Meditation by Marinus Jan Marijs
What is meditation?
The term meditation is been used with many different meanings:
The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditārī, which has a range of meanings including to reflect on, to study, and to practice. Christian meditation is the process of deliberately focusing on specific thoughts (such as a bible passage) and reflecting on their meaning
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
The act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed:
This article tries to explain what is meditation and what its benefits are
Meditation and mindfulness have become quite popular in recent years—yet most people can’t really define meditation, understand it’s purpose, or appreciate what meditation is good for.
What is meditation?
In Psychology, meditation is defined as “a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes”
Meditation is practiced in one of three modes:
- Concentration: focusing attention on a single object, internal or external (focused attention meditation)
- Observation: paying attention to whatever is predominant in your experience in the present moment, without allowing the attention to get stuck on any particular thing (open monitoring meditation)
- Awareness: allowing awareness to remain present, undistracted and not engaged with either focusing or observing
Other characteristics of meditation include:
- Meditation is an individual practice, even if done in groups (such as in a meditation retreat).
- Meditation is often done with eyes closed, but not always (Zazen and Trataka, for example, are open-eye styles of meditation)
Meditation usually involves bodily stillness. But there are also ways to do walking meditation, and to integrate mindfulness in other activities.
To focus intensively on one particular object (so-called concentrative meditation), on all mental events that enter the field of awareness (so-called mindfulness meditation)
Originally, the word “meditate” actually means to think deeply about something. However, when eastern contemplative practices were “imported” to Western culture, this is the term that was used to define them, for lack of a better word. Nowadays meditation has more the meaning of this exercise of focusing attention than to reflect deeply.
In Christianity, meditation is a type of contemplative prayer that creates a sense of union with God, or the contemplation of religious themes.
In Buddhism, meditation is one of the three core practices for the purification of mind and attainment of Nirvana.
Meditation has been practiced throughout history by adherents of all the world’s religions throughout the world and a great number of different methods have been developed:
Prayer—where there is a conscious flow of thinking and feeling, directed towards a transcendent force
Contemplation—where the thought processes is actively engaged in order to deepen the understanding of a subject or concept.
Breathing exercises like pranayama and (most types of) qigong— where the focus is on producing a certain pattern of breathing and purify the body
Yoga: restraint (yama), observance (niyama), posture (asana),…
In Roman Catholicism, for example, contemplation consists of active, voluntary, and systematic thinking about a biblical or theological topic
The verbal or mental repetition of a prescribed efficacious syllable, word, or text (e.g., the Hindu and Buddhist mantra, the Islamic wazifa, and the Eastern Christian Jesus Prayer).
Different forms of visual concentration
The practice of mindfulness meditation, which is an adaptation of Buddhist techniques
Withdrawal from the senses (pratyāhāra)
One-pointedness of mind (dhāraṇā)
Jainism uses meditation techniques such as pindāstha-dhyāna, padāstha-dhyāna, rūpāstha-dhyāna, rūpātita-dhyāna, and savīrya-dhyāna. In padāstha dhyāna one focuses on a mantra
Theravāda Tibetan tradition there are visualization meditations
Taoist meditation has developed techniques for qi cultivation
Kabbalistic meditation often involves the mental visualization of the supernal realms.
Christian meditation is a term for a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to get in touch with and deliberately reflect upon the revelations of the divine
High-intensity and sharply focused introspection.
Scholars have found meditation difficult to define, as practices vary both between traditions and within them. (Wikipedia):
Meditation has proven difficult to define as it covers a wide range of dissimilar practices in different traditions. In popular usage, the word “meditation” and the phrase “meditative practice” are often used imprecisely to designate practices found across many cultures. These can include almost anything that is claimed to train the attention of mind or to teach calm or compassion. There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community. In 1971, Claudio Naranjo noted that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is A 2009 study noted a “persistent lack of consensus in the literature” and a “seeming intractability of defining meditation” (Wikipedia)
The inability for Scholars to define meditation is because it isn’t just one singular phenomenon, but there are different stages of meditation.
While different traditions developed different methods, the different stages deal with a total structure which is universal.
There are different levels of meditation:
1 Concentration on control over physical body
Focus on breath – Relax the physical body – muscles, nerves, and internal organs.
To alleviate mental and physical conditions, such as reducing stress, and anxiety
Flow of the athlete, dancer
2 Concentration on emotional control.
Cease to seek distraction and instant gratification.
To reach a state of mental calmness
Flow of the actor
3 Concentration on control over representational thought processes, increasing peace of mind, and reducing stress, anxiety,
Flow of the painter
4 Concentration on control over concrete thought processes
attempts to get beyond the reflexive, discursive thinking
The emergence of the capacity for focused attention
Flow of the play writer
5 Concentration on control over abstract thought processes
Involve a state of psychophysical relaxation, a state of suspension of logical thought processes, a state of mental silence
Flow of the logician
6 Savitarka samadhi – Contemplation
A heightened alertness, balance
Transcend cultural and social conditioning
Flow of the existentialist
7 Khanika samadhi – Short meditative state
(meditative state of ± 5 minutes)
Involving high-intensity and sharply focused introspection.
