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Meditation: the science and the spiritual

Everything you know about meditation is either wrong or misunderstood. This is because meditation is, purposefully, a counterintuitive exercise. Its main objective is to dissolve the illusion matter and reach enlightenment.

I think everyone has at least a mild curiosity about meditation. It sounds cool and people say it’s great for your body and mind. But it’s not so common to find someone that actively practices it. Some people avoid it because of religious reasons, since meditation has Hindu roots. But to those I ask if praying is exclusively Christian? Of course, it isn’t, right? And would you say running is a religious practice, even if it was famously associated with a certain religion? Maybe in that case, yes, but running is good for your health regardless of religion, right? So, despite its religious origin, meditation is scientifically-proven good for you. Just like running can be (ask your doctor if running is good for you; hashtag healthy living).

First of all, meditation is very good for you. I know I already said it, but it’s worth saying it again. Scientists published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” that, through brain-scans, they found that “meditation increases activity in parts of the brain associated with decreased anxiety and depression, along with increased pain tolerance. Also, it improves memory, goal setting and self-awareness.”

Scientists published a study in the “International Journal of Psychophysiology” comparing the brains of Buddhist monks to new meditators, that “the brain area associated with empathy was much more pronounced in the monks.”

Moreover, meditation literally changes your brain waves. “Meditators have higher levels of Alpha waves, which have been shown to reduce feelings of negative mood, tension, sadness and anger.”

Wait, there’s more. Meditation also changes the size and shape of your brain. “Studies have found that after eight weeks of a meditation program, grey matter was more dense in areas correlated with learning, memory processing and emotion regulation. And yet, the amygdala, which deals with stress, blood pressure and fear, had decreased grey matter.”

That’s basically it, except it’s not. Another benefit of meditation is that it increases your immunity. There are even changes in a cellular level. “Your chromosomes have protective protein complexes called telomeres, which help reduce damage to your DNA and lower cell death. Shortened telomeres have been linked to many diseases like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.” In a study, cancer survivors practiced meditation for eight weeks and their telomeres increased. Of course, meditation isn’t a substitute for medicines and doctors, but it helps a lot.

Therefore, meditation literally will make you healthier, a better student, a better friend/lover and a better person overall. So, consider finding time to include it in your daily to-do list.

But how to practice meditation? Well, it’s important to note that there are many kinds of meditation. The most famous one is the transcendental meditation where one sits in a lotus position, chants mantras and seeks enlightenment. There’s more to it, of course, but that’s the basic concept.

There’s also visualization meditations where the purpose is to exercise one’s imagination and creative power and rewire the mind to build new emotional inputs. For instance, if you judge yourself too much or find it hard to manage your time, this practice would make your mind better prepared to handle those things. It’s like cross-fit for the mind.

Another type of meditation is Yoga and Qi Gong, where one meditates while moving. In our society, Yoga has become too focused on the physical activity, when in actuality, it’s more about the mind than it is about the body. Sufism — a branch of Islam — practices a form of meditation called Semazen where the practicers rotate incessantly, often times for hours.

The main hurdle about meditation is misinformation. And that’s understandable because, as I said, it’s counterintuitive. I’ll explain why in a bit, but you’ve probably heard someone say that meditation is about “emptying your mind” of thoughts. That’s pretty vague, and it turns people off most of the time.

People often say that meditation is about being silent ― and you achieve that by sitting as still as possible and don’t you dare move (exclamation points) — and, again, “not thinking,” right? Who can sit still and “not think” in this day and age? There’s always a distraction on the horizon waiting to happen.

And the cherry on top is the stereotype that only those willing to let go of the “real world” can meditate. It doesn’t make it any easier to get rid of this notion when the first image that comes to mind when talking about meditation is a monk — usually Buddhist — isolated in the Himalayas.

Twice I mentioned that meditation is counterintuitive, but why? Because meditation requires your mind to do something it wasn’t trained to do: disengage. Your whole human experience is based on engagement, and we have to engage in order to interact with the world. So, our minds are in a state of constant activity. Meditation is to train your mind to do the opposite of that.

Therefore, to properly meditate, you must train yourself to disengage from anything and everything. This isn’t the same as ignoring people and responsibilities, or repressing feelings, nor “emptying” your mind. To disengage means to become disinterested in the thoughts and ideas and feelings that come up while you meditate.

For example, while meditating, a sad thought or memory may pop up, and when it does you should simply observe it and let it go. However, what most people do in a situation like this, whether meditating or not, is cling to that memory, relive it and try to solve it. Meditation teaches you to accept it as it is and let go.

Disengagement is detachment in its basic expression, as the Buddha taught. Curiously, in the Bible, if you categorize Jesus’ teachings by topic, you’ll notice that he talks more about detachment than love.

That’s why you don’t need to be sitting in a lotus position or in a mountain faraway. It’s an internal exercise and, therefore, anyone can do it.

To be clear, to disengage is not to ignore, because ignoring is an active state of mind. You don’t ignore someone or something without noticing it. It’s a purposeful action. Meditation, on the contrary, is the ultimate passive state. You’re simply observing. You’re not judging, ignoring, solving or losing yourself in thought about what you’re observing. You’re, simply and purely, observing. And that’s pretty hard. That’s one of the reasons why mantras and poses are used during meditation. They facilitate the transition between the active mind and the passive mind.

And that’s what attaining enlightenment actually means: a full and complete disengagement from the illusions of matter.

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2 Comments

  1. Defend this position, please – empirically, not anecdotally: “Curiously, in the Bible, if you categorize Jesus’ teachings by topic, you’ll notice that he talks more about detachment than love.”

  2. YOu said: The most famous one is the transcendental meditation where one sits in a lotus position, chants mantras and seeks enlightenment.

    in fact, one doesn’t “chant” a mantra during TM and from what you have implied, TM is the exact opposite of what you think it is:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjem4YfJGQI

    What you describing as “seeking enlightenment” is actually the exact opposite of enlightenment at least from the TM perspective.

    Enlightenment ala TM starts to emerge when a “pure” sense-of-self, not associated with any kind of mental, emotional or perceptual thing, becomes present at all times, whether one is awake, dreaming or in deep sleep. This happens spontaneously over time as the quieter form of mind-wandering rest (described in the above video) starts to become the new normal outside of meditation, merely by meditating and then engaging in normal activity (meditate and chop wood as the Zen folk say). As it is during mind-wandering that our sense-of-self arises, this quieter form of rest is appreciated as a quiet sense-of-self

    Longer term practice leads to a situation where all mental and perceptual activity is perceived as emerging out of this quiet sense-of-self, leading to descriptions like “I am That; All of This is That.”

    Mindfulness and similar practices, while they may have therapeutic effects on the brain in some cases, reduce mind-wandering and so reduce sense-of-self and so reduce enlightenment in the tradition TM comes from

    So, if you’re going to talk about enlightenment from one tradition, you must be aware that it is the exact opposite of what another tradition calls enlightenment.

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