Meditation: Hanging out with your self

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Jeanna Zelin is a student of Sarah McLean’s.  We often get asked the questions what is meditation and how do I meditate in my hectic life.  We would like to share Jeanna’s experiences and explorations with you.          

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m driving north on the 101 to Scottsdale.  Only this time I’m not heading to Scottsdale Fashion Square or to some hip, new restaurant.  I am off on one of my boundary-expanding adventures.  I am stepping out of my daily routine to learn how to meditate.

It’s already around a hundred degrees out, so I figure sitting in a cool, studio suite learning to clear my inner clutter might not be such a bad way to spend the day.  Besides, taking a break from the techno-charged world of cell phones, e-mail, IPODs and Blackberries might do me some good.

Sarah, the teacher, has a very soothing manner, and her eyes dance as she describes the practice of meditation and what we will be learning over the course of the weekend.

My mind wanders as I contemplate how I will ever be able to sit through a class on keeping my mind from wandering.

I would later learn that meditation is not about forcing my mind to be quiet; rather it’s a process to rediscover the quietness that is already there underlying the chatter of my thoughts.

Sarah talks about how there’s no good or bad meditation,  no judgment and no criticism.  “Anyone can meditate,” she says.  “Just bring your attention to your primordial sound, and whenever you notice your attention has drifted to other thoughts in the mind, or sounds in the environment, bring your attention back to your mantra. It doesn’t matter how many times you lose your mantra.”

In just a half-hour spent in my own silence, I learned more than I ever would in my usual, hyper-distracted and information-overloaded life.

So I decided to delve deeper into the realm of meditation.  Here’s what I discovered.

Meditation: What is It?
Webster’s Dictionary defines meditation as “engaging in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness”.  Other definitions I’ve heard describe meditation as a way to tap into the sacred silence that lies within or how to get in touch with your true nature.

The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation medha means wisdom.

I like Victor Davich’s definition from his book, 8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind.  Change Your Life.  He says that meditation is allowing what is.

Sounds too easy.

Of course I would find out that it’s not that simple.  Meditation requires patience (with yourself) and practice (by yourself).

Meditation usually involves slow, regular breathing and sitting quietly for 15 to 20 minutes.  While there is no right or wrong way to practice, most instructors agree that it’s best to find a fairly quiet place free from distraction.  Sitting is sometimes preferred to lying down (in order to avoid falling asleep).  Then simply relax your muscles and breathe in a free and natural way.

In his book, Getting in the Gap, Dr. Wayne Dyer explains meditation as a way to get in “the gap,”  which is a place between your thoughts.  It is the place where you can be still and release yourself from the 60,000 thoughts hurtling through your mind during the course of a day.

Practiced for nearly 5,000 years in Eastern religions, meditation seems to also have become more mainstream in Western cultures.  Americans are learning to take the time to sit and say “Om.”  Probably in part due to the scientific evidence that shows how meditation produces long-lasting changes in brain activity, improves health, and reduces stress.

Benefits of Meditation
Recent research indicates that meditating brings about dramatic effects in as little as ten minutes.  Meditation can reduce the effects of such illnesses as stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, chronic pain and insomnia.

In people who are meditating, brain scans have shown an increase in activity in areas that control metabolism and heart rate. Other studies on Buddhist monks have shown that meditation produces long-lasting changes in the brain activity in areas involved in attention, working memory and learning.

According to Dr. Herbert Benson, author of the Relaxation Response and professor of medicine at the Mind Body Medical Institute at Harvard University, found through his research that meditation acts as an antidote to stress.  Under stress, the nervous system activates the “fight-or-flight” response. The activity of the sympathetic portion of the nervous system increases, causing an increased heartbeat, increased respiratory rate, elevation of blood pressure and an increase in oxygen consumption. This fight-or-flight response has an important survival function. It helps an organism run quickly to escape an attack or to fight off an attacker. However, when this stress response is activated continuously, as happens for many people in today’s over-scheduled world, the effects are harmful. And the flight or fight response does nothing to help when you have too many emails or are stuck in a traffic jam.

Through his research, Dr. Benson demonstrated that the effects of meditation directly counteract the fight-or-flight response.  Meditation decreases the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption.  Those who practice meditation report feeling more relaxed and generally experience an overall state of wellbeing.

Types of Meditation
There are many traditions and countless ways to practice meditation.  I googled “types of meditation” and got 2,110,000 results.  There is not just one way to meditate. You must find the way that is best for you personally. It does not matter what technique you choose, the foundation of all techniques is focus and attention.