8 Upacara samadhi – Meditative state
(meditative state of ± 20 minutes)
A non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment, without going into them. Access to other realms of consciousness
Intuition – Insight
9 Appana samadhi – Effortless meditative state. Tranquillity
(meditative state of ± 2 hours)
Fully alert, aware, and in control of all faculties but one does not experience any unwanted thought activity – Serenity
Inspiration – Choiceless Awareness – Light circulation – Kundalini activation
10 Savikalpa samadhi – Permanent meditative state
Pure consciousness, beyond any attachment or aversion
Absence of the internal monologue
11a Nirvana, Nirvikalpa samadhi – Union
11b Nirodha – Turiya – Non-dual
11d Low causal Bhava samadhi
12a Parinirvana – Spiritual liberation
12b Mahaparinirvana -Turiyatita
12c Post-enlightenment – Supramentalisation
12d High causal Bhava samadhi
The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a contemplative practice, as a means of quieting, focussing and transforming the mind.
Generally, the goal of meditation is to intensify personal and spiritual growth, in addition to calming the mind and body.
Each time the mind becomes distracted, the practitioner is encouraged to come back to an object of concentration, such as the breath, a sound, an image or a philosophical or spiritual concept.
Yogapedia explains Meditation:
Due to the wide variety of contexts in which meditation is practiced, there are a huge number of different meditation practices. In general, meditation involves establishing a focal point in order to free oneself from distractions, while finding stillness in a steady and stable posture. However, there are some forms of the practice which involve movement, such as walking meditation.
Meditation allows practitioners to observe patterns of the mind and to notice the interrupting thoughts, eventually leading to longer gaps between them over time. Regular practice enables deep concentration to occur naturally and more frequently.
Training the mind in this way dramatically improves mental strength and focus. Additionally, a great deal of research has confirmed that physiological and psychological changes take place in the body during meditation. For example, Herbert Benson’s studies found that meditation counteracts the stress response, in turn improving any health conditions related to chronic stress.
Generally, what is taught as ‘meditation’ in yoga studios is in fact the practice of dharana; techniques to focus and concentrate the mind in preparation for dhyana. Focus on breath, bodily sensations, mantras, chakras or drishti are all forms of dharana, in which the mind is trained to fix on one particular subject or object.
Data from scientific research:
A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that the practice of “Open Monitoring Meditation” (such as Vipassana), reduces the grey-matter density in areas of the brain related with anxiety and stress. Meditators were more able to “attend moment-to-moment to the stream of stimuli to which they are exposed and less likely to ‘get stuck’ on any one stimulus. ”
“Open Monitoring Meditation” involves non-reactively monitoring the content of experience from moment-to-moment, primarily as a means to recognize the nature of emotional and cognitive patterns.
Meditation helps reduce symptoms of panic disorder
In a research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 22 patients diagnosed with anxiety disorder or panic disorder were submitted to 3 months meditation and relaxation training. As a result, for 20 of those patients the effects of panic and anxiety had reduced substantially, and the changes were maintained at follow-up.
Source: American Journal of Psychiatry
In a study with Tibetan Buddhist monks, conducted by neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, it was found that novice meditators “showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature”.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Meditation increases the ability to keep focus in spite of distractions
A study from Emory University, Atlanta, demonstrated that participants with more meditation experience exhibit increased connectivity within the brain networks controlling attention. These neural relationships may be involved in the development of cognitive skills, such as maintaining attention and disengaging from distraction. Moreover, the benefits of the practice were observed also in normal state of consciousness during the day, which speaks to the transference of cognitive abilities “off the cushion” into daily life.
The meditation practice examined was focusing the attention on the breath.
Source: Frontiers Journal
Meditation improves your mood and psychological well-being
Researchers from Nottingham Trent University, UK, found that when participants with issues of stress and low mood underwent meditation training, they experienced improvements in psychological well-being.
Source: Link Springer
Meditation increases awareness of your unconscious mind
A study by researchers from the University of Sussex in the UK found out that people that practice mindfulness meditation experience a greater pause between unconscious impulses and action, and are also less subject to hypnosis.
Source: New Scientist
Mindfulness meditation fosters creativity
A research from Leiden University (Netherlands) demonstrates that the practice of “open monitoring” meditation (non-reactively monitoring the content of experience from moment-to-moment) has positive effects in creativity and divergent thinking. Participants who had followed the practice performed better in a task where they were asked to creatively come up with new ideas.
Source: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
3. Physical Benefits
Meditation reduces the risk of heart diseases and stroke
More people die of heart diseases in the world than any other illness.
In a study published in late 2012, a group of over 200 high-risk individuals was asked to either take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or take a class on Transcendental Meditation. During the next 5 years researchers accompanying the participants found that those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death.
They noted that meditation “significantly reduced risk for mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke in coronary heart disease patients. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors.”
There are also other researches pointing out similar conclusions, about related health conditions.
