Meditations on meditating
Depending on the type of practice you choose - five to ten minutes twice a day or up to 20 minutes in the early morning and again in the evening - meditation itself may seem like a luxury. After all, who can find forty extra minutes in the day to sit and, at least, appear to be doing nothing? Historically meditation has been associated with one of many religious faiths. In the East, meditation has historically been the pursuit of religious men, Buddhist Monks and Zen Masters. While in the west, at least up until the 20th century, it has been studied and it’s effectiveness debated by intellectuals and philosophers. The Eastern goal of spiritual growth, while still a vital part of the meditation practice for most Buddhists, Hindus, Taoist’s and others, has been supplanted in the West by the need for stress reduction and relaxation for those seeking peaceful repose through meditation. Over the last 60 years or so the teaching and practice of meditation has become truly secularized. What was at first a key to serenity espoused by certain academics and the “beats” in the 1950’s, became a path toward enlightenment popularized by the Beatles and adopted by the hippies in the 1960’s has become in the 21st century a way to de- stress, refocus and refresh for soccer moms and techies. Meditation, along with Yoga ,has broken free of its religious connotations to offer an ancient answer to a modern question. There are of course many ways to practice meditation. There is also no end to the number of books, videos, classes, retreats, workshops, websites and yoga studios where one can gain insight into the healing power of meditation. So where to start?
Two Kinds of Meditation
Two major types of secular mediation have surfaced in the public consciousness overthe past 60 years. Transcendental Mediation (TM) developed and propagated byMaharishi Mahesh Yogi and more recently Mindfulness Meditation a product of the “Mindfulness Movement” initiated by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970’s.
TM, a form of “mantra mediation” is one of the most widely practiced in the world, was introduced in India in the mid 1950’s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Using simple instructional techniques, a person practicing TM is expected to meditate twice a day for 15 - 20 minutes each time. The practice is simple, and intended to tap into natural processes already available to the mind. Sitting comfortably with eyes closed the student uses a mantra - comprised of a single sanskrit word chosen for them by their teacher based on their vocation and temperament. The mantra serves as a sort of placeholder which surfaces in the mind along with other random thoughts that may occur during a meditation session. A great deal of scientific research has been done on TM that indicates a transformation of brain wave patterns during meditation. Such transformations appear to have benefits to mental health and even physical well being outside of the meditation session, provided TM is practiced regularly. Proponents of TM speak of a deep relaxation and an inner joy, as well as renewed vitality and creativity.
As in the case of TM, there is much ongoing research to see if the benefits of Mindfulness Meditation might be incorporated along with exercise and diet into a new health regimen for the 21st century.
So as you contemplate the shimmer of our “Solar Reflections,” it’s light moving always upward. Consider the power of meditation. It may a quiet answer to this increasingly noisy world.