Posted by: sshenry | October 1, 2010
Meditation; A History and Definition
What is Meditation?
In order to begin practicing meditation it may be helpful to understand just what meditation IS and, for that matter, what it is NOT.
Meditation is, technically, a mental discipline designed to train the mind in order to achieve a desired result. That’s it. It’s not a religion. It’s not communication with the devil. It is simply the process by which one learns to control the continual chatter of thoughts in your head.
WHY a person practices meditation – the goals he or she wishes to achieve by it – is another thing altogether.
The History of Meditation
The first recorded reference to meditation comes from India, where references to “Tantra” are recorded (Tantra being an aspect of meditation, one of its many forms). Whether Tantra (or meditation) is something that ancient man discovered on his own, say by gazing into the flames and achieving an altered state of consciousness (historian approved version), or whether it was a practice handed down from an even older and now forgotten culture (Atlanean/Lemurian supporter approved version) is a matter of opinion. What we do know is that over the last five thousand years, meditation has developed into a structured practice that many people use to their benefit on a daily basis.
One of the biggest supporters of meditation, of course, was Siddhārtha Gautama, who later became known as Buddha, or “enlightened one”. It was Siddhārtha’s teachings that brought meditation to the forefront of Eastern philosophical and religious thought.
But meditation is not restricted to Buddhist thought. Variations of meditation have been discovered and practiced by adherents of any number of religions, traditions and belief systems, including Hinduism, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity and New Age proponents. The purpose and structure of the meditation(s) vary from one religion, tradition or belief system to another of course, but it all comes down to the same thing: control of the mind.
More recently the secular world has discovered the benefits of meditation. Its proven ability to relieve the pressures of stress, reduce blood pressure, increase vitality and assist with any other number of physical and mental issues has popularized it with the medical community.
One of the most famous supporters of meditation from a secular perspective was Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School who, in 1975 conducted a series of clinical tests on mediators from various disciplines. His findings opened up the field of meditation as a secular method of relaxation to a number of researchers who came after, each of them developing methods that employed mediation techniques but stripped them of any religious or spiritual context, which has made the practice of meditation palatable to western medicine.
The Benefits of Meditation
The proven physical benefits of meditation include relaxation, reduced stress levels, the ability to control one’s blood pressure, pain management and improved illness recovery time. Mediation techniques have been used in childbirth methods to increase tolerance to pain and reduce the length of labor, in pre-operative and post-operative situations to help the patient decrease their anxiety levels regarding the procedure, as well as any other number of practical applications. But to only take advantage of the physical benefits of mediation seems like a waste; for the mental and spiritual benefits it offers are at least equal to, if not greater than the physical benefits.
Mental benefits include increased mental clarity and perception, a greater ability to focus as well as an increased attention span, while the spiritual benefits of meditation go even further, bringing one into alignment with one’s higher purpose, making connections to all the universe, and enhancing one’s state of knowing and understanding.
But whether you are determined to keep meditation on a secular level for physical benefits only, or whether you wish to increase your mental discipline, or even use it in your personal spiritual life, there is one thing that every practitioner of meditation has to learn – and that is how to BREATHE.
COMING NEXT: Meditation 101: Breathing Meditation