Some of the more widespread types of meditation include: transcendental meditation, vipassana meditation, Zen meditation, Taoist meditation, mindfulness meditation and Buddhist meditation.  There are perhaps hundreds more methods out there.

The course I took is called Primordial Sound Meditation.  Derived from the yoga tradition of India and recently popularized by Dr. Deepak Chopra, this technique is based on the basic sounds of nature.  Once you learn the unique vibration of nature that corresponds to the exact time of your birth, you repeat this as a mantra.  Focus on this mantra helps take our awareness away from the repetitive thoughts of daily life brings our awareness to our own inner silence.

This place of being still and connecting to something deeper within ourselves is available at every moment.

And given our current manic pace and over-scheduled lives, a little “being” sure beats more “doing.”

Article by Jeanna Zelin

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David Bell
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 20:47:31

    Well said, Jeanna! I have meditated on and off for many, many years. I signed up for Sarah’s course to help me to finally commit to a daily practice while learning a new method at the same time. Mission accomplished! I never miss a day now except for once in a very rare blue moon. The results of my now consistent practice are invaluable to me. Sarah is an exemplary meditation instructor. Your comment about Sarah’s ‘dancing eyes’ is quite descriptive and reveals a passion she brings with her obvious expertise. This is the ‘X’ factor that all teachers must have in order to have a positive and lasting impact on their students. The ‘X’ factor for centering and resetting my information overloaded mind…is meditation.

  2. a.k.satsangi
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 05:12:03

    Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practising yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge. (Romila Thapar, A History of India, volume one).

    I suggest : Mind and brain are two distinct things. Brain is anatomical entity whereas mind is functional entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under conscious control through the practice of meditation. But how? ANS is largely under hypothalamic control which is situated very close to optic chiasma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Protracted practice of concentration to meditate at this region brings functions of ANS say mind under one’s conscious control.

    ANS is further divided into parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have discovered a mathematical relationship for spiritual quotient (S.Q.). Spiritual Quotient can be expressed mathematically as the ratio of Parasympathetic dominance to Sympathetic dominance. PSNS dominates during meditative calm and SNS dominates during stress. In this formula we assign numerical values to the physiological parameters activated or suppressed during autonomic mobilization and put in the formula to describe the state of mind of an individual and also infer his/her level of consciousness.

    Meditation is the art of looking within and science of doing nothing. We don’t use anything in meditation. We just try to concentrate to meditate at some point in human anatomy known as ‘chakra’ in Indian System of Yoga. The current of mind is flowing outward through the senses and unconsciously. The mind comes at rest gradually through regular practice of meditation. Then comes self realization and enlightenment. Protracted practice of meditation under qualified guidance will help to manage all sort of psychological problems.

    Emotional Quotient can also be expressed mathematically as the product of I.Q. and Wisdom Factor. E.Q. stands for Emotional Quotient. An intelligent person may not be wise. But a wise man will always be intelligent. An intelligent person having certain level of positive emotions can be said as wise. An intelligent person lacking wisdom will turn autocrat. A wise man will always be a democrat who respects others existence.

    Some may raise doubt that how could be the Wisdom quantified? The answer is simple -if Mental Age of I.Q. can be quantified then Wisdom can also be quantified, of course, comparatively with more efforts. Wilhelm Stern had given the formula of I.Q.. It is, Mental Age/ Chronological Age x 100. Spiritual Quotient (S.Q.) leverages both E.Q. and I.Q.

    Radha Soami Faith is a branch of Religion of Saints like Kabir, Nanak, Paltu, and others. Soamiji Maharaj is the founder of this Faith. You may call It like New Wine in Old Bottle.

    Maslow has given Hierarchy of Needs. At the top of it is need for self-actualization or self-realization.

    In our society we should learn To Live and Let Live and help to satisfy others need. When the lower order needs, physiological and sociological both, are satisfied then only a person think to satisfy need for self-realization in true sense. Else he/she may spend all his/her life to satisfy at the most the need for self-expression instead of self-realization.

    It is, therefore, the duty of every responsible person, at the least, of our society to give serious thought over it.

    For the satisfaction of need for self-realization i.e. establishment of harmony of individual consciousness with that of universal consciousness we need following three things:

    1. Mater or Guru (A Self-Realized Soul)
    2. Secret of Levels of Universal Consciousness
    3. Method for traversing the path.

    Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

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