Jenny is doing some groceries in the supermarket when she bumps into Walter.
© Dean Hochman – Supermarket (CC BY 2.0)
Walter says: “Hi Jenny, how are you?”
To which Jenny replies:”Oh I’m fine, thanks!”
Walter: “And how’s your son Jimmy? Is he still unemployed?”
Jenny: “Yes, he is. But he is meditating now.”
Walter: “Meditating? What’s that?”
Jenny: “I don’t know. But it’s better than sitting around and doing nothing!”
Meditation: The New Kid on the Block
Bad joke? Maybe. But there is an essence of truth in it. Meditation is like the new kid on the block that everyone talks about, but you don’t really know what to think of him yet. Who ever you talk to seems to tell a different story.
The history of meditation can be traced back thousands of years. Yet, only recently did it find its way into the Western mainstream, primarily under the umbrella of the Mindfulness movement.
© Hartwig HKD – Meditation (CC BY 2.0)
Meditation is such a vast topic that it is impossible to get into all its intricacies in one or even multiple blogposts. If you are interested to learn more about this topic, then stay tuned for Busy Yogi’s future course on meditation.
This post will give you a brief introduction to meditation.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a means of transforming the mind.
When you read about meditation, it is often reduced to a practice where you sit quiet with your eyes closed, focusing on your breath, and observe your thoughts.
© Matt Deavenport – Morning meditation (CC BY 2.0)
However, this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
In the eight limbs set out in his classical text The Yoga Sutras, the author Patanjali differentiates between:
- Pratyahara, which is the withdrawal from all sensory input
- Dharana, which means concentration, and
- Dhyana, which is often translated as meditation and encompasses sustained concentration
Pratyahara brings the attention inwards, Dharana brings it to a razor-sharp one pointed focus, and then that focus is used to expand, into a state of meditation. Dhyana ultimately transitions into samadhi, which is the state of self-realization.
Chatting with a Buddhist Monk
I learned about concentration and meditation when I discussed it with a Buddhist monk. Some Buddhist temples in Thailand organize monk chats for tourists. This is a good way for monks to practice their English, and for visitors to learn more about the life of a monk.
At that time I had just finished a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat. Vipassana is a technique aimed to develop an intuitive wisdom, by seeing things clearly. It is said that the Buddha used this technique to become enlightened. During the first day of this retreat we would only focus on the breath. Later we would extend our focus to the entire body.
When I asked the monk if he also practiced Vipassana meditation, he said:
“I have been here for three years, but I am not ready yet. I am still learning to concentrate. I can only start practicing Vipassana when I can look at this table that we are sitting at and only see this table. Without having any thought.”
I was a bit taken back by that: here I sat with a monk who had been meditating for at least three years and he basically told me he hadn’t been meditating at all! Then an alleged teaching of the Buddha popped up in my mind:
“Becoming enlightened is very easy. It merely requires one hour without thought.”
Meditation: State, Practice and Technique
In defining meditation, it is helpful to differentiate between the state, the practice and the technique.
- Meditation state: meditation is a state of consciousness or a state of mind
- Meditation practice: the effort in training oneself toward the meditative state
- Meditation technique: the specific path, technology or method used for attaining the meditation state
How I understand the monk is that he had a meditation practice, in which he used a meditation technique. However, he had not yet experienced the state of meditation.
There are many many different meditation techniques. Western scientists often differentiate between:
- Focused attention: this is where the attention is focused on a single object.
- Open monitoring: in this type of meditation, all aspects of experience are observed, without judgment or attachment. An example of this is mindfulness practice, in which one monitors whatever comes up in the present moment, without judgment.
© Balint Földesi – Meditation (CC BY 2.0)
However, depending on how broad you define these two categories, there are many other meditation techniques:
- Automatic Self-Transcending. These techniques aim to transcend their own activity. Examples are transcendental meditation (TM) or Laya yoga.
- Loving kindness, in which one cultivates loving kindness.
- Chakra. Chakras are wheels of energy. Each chakra governs specific aspect of the being. For example, Manipura chakra (the navel chakra) is related to willpower and courage. A person who wants to develop these aspects in his being could choose to meditate on this chakra.
- Nature of creation.
The Benefits of Meditation
Over the last decades, there has been an explosion in scientific research on the effects of meditation. These studies have shown that meditation has many, many healing benefits.
Just to name a few, studies have shown that meditation:
- Reduces stress symptoms and increases the ability to work under stress
- Improves the immune system and lowers blood pressure
- Improves emotional stability
- Develops cognitive skills such as maintaining attention and disengaging from distraction
- Increases happiness
Meditation is really one of the best things you can for sustainable peak performance!
Learn more about how meditation can improve your capacity to focus by taking the course Develop Super Focus and Become Highly Productive in No Time!