An introduction to the art and practice of meditation and the many benefits thereof.
Welcome back to EM and the wonderful world of consciousness. Our journey thus far has introduced you to EM and the reasons why I decided to launch it at this time. We then looked at Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc² and the fact that everything resonates at a frequency that can be affected by external forces. Under the right conditions, energy can become mass and vice versa. I spoke about my difficult childhood that led to me become a much-reduced version of myself; I was plagued by mystery illnesses and was not able to cope with life. I started my journey to consciousness with meditation and so it seems pertinent to discuss that next.
I found myself in the lounge of a friend of a friend. She had invited me to join her meditation group. Having lived a very sheltered life, I had never heard of meditation. Whilst I was very suspicious and nervous, my curiosity got the better of me and I found myself among a small group of people who all looked surprisingly normal. We were invited to lie on the floor or to make ourselves comfortable in a chair. Some strange music was put on the CD player, some candles were lit, and a stick of cloyingly sweet incense was lit. I had never encountered incense and I did not particularly care for it. The group leader invited us to close our eyes, to feel the chair or the floor beneath us. We were asked to center ourselves and leave the cares of the world outside. What the heck did that even mean?
Then we were invited to breathe in deeply through our noses and to exhale through our mouths. I felt as though I was surrounded by boiling kettles as everyone’s breath whistled and hissed on the exhale. I had been taught to be invisible and to leave no imprint at all and I was astonished at how these people felt so free to express themselves so noisily. I was intrigued. The group leader then began to drone in a monotone voice and took them on a journey through something called chakras. I say them and not us because I went exactly nowhere. I sat in rigid fascination while this all went on. Each chakra that he spoke about seemed to espouse a particular colour and I honestly understood nothing that he said. I sat there quietly being as invisible as possible until he eventually began to speak louder and invite everyone back into the room; We were asked to once again become aware of the chair or floor beneath us and then we all wriggled our fingers and toes, took a big cleansing breath and arrived back in our bodies! This was some Weird Shit!
Each person then described their experience. They spoke in breathless awe about the incredible things they had seen; how acutely they had felt their emotions; how they felt lighter, better, more grounded and centered. I had no clue what they were talking about. I may as well have been attending a convention conducted in Russian. The group leader chuckled at my obvious discomfort and seemed to take no offense at all that I hadn’t had a wonderful experience. He was excited to see me the following week when he assured me things would be different. Next week? You’re kidding me!!
I did go back because that curiosity of mine was driving the bus by that stage. I had finally, for the first time in my life, allowed myself to choose my path. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, it was one of the first steps I made towards recovering myself. That second evening I was sitting quietly focusing on my breath when the strangest thing happened. I suddenly saw the most incredible light show being played out behind my eyelids. I can only describe it as though I was staring at the Northern Lights. In my sheltered little life, I hadn’t heard of the Northern Lights and had no frame of reference for the experience, but it fascinated me. It felt as though I had been staring at this light show for a mere twenty seconds when I heard the instruction to come back to the room. An entire 45 minutes had passed and I had no recollection of that time.
Back in those days we didn’t have computers and Google was just a spec in the Universe waiting for the right person to imagine it, ground it and create it. Today we have a world of information at our fingertips if we know what to look for. Google defines meditation thus:
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.
So, what exactly is this weird practice that is espoused by so many as the answer to their problems and the way to create a better world? Well firstly, there are as many different ways to meditate as there are people to practice them. It is a highly personal process and each individual will find their own rhythm and sweet spot depending on what they want to achieve. I am going to tell you briefly about the most frequently used ones that I have tried and, as always, I encourage you to explore away at will if you feel called to know more.
One can meditate simply to clear the mind which is usually done by focussing on an object or activity such as a candle, music, a guiding voice and/or your breath. The idea is to bring your attention back to the object of focus as soon as your mind wanders. This is called focused attention. It’s a great one to start with when you first attempt to meditate. There are tons of resources available online, supporting meditation music or guided meditations (which is what I did) where someone talks you through the process and you focus on their voice. One can meditate on a specific question or problem to gain clarity which is called mindful meditation. This is a wonderful tool if you are struggling to make a decision or are troubled by something. You quieten the rush of thoughts in your mind and focus solely on the issue at hand. This works very well if you want to do some internal energy spring cleaning (more about that in a later post). Or you can try open-monitoring meditation where you notice everything around you but you do not engage your thoughts. What a great tool for learning how to discipline your thoughts and still your mind. I’ve never managed to achieve any success there. If my eyes are open my mind behaves like an unruly toddler in a toy store and grabs onto everything it sees.
