Meditation is the daily habit of happy and successful people – but what is it, really, and how can we enjoy it rather than feeling like it’s a chore? Here is a brief history of meditation, as well as a guide to instant mindfulness.
Meditation – busted myths
- Meditation is for hippies
- I have to be in a quiet place
- My mind has to be totally clear
- I have to have a guru
- Meditation is only for monks
- I have to clink bells and chant
- It only works in the lotus position
- I have to know about chakras
- It is too hard and takes too much time
- It’s a religion
What is meditation?
The men are looking at me with a mix of attitudes. There’s a general vibe of ‘So what’s all this about then?’, and ‘What’s this young bloke s’posed to teach us?’. One or two bright faces. The rest look a bit jaded, resigned. A few crossed arms, and a pervasive feeling of burdened shoulders. I’m at a ‘men’s shed’ (a Beyond Blue initiative), about to run a seven-week programme on well-being, including mindfulness.
To get to know each other, I ask a few general questions, including “Who here meditates or has tried meditation?” Three hands out of 21. I ask a weathered but lively looking man about his meditation practice. ‘Mick’ says: “I was diagnosed with cancer 30 years ago. Gave me six months to live. Learned meditation from Ian Gawler. Saved my life. Still meditate today. 30 minutes. Everyone should. Nothing much worries me. If someone complains and tells me what’s wrong, I listen, and when they stop, I ask, ‘Is that all? You done?’, and get on with my day”.
“No matter where in your life you want to see improvement, meditation can help.
It does not matter what age you are, your culture or beliefs; meditation is for everyone and can provide you with great benefits, many of which have been scientifically confirmed. This simple, yet powerful mind training tool, when practised regularly, can bring long-term improvement to your health, wellbeing, relationships and career.”
Dr Ian Gawler’s Mindbody Mastery
Meditation – different strokes for different folks
Meditation means different things to different people. Its meaning mostly depends on the individual’s needs, which informs the application of the meditation.
To the student, it’s a way to deal with exams. To the ambitious professional it’s a means to be at their peak. To the jaded worker, perhaps trying to keep up with the mortgage, it’s a means to cope. For the musician or creative, it’s a way of accessing flow states. For the ground-breaking scientist, it’s the absorption in creative visualisation. For the afflicted, it’s a means to heal. For the mother to be, it’s a way of preparing for pregnancy. For many, meditation is an app. For the adept – whatever their path – it is embodiment, communion and prayer.
Meditation – a rich and long history
The briefest research will reward you with the insight that meditation is an ancient art. The earliest written records about meditation are Chinese, from 7,000 years ago, and as writing is thought to have originated around that time, it is likely that formalised practice existed even before then. Meditation has been practised continuously in virtually all cultures. While mostly associated with Eastern cultures and religions, meditation – in some form or another – is integral to the core of all major religions and most spiritual paths.
Meditation – in the West
As little as 125 years ago, Meditation in the West was the domain of Christian esoteric monastic sects; or limited to gnostic contemplatives, pagans, mystics – the explorers of spiritualism, mental healing, transcendentalism, and the occult.
This changed rapidly when the first World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago in 1893, coinciding with the World’s Fair. Major spiritual leaders from the East journeyed to Chicago to present their experience and knowledge to the West; mainly to gatherings of influential Westerners. Among the audience was the esteemed scientist Nikola Tesla, who saw correlations between his own ‘free-energy’ engineering discoveries and the illuminated teachings presented by Swami Vivekananda, who represented India and Hinduism at the parliament and fair.
“In the universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists. My brain is only a receiver.” – Nikola Tesla
From 1893 on, the Interfaith Movement began in the West, sparking a serious interest in the study and practice of meditation. This inspired major shifts of thinking in the West, including The New Thought Movement, which spread the art of ‘scientific prayer’ – meditation / prayer for manifestation – including ‘The Science of Mind’ (1926) by Ernest Shurtleff Holmes, which was later repackaged by Napoleon Hill; one of the first self-help personal development authors, whose book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ (1937) is arguably the main resource on which ‘The Secret’ (2006) was based.
The 1950s saw a few pioneers such as Alan Watts, whose ‘Psychotherapy East and West’ (1961) was a bestseller. Meditation in the West, however, remained largely the domain of spiritual seekers until the early 1960s. It was then The Beatles went to India, met the Maharishi and brought back with them ‘Transcendental Meditation’ (‘TM’). Unfortunately, meditation was quickly stigmatised by the main stream, as the domain of the hippies and dropouts.
A wave of spiritual refugees, who escaped persecution in their home countries, suddenly arrived in the West. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the best known of these, and many other sages and luminaries suddenly became directly available to Western audiences.
Meditation – as therapy?
From the 1960s onward, avant-garde psychologists gained the insight that meditation had therapeutic applications. This realisation coincided with the dawning of popular mind-body medicine in the West.
Until then, the wellness of the mind was regarded in medical circles to be unrelated to the wellness of the body. The capacity of the mind to initiate and facilitate healing was almost entirely ignored. Virtually no academic research on meditation or mind-body medicine was being funded until the 1970s.
