Meditation: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Meditation is the cure of all ailments in the 21st Century, right? I’m sure you could all think of someone who practises or talks about the wonders of meditation all the time; however it’s time to start an honest discussion.
A few months ago I met a couple who have been teaching and running their own meditation school for the last 20 years. They openly laughed at me when I said I teach regular yoga classes and rarely sit and meditate in the cross-legged position they are so used to. Sitting still, silently and mindfully for even a couple of minutes every day can definitely help to calm one's mind and bring a peaceful awareness to oneself. However, formal meditation can be difficult and emotionally painful for many, and should certainly be practised with an experienced teacher to guide you. The word meditation is derived from the Latin word meaning 'to mediate', or the Greek translation of a 'dialogue'. This reminds us that there are in fact many different types of 'meditation', from prolonged sitting in silence, to mindful walking, or even frivolous, loud, ecstatic dancing.
I went to a lecture this summer by an Oxbridge scientist named Miguel Farias, and Dada Jyotirupanada, an American monk who has been practising meditation for over 35 years. They were discussing different types of meditation, and the spiritual and/or scientific benefits of these. Jyotirupanada explained that a human’s thought process changes every 3-5 seconds, therefore the practice of meditation is essential in helping us regulate and slow down our incessant minds. Attending one physical yoga class per week may help one feel calmer and fitter momentarily, although developing a 'unified yoga', to exercise our physical and mental bodies, will be even more beneficial, helping to create a holistic and long-term positive mental attitude, the effects of which can be noticed throughout your everyday life. In his book Meditation: Searching For The Real You, Jyotirupanada explains “meditation and mindfulness are bridging the gap between secularism and spirituality”. It is not that we must all confine ourselves to a monk’s life of spiritual-searching, but simply that we should make time every day to focus an awareness on ourselves and our surroundings; to be mindful every day.
In Buddhist Dharma it is taught that: “The essential nature of a human being is to find happiness.” There are numerous psychologists, scientists and religious practitioners who have been studying and writing about humans' search for happiness for many years. The Economics of Happiness International conferences encourage localisation and community self-sufficiency in the elusive search. Many advisory business texts explain how to maximise your cash funds in order to achieve lasting happiness. However, as agreed by scientists, farmers, professors and practising monks, each of the seven billion people on earth must remember their individuality, acknowledging and accepting the uniqueness of their own situation in their quest for happiness.
Miguel Farias has been studying the effects of meditation on brain function and growth for over 20 years. He explained that due to organic lifestyles of the participant groups, there is ambiguity as to whether scientific benefits can be proven from regular meditation. However brain scans have proved that different types of meditation as mentioned above, certainly do activate and have the potential to affect different areas of the brain. That is not to say that subjective increases in compassion, wellbeing and happiness have not been recorded however.
As noted by the title of this article, there should be no covering the fact that meditation can indeed be ugly for some people though. There are said to be five layers of the human mind, and intense practice will cause these layers to be gradually uncovered. 'Traumatic re-experiences' of events can and do happen to about a quarter of students, however if guided by an experienced teacher, this should not dissuade you but rather encourage you to revisit and work through any trauma, enabling you to no longer dwell on these events, instead focusing on the present. There is an endless catalogue of meditation practices and benefits, however the most important lesson I acquired from both Farias and Jyotirupanada is that individual effort and motivation towards practising will shape one’s experiential outcome.
“Whatever you can believe and perceive, you can achieve.”