Sources: Time Magazine, American Heart Association, HealthCentral
Mindfulness training is helpful for patients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
In a study published in PubMed, 11 participants that suffered from Fibromyalgia underwent an 8-week mindfulness training. As a result, the researchers found significant improvement in the overall health status of the participants and in symptoms of stiffness, anxiety, and depression. Significant improvements were also seen in the reported number of days “felt good” and number of days “missed work” because of Fibromyalgia.
Source: NCBI (1), NCBI (2), Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Journal
Meditation increases feelings of compassion and decreases worry
After being assigned to a 9-week compassion cultivation training (CCT), individuals showed significant improvements in all three domains of compassion – compassion for others, receiving compassion from others, and self-compassion. In a similar situation, the practitioners also experienced decreased level of worry and emotional suppression.
Sources: Stanford School of Medicine (also here), Sage Journals.
What are the main health benefits of meditation?
Meditation reduces stress, which is estimated to be the cause of over 80% of the visits to the doctor. Meditation is also proved to improve your immune system, reduce inflammatory disorders and asthma, manage blood pressure, and increase longevity. Studies have shown that meditation reduces the risk of heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia and arthritis.
What are the spiritual benefits of meditation?
Meditation brings peace of mind, positive feelings, and helps you connect to a deeper sense of purpose in one’s life. It is the main spiritual discipline in many wisdom traditions.
As the world close to us has a great influence on how we feel, we try to control the conditions of the world around us.
We seek to obtain several things that are necessary such as: Food, shelter, safety, social acceptation, and knowledge.
But this process which is to a certain degree necessary, is in many cases pushed beyond this and one seeks to accomplish to achieve higher status, acquire wealth and fame, develop power and so on.
This persisting drive to go beyond what is necessary, and seems to give freedom, in the end takes away freedom because ….
The control of external factors eventually will be limited, and some ultimate security and happiness is not to be found in the outside world
This cannot solve the confusion, or take away the vulnerability, anxiety, mental suffering and uncertainty
So the question, is how can one find a mental state of calmness, resilience, a state of inner peace
This is not possible by controlling external factors, by desires, by cultivating dependencies, but by bringing order into internal factors and a deep understanding of existence.
Independent of prosperity or adversity, indifference to the fluctuations of the external world, by focusing on inner processes
Stages of development:
1 To pay attention to one’s reactions and automatisms. Resist the Impuls to react immediately and instinctively to potentially problematic situations.
Do not search for immediate gratification.
2 Try not to satisfy desires, but eliminating them.
Maintain control over one’s emotions.
Stress reduction, relaxation.
Not to react impulsively to impressions.
3 Eliminate pride and excess, control thy passions, worry, fear and unchecked desire, To better order one’s life and to avoid the excesses of human nature that promote disquietude and anxiety about future events.
4 Eliminate polarised thinking, unrest, grief, fear, frustrated desire, jealousy and envy. Don’t (not to) talk (or think) about trivialities, banalities, don’t gossip about people and unnecessary passing judgment upon other people.
Self-discipline, temperance. Not to be preoccupied with one’s self-image.
Don’t (not to) live with resentment, but with (practice) gratitude.
Resentment pulls the mind downwards, gratitude lifts the mind upwards.
5 Eliminate irrational thinking, do not depend on the admiration of others. There is no stability in property, reputation, or social power, live without entitlement without clinging. Function by rational principles.
Not to strive for conformity.
Differentiate between the factual self and the psychological ego.
Do not be disturbed by setbacks …..
6 To Develop multiple perspectives, cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. improve one’s understanding of oneself.
Withdrawing from the environment.
Reflect on the deeper meaning of life, justice, integrity.
Becoming a clear and unbiased thinker which allows one to understand the universal reason (Logos).
7 Equanimity of mind especially under stressful situations, being undisturbed.
To be aware of the impermanence of things. Live without detachment.
Shift from changing external circumstances to changing internal matters.
8 Serenity and independence of external factors, indifferent to the circumstances one is in. Self-transformation.
A state of non-attachment
Knowledge and its pursuit are no longer held to be ends in themselves.
Quieting the mind, thoughts stop and there is pure awareness.
To experience the true depths of reality and existence.
9 Tranquillity, indifference to personal circumstances. To be able to get internally quiet, clearness.
Beyond cultural constraints.
The goal of all inquiry is to provide a mode of conduct characterized by tranquillity of mind and certainty of moral integrity and meaning..
10 Non-reactive awareness, virtue, excellence at one’s functioning.
A silent mind, exploration of inner space, without going into mind-wandering.
A deep profound mental calmness.
Insight in one’s own nature.
True creativity not just rearranging and building on previous idea.
To live in the present, without being anxious for the future, go beyond hope and fear.
11 Effortless state of being, pure awareness. Permanent meditative state
Total clarity, transformation of conscious patterns
Blissful, a sense of profound joy
12 Spiritual enlightenment, liberation,
transformation of the subconscious.
A fundamental reorganisation of deep subconscious structures.