Meditation may treat a variety of symptoms, including:
- Chronic fatigue
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Panic disorder
Our ‘normal waking consciousness’ is our hunter-gatherer ‘doing mode’, which utilises mainly the rational, logical processes of the neocortex; especially its left side: ‘the left brain’. These processes occur at the beta brainwave level; a vibrational frequency which is focused and separate from our awareness of greater self. Meditation occurs at the alpha, mu, theta and sometimes delta brainwave frequency.
Meditation does not create these brainwave frequencies or states of consciousness; it reveals them. What is revealed? The forest which was ‘hidden by the trees’. Meditation and mindfulness reveal what is already there: consciousness, being, mind and spirit itself.
“Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity. Eternity embraces the all-possible. The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness. A vision of oneness brings about universal love.” – Lau-Tzu 6thC. Chinese Taoist Master
As meditation opens us to a recognition of larger self, it eventually opens us to the recognition of our whole selves. As such, it is a form of ‘communion’ with Source, Universal Mind, Spirit, Consciousness, God or Higher Self (whatever you choose to call ‘IT’); a state which is rejuvenating, healing, inspiring, creative and pleasurable; AND which slows/ reverses biological ageing and promotes wonderful health benefits.
“There is no matter as such. All matter originates by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind.” – Max Planck, Quantum Theorist, Physics Nobel Prize winner 1918.
Meditation – as healing
As a meditation teacher and healer, I witness daily the simple miracle of people awakening to their true nature; including their meditative and self-healing abilities. What people realise when they heal, perhaps sounds weird ‘on paper’, but when directly experienced, makes perfect sense: We realise that where we have forgotten the simplicity of wholeness, we have disease, dysfunction, and discomfort.
In physics, ‘The Law of Perpetual Transmutation of Energy’, states that higher vibrations consume and transform lower ones, and that higher dimensions consume and transform lower ones. In healing, this means that any disease, dysfunction and, in some cases, disability, is healed when the problem and its underlying causes are brought to a level of consciousness and/or being above and beyond the level at which the symptoms and causes exist.
Near death experiences are great examples of this. Anita Moorjani, author of ‘Dying to be Me’ (2012) is one such example. She died from cancer, and – from the higher/ whole perspective of her soul – was able to see her whole life before her, thereby recognising the energetic / emotional / mind patterns which caused the cancer, and thus,from the higher perspective, being able to release these patterns. She came back to life, and in a few short days, her cancers were completely gone.
It’s counter-intuitive to the rational modern mind that our pain, discomfort and suffering are literally the doorway to healing, growth and transformation.
“The wound is where the Light enters you.” – Rumi, 13thC. Islamic Scholar
Instant meditation – 5 instant methods to help you meditate like a pro
You can practise any or all of these just about anywhere: on public transport, on a break at work or uni, at home, alone or in groups. Try them at your desk, or better; in a park. Just don’t drive or operate machinery!
- Close your eyes. Feel your clothes, or the sheets, on your skin. Feel the air. Notice the breath moving in and out without even trying. Allow yourself to wonder, without thinking, “Who is doing the breathing?”. Surrender the need to understand. Simply observe.
- Breathe into your heart centre. Breathe in love and joy. Notice yourself filling with light. Breathe out love, joy and appreciation. Notice the light shining in and out with every breath, until you can no longer tell whether it’s shining in or out.
- Keep your eyes open. Soften your gaze. Lose focus so you are not looking at any one thing. Surrender the need to name what you see. Know you are safe. Let your eyes drink in everything. Find ‘the clear’ in the blur, without trying, like eyes open under water, or like a waking dream.
- Pick a beautiful object. Look at it. Imagine it is the most lovely, amazing, incredible thing in the universe. Pour your loving awareness into it. Now pick a mundane or even ‘ugly’ object, and do the same. Be open. Marvel. Wonder about the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
- Notice five things you can see. Now see them all at once. Close your eyes. Notice five things you can feel. Now feel them all at once. Notice five things you can hear. Now hear them all at once. Explore how much you can hear and feel at the same time. Once your awareness feels expanded, feel the aliveness and energy in you and all around. If you like, let this awareness pour into your body. Let it scan every part of you for tension. It knows where to go – let it. Notice how, when it finds tension, it pours into that part of you. You may feel the tingle as it transforms and releases the tensions and blocks.
Bliss of the greatest love and joy is always there, hidden in plain view, as our own deepest reality.
Meditation – who can teach it?
There are certified teachers and there are associations. The fact that there are so many lineages that claim to be ‘the one’, underlines the deep personal nature of each individual’s private meditation practice. I used to have ‘a guru’ in the early days, who taught me the basics. There is something to be said for that, as a master tends to exude a resonant field that the initiate begins to resonate with. A transmission can occur by way of this resonance.
Meanwhile, there are many apps and online courses, many of them okay for learning the basics and the mechanics, but they tend to be either ‘dry’, devoid of that resonance which the master exudes, or simply guided visualisations.
If you’re unsure how to begin – or continue – your practice, explore a few options without getting too caught up in any one. In my opinion, all paths eventually lead home. In my experience, there is no right or wrong, except to follow your heart. And above all, be light hearted. Meditation is meant to be enjoyable 🙂
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