Where do you exist? Maybe it is your actual address. Maybe it is another galaxy. Meditation is the experience of taking one’s self somewhere else mentally. People meditate in order to de-stress, to discern, to find themselves. For many it is an art form. For others, it is simply a quiet haven in a very hectic, chaotic world. The practice of centering prayer is a type of meditation wherein one finds a place for their soul to live and grow. Meditation is, quite simply, finding the sacred within in order to deal with all that is outside.
Meditation was once the hallmark of the free spirit, that person who walked and danced to the beat of a different drummer. I remember in college hearing someone remark as a young woman walked past: “She definitely is into meditation; you can tell by her flowing skirt.” The comment stood out in my mind because I was wearing the exact same skirt. I pointed it out to the group of classmates I was with and they laughed, responding, “But you are grounded.”
Meditation has many positive effects and most who engage in it will tell you that it helps keep them grounded. Scientific studies reveal that meditation helps lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve the body’s response to autoimmune diseases, and even help clear up skin conditions. Studies conducted at Harvard School of Medicine revealed that people who practice short periods of meditation daily can actually expand certain areas of their brain having to do with compassion while shrinking those areas dealing with stress.
Television news anchor Dan Harris describes meditation as exercise for the brain. “Meditation is not relaxation. It’s not sitting there and zoning out. You’re taming your mind. It’s hard work – just the way rock climbing or swimming a mile is. But it has benefits just like those activities do.” He agrees that getting started is not easy but feels it is essential. “Meditation teaches you to put a little bit of a break between the thought and the emotional state. You recognize that you’re angry or annoyed or impatient, but instead of blindly going with the emotion, you have a buffer between stimulus and response. As a result, you’re often the smartest person in the room. Not because of your intellectual horsepower but because of what social scientists call emotional intelligence.”
In his blog at We The Change, Todd Goldfarb has some wonderful tips for getting started with meditation. “Meditation is the art of focusing 100% of your attention in one area. The practice comes with a myriad of well-publicized health benefits including increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of happiness.” A critical element to meditating is remembering to breathe. Sounds sill, doesn’t it? After all, we all breathe. It is absolutely necessary to being alive. It is what determines if we are alive or not. Yet, because respiration is one of the automatic processes of the body, we seldom really think about it.
Breathing with focus is crucial when meditating and actually helps the beginner learn how to shut out the world in order to have that pensive encounter with the inner soul. Sitting still is not exactly natural for many of us. For others, the quiet is uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of being unbearable. Focusing on the inhalation and exhalation help one combat those beginner discomforts. Many sit while meditating but some recline. Turn off any distractions and if you need something, play a soothing tune but keep the volume low. Meditate in a room where you will not be disturbed or interrupted. Give this encounter the respect it deserves. By doing so, you are really giving yourself respect. Some use a hand-held labyrinth to help them focus, using a stylus or finger to trace the path of the labyrinth as they meditate. Prayer beads are another focus aid often used. The practice of kinhin is a walking meditation, many times done with the striking of a drum indicating the time to take the next step. All of these things help direct the mind to the meditative focus and not the outside world.
Mediation has been described as a way to quiet the mind so that one’s soul might speak. Others describe it as letting in the light of the soul. David Lynch states: “The thing about meditation is: You become more and more you.” T. S. Elliot once said: ““I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
Spiritual teacher Osho describes the benefits and necessity for a meditative, pensive encounter. “It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process. It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher. And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty. That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”
George McDonald, a Scottish author, poet, and theologian remarked: ““Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.” Thousands of years earlier the great Chinese Lao Tzu spoke of the same thing: “The Way to do is to be.” When we take the time to close out the world, we have the opportunity to meet ourselves. Meditation is that pensive encounter, that opportunity to meet and greet the sacred within ourselves.