Why has meditation been so popular for so many centuries in the East and West? Why do millions of people practice regularly? Since antiquity, it has been used as a compass to point the way to transcendence, serenity, freedom, enlightenment, self-knowing, and bliss. These aims continue to be part of human nature. In the last eighty years, thousands of scientific experiments have proven meditation to have the following benefits:
~ mental health
~ medical health
~ cognitive enhancement
~ interpersonal skill and harmony
Meditation is not hypnosis, paralyzing the mind, sleep, a relaxation exercise, ritual, study of sacred texts, time management, austerities, stretching, biofeedback, or prayer. Have you heard the joke that prayer is talking to God whereas meditation is listening to God? Some meditate to enhance such communication. However, meditation is practiced by theists, atheists and agnostics. Generically, meditation is attention regulation designed to generate a meditative state. This state is thought to bestow the aforementioned aims and benefits. Ineffectual trying is insufficient. The aims and most of the benefits are savored only when a meditative state regularly occurs. Meditation is not what we think it is. It is neither intellectual knowledge nor mechanical reiteration of techniques. What, you ask, is this meditative state? It is ineffable though suggested by the following pointers:
~ effortless awareness
~ infinite space
~ mental rest (without directed mental activities)
~ free from self-preoccupation, desire, fear, and attachment
~ vortex of dynamic energy
~ holistic vivid polysensory sensitivity
~ omnidirectional compassion (centrifugal + centripetal; radiating + receptive) to and from all sentient beings
~ harmony with and nonseparation from the world
~ euphoric aesthetic rapture
The bliss is exponentially greater than the highs, kicks, buzzes, thrills, and pleasures which we oft enjoy. Elaborations of the mystical state found in poetry and religious literature are useful pointers if their connotative, implicit meaning is gleaned and the references to iconography, symbols, metaphysics, names of gods, organizations, and historical figures are ignored. The meditative state occurs in mild, moderate, and mind-blowing intensities. It impels one to : a) resolve problems and stress, b) establish harmonious relationships with self, others, and Nature; c) peer deeply into self-knowing. Attending to these 3 during daily life makes it easier to learn meditation and enter higher intensities of the meditative state.
Amongst approaches used for stress management, meditation is the best for detecting and eradicating the internal source of stress. It is effective even when one is besieged by stress and is perhaps the foremost way of preventing stress.
Based on study and conversations with hundreds of meditators, it is probable that a high percentage are: 1) rarely if ever experiencing a meditative state, 2) practicing a form of relaxation which is not meditation. In order to have the full range and degree of benefits of meditation it is vital that you know the difference between meditation and its look-alikes, develop sufficient skill, and regularly experience a meditative state.
Approaches practiced by the major traditions may be classified into three types:
I recommend that you learn some variations of each type for the following reasons. As practice continues the individual becomes more skilled, outgrows the earlier (self-taught) lessons and is ready to upgrade to more advanced lessons. Some types are suitable only for practice under conditions of little or no distraction or simultaneous activity. Others are suitable for practice during activity. For the perfume of the meditative state to permeate ones daily life, sustaining a meditative state during activities is required. Because the meditative state is not a mental activity, it does not interfere with cognitive functions (recall, planning, problem solving, sequencing, calculation, deduction, induction, visuospatial reasoning, etc.).
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