Simply put, meditation is an exercise for the brain. Just like lifting weights strengthens the muscles of the body, meditation strengthens the “muscles” of the brain.
The human brain has many parts. When you use one part a lot, it grows stronger. When you neglect one part, it atrophies. Some people use the “worrying” part of their brains all day long, but rarely activate the “loving” part. Some people are constantly running the “thinking” part of their brains, but rarely activate the “enjoying” part. The way that each person habitually activates his brain determines not only his personality, but his experience of life itself.
Meditative techniques activate and strengthen the “concentration” part of your brain, by centering the attention on something that is occurring in the present moment. Some meditation techniques center the attention around an internal phenomenon (like the sensations arising and disappearing in the body), while others center the attention around an external phenomenon (like the movement of the leaves in a tree).
Through your increased powers of present-moment concentration, you become much more aware of the parts of your brain that you are habitually activating. Subsequently, you become more aware of the way that these brain-activation habits are affecting your own experience of life. Finally, you become aware of the way your mental and physical actions impact the world around you, and the experience of your fellow living beings.
There are many people who view meditation as a “mystical,” “spiritual,” or even “religious” activity. For this reason, there are many “religious” people who are reluctant to try meditation; they are afraid that it will conflict with their own religions. This is incorrect. The technique of meditation is not “owned” by any one particular religion, and does not conflict with any of the world’s major religions. While meditation can often be a powerful experience, and cause people to feel something that might be described as “mystical” or “spiritual,” it is not inherently a “religious activity.” Meditation is non-denominational. It is neither religious nor secular. It is an exercise, just like running on a treadmill or doing pushups. If you value your health and happiness, meditation is for you.
Rather than an alternative to Western Religion, meditation may be seen as alternative to Western Psychology. The western, post-Freudian paradigm of Psychology is focused on curing mental disorders, maximizing happiness, and promoting positive, pro-social behavior patterns. This is also the purpose of meditation, though meditation comes at mental health from a different angle.
Meditation is not something that you “think about.” It’s not a philosophy, it’s not an idea, it’s not an understanding, and it’s not a belief structure. It’s not even a paradigm. Meditation is simply a practice, a technique, an activity, an exercise. See the bottom of this article (How To Meditate) for detailed instructions.
BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
|peace of mind||anxiety|
You may note from the above table that Meditation and Western Psychology are simply two roads to the same destination: mental health. Western Psychology approaches mental health by “curing the negative” while Meditation approaches it by “developing the positive.”
For the time being, there is a dearth of real scientific research comparing the effectiveness of the Eastern and Western Psychological Paradigms (meditation vs. psychotherapy). However, one might find it enlightening to note the qualities of meditation-oriented cultures (in S.E. Asia, for example), contrasted with those of Freudian-influenced cultures.
The best way to get a sense for this contrast would be to actually take the time to travel, integrate yourself into an unfamiliar culture, and notice the differences in how different people experience life. If you don’t have the opportunity to do that, you can get a sense for the different types of “mental health” created by these two paradigms by looking at the faces of the figureheads. On the left we have The Dalai Lama, one of the most widely-known personalities in the meditative realm. On the right is Sigmund Freud, the father of western psychology. Look at their faces, and you can see the difference in their respective experiences of life.
HOW TO MEDITATE
There are many different styles of meditation. Here are a few of the most effective methods.
|Mindfulness of Breathing||Body Awareness|
|Walking Meditation||Loving-Kindness Meditation|
|Tree Meditation||Ohm Meditation|
|Eye Contact Meditation||Erotic Meditation|
|Mantra Meditation||Transcendental Meditation (TM)|
|Sensory Meditation||Active Meditation|