word “intent.” We do not meditate with any intentions; we simply engage in quieting the mind and becoming more aware of the body. Meditation merely is. This is our only intent: we meditate because we can. It is somewhat like climbing the proverbial mountain because it is there. To avoid further expansion into the esoteric, let us now briefly examine a simple way to engage in a meditative practice.
The program, which is laid out in Beyond the Relaxation Response, consists of eight easy steps. The first step is for us to choose a word or phrase which we will speak silently to ourselves as we exhale (106,107). This phrase or word should be one in which our own personal beliefs are mirrored (Ibid.). Dr. Benson informs us of the “dual function” (Ibid.) of our choice: “(1) It can activate [our] belief systems:by providing a greater calming effect on [our] mind:and (2) it increases the likelihood of [our] use of the technique” (Ibid.). The second step is to find ourselves a position in which we are comfortable (Ibid. 112). The third step that Dr. Benson suggests to us is to “Close [our] eyes:. Close them easily and naturally. The act should be effortless” (113). Step four is to relax the muscles of our body (Ibid.). It is recommended that we do this by starting at our feet, and then moving our awareness over the rest of our body, focusing on different muscle groups in turn, and ending with our attention on our head (Ibid.). The fifth step is to focus our mind on our breathing, and to initiate the use of our chosen word or phrase upon our exhalations (Ibid. 114). The sixth step he describes as “[maintaining] a passive attitude” (Ibid.). This consists of accepting that our mind will continue to think, but we should not force it to be quiet. We simply acknowledge that our mind is thinking or distracted by the outside world, and we return our awareness to our breathing (Ibid. 114-116). The seventh and eighth steps require us to practice the meditation regularly; it is recommended that we engage in our meditation twice daily, and for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time (Ibid. 116,117).
It should be noted Dr. Benson’s eight steps are the foundations of most forms of meditation. The variety of meditative programs available to us by and large begins with relaxation, attention on the rhythm of our breath, and the initiation of stillness of our body. As illustrated earlier, these are tasks which any one of us are able to accomplish.
Next Week: We explore questions surrounding the benefits of meditation.
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Neufeldt, Victoria, ed. Webster’s New World Dictionary. New York: Simon and Schuster
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b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.