In my complete ignorance and due largely to my very closeted upbringing, I first thought that meditation was the domain of Buddhist monks and spiritual people in countries like India with its roots deeply set in ancient Eastern practices. Whilst that may be where the practice found its origins, that is certainly no longer the case and meditation is practiced across the world and is growing daily in popularity. It has received great press in recent years as more and more celebrities are finding the practice is helping them in their lives; and they have the resources to spread the word. Is the meditation practice of the Buddhist monk the same as the Hollywood celebrity’s, or indeed mine? Well yes, it is, in the same way that a tree and a log fire are the same thing.
I once asked a psychologist I was seeing how meditation affects our brains and why we were able to experience such incredible visualizations and to change our emotional condition by simply breathing and focusing for a period of time. I told her about one or two of the meditation experiences I eventually began to have after much practice; visualizations that had no bearing on my reality or anything I was ever likely to encounter. She looked at me in horror and declared me an attention seeking whack job. Clearly, she knew less than I did about the practice. This was not a long-term relationship as I’m sure you can imagine, but I was definitely on to something. Scientists have discovered using fMRI imaging that when a person meditates there is a marked decrease in beta brain waves. These are the brainwaves we use to do all of our complex thinking and cogitation. Its where most of our anxiety provoking thinking happens and our greatest worries are chewed over and over.
The Frontal lobe, which is the most highly evolved part of the brain tends to go offline during meditation. This shuts down our reasoning and planning ability together with our emotions and self-conscious awareness. The part of the brain that processes sensory information relating to what’ s happening around us, which allows us to see ourselves in context to everything else, is called the Parietal lobe and it slows right down when we meditate. The Thalamus regulates our senses and this functionality is also markedly reduced in meditation. Then we have the Reticular Formation which receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating quietens this arousal signal. Understanding that meditation slows down all this brain activity, one can understand how it might be beneficial to the overall health and well-being. It’ s equivalent to pressing pause on all the noise and clatter going on in our minds and allowing us a brief respite to just be still. I picture this somewhat akin to pressing the knob on your pressure cooker and letting out some of the built-up pressure. It’s impossible in meditation to worry about how you look, what anyone else thinks of you, what’s happening in the street outside, the demons you have inside that make you feel anxious and worthless. It allows you, for however long you meditate, to simply be, which is a highly desirable state. No judgement, no pressure, no action needed. Just be and allow your mind and body to be free. You’ll be amazed what you discover about yourself when you do that.
The benefits of meditation include better focus, reduced anxiety, less pain, more creativity, increased compassion, improved memory, less stress and a reduction of declining cognitive functions. The great news is that you don’t have to move to Tibet or join a monastery to start meditating. You don’t have to commit vast tracts of time you don’t have. You can start with two minutes a day. Simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing can have a tremendously beneficial impact on your life and the more you do it the more you will want to spend time on this highly beneficial practice. Only twenty minutes can have a significant impact on your health. I make it a daily practice that when I wake in the morning, instead of reaching for my phone, I lie still and focus on my breath. Its such a small action, but I find I then start my day feeling calmer and more focused. If I find myself during the day spiraling in my thinking and going round and round on an issue, I make myself stop and I close my eyes and focus on my breath. Breathe in for the count of four, hold for the count of four, breathe out for the count of four, hold for the count of four. Repeat until you feel yourself relax and slow down. You can do this in a meeting with your eyes open of course so your boss doesn’t think you’ve nodded off. You can practice this anywhere, anytime. With practice you will be able to increase the depth of the meditation by extending the timing. I’ve never managed to get beyond a count of seven, but I’m the first to admit I have toddler mentality under instruction.
I offer you my understand of meditation and how it showed up and affected my life. If this is something you’d like to explore in more depth, I encourage you to research, experiment and find out what works best for you. If you can join a meditation group to start off with, you will find yourself quickly getting the hang of it. If not then access some of those free online resources. Just search for meditation music or guided mediation or even meditation for…. insert your specific requirement. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when everything is already there for you to tap into. The simple act of committing to spend quiet time with yourself is an act of the highest self-love and care. It may feel like a small insignificant act, but one day you will look back and realize it was in fact a quantum leap and it will have started a change process in your life where you learn to honor yourself as you were intended to do.
My objective is to listen with EMpathy
and help EMbolden you to dream.
As you EMerge from your learned way of being,
I will celebrate with you as you EMbrace your full potential,
As you EMancipate yourself from your limitations,
you EMpower yourself to love with greater clarity and joy!
Until next time where we will look at What is Consciousness and Spirituality, be kind to one another and honor yourself as the unique and incredibly special soul that you are.
© Copyright 2020 – Janice Melmed