Meditation: A Higher State of Consciousness
Most of the population are constantly in pursuit of worldly pleasures they believe can bring them happiness and fulfillment. But it is well recognized that the happiness derived from these material pleasures is temporary and brings with it stress and anxiety. To drive away stress, calm the mind, and experience inner joy, a technique known as “meditation” is practiced in the East as well as the West. The purpose of meditation is to focus on the inner self, away from the outside world.
Meditation is said to have a profound impact on the mind and the consciousness of the individual. It awakens the inner consciousness and makes the person practicing it realize different aspects of life that he would never have pondered before.
The word meditation is a word taken from the Latin word meditatum, formed from the root med, which means “to measure, or to ponder.” Meditation has been practiced for centuries by isolated individuals to achieve a higher spiritual consciousness and by modern societies for relaxation, stress reduction, and inner peace. Meditation can be studied in a spiritual as well as a scientific context. On a spiritual level, meditation helps in attainment of peace, serenity, and bliss. Scientific observations of the brains of Buddhist monks have shown that meditation has a positive affect on the brain's gamma wave activity, which is responsible for neurological functions such as attention, perception, and memory.
Connecting with the Universe
The state of meditation does not take you away from worldly realities; it is a medium that allows you to dissociate yourself from the regular mindbody processes and worldly matters, and observe them from a higher plane of being or state of consciousness. This state of consciousness or awareness that can be achieved through the disciplined practice of meditation encompasses both the spiritual and earthly planes.
The goal of a person practicing meditation should be to experience his thoughts and body objectively, without being limited by his existence or feeling trapped inside them. Liberating the mind from the limitations of existence in the earthly plane is one of the key objectives of meditation.
Meditation also gives you the ability to connect with the universe and feel your soul as a part of the larger and all-encompassing universal consciousness. Experiencing this may not be the easiest of things, but regular and disciplined meditation practice can get you closer to the pure consciousness, which is much more blissful than the surface level reality of the physical world.
“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.” — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD
Types of Meditation
There are different forms of meditation, some of which include keeping the body immobile and focusing attention on the inner self, an expressive form where the body is let free. Broadly, meditation can be classified under two main categories: concentrative meditation or mindfulness meditation.
In concentrative meditation, concentration is focused on a particular object. The mental image you choose to focus on can be something that is of spiritual significance to you, or if you concentrate on a phrase or word, it can be one that has a deep spiritual meaning. It could be your breathing, a word/phrase, an object, or a mental image. When the mind is at ease, each breath is regular, deep, and slow. In this form of meditation, you have to focus on every inhalation and exhalation of breath.
Mindfulness meditation helps achieve a nonreactive and calm state of mind. In this form of meditation, the mind is focused on the present. According to Dr. Joan Borysenko, an expert on mind-body connection and integrative medicine, mindfulness meditation is an awareness of the present sensations, feelings, images, and thoughts without getting involved in actually thinking about them. The United States Army has now employed this meditative technique to help their soldiers in Iraq cope with mental stress.
Tai chi is a popular Chinese meditative form, which combines slow movements, postures, and deep, controlled breathing. There are also yogic breathing techniques that relax the body and calm the mind.
Buddhist meditative practices are diverse and vary according to the schools of Buddhism. “Right Concentration,” “Right Mindfulness,” and “Right View” are three of the several techniques taught. A popular technique is “Vipassana,” which involves focusing attention on the coolness in the nostrils during breathing, the breathing process felt around the stomach, and the breath itself. This can be practiced at any place and time.
How Does Meditation Work?
All meditative practices focus on getting rid of cluttered thoughts and calming the mind. Research on the subject shows that meditation brings a decrease in heart rate, pulse rate, and the stress hormone cortisol. Studies conducted on transcendental meditation by Dr. Robert Keith Wallace, pioneering researcher in the neurophysiology of higher states of consciousness, indicate that during meditation, not only does the body achieve a state of profound rest, but the mind and brain also become more alert. The nervous system activity is also reduced, making the mind quiet and relaxed. There is also a drop in blood pressure levels of those practicing meditation on a regular basis.
How Can Meditation Help You
Studies show that meditation has a positive impact on a person's physiological and psychological health. Apart from lowering blood pressure, stress hormones, and cholesterol levels, meditation has been found to help asthma patients by improving airflow to the lungs.
What are some of the health benefits associated with meditation?
Research by Harvard Medical School professors has found that there is an increase in the body's blood flow and a faster delivery of oxygen to muscles during meditation. Practitioners of transcendental meditation have been estimated to be up to twelve years younger than their actual chronological age. Regular meditative practices have been found to retain youthfulness and prevent diseases associated with aging.
Meditation has been found to cure disorders related to stress, anxiety, and depression. Practitioners have reported feeling less irritable, happier, and having improved emotional stability. As mentioned earlier, meditation has a positive effect on brain wave activity, which results in better reasoning skills and improved creativity. All this evidence points to how consciousness can control and help the body, including the physical brain, and how the human being is not just a physical being but made up of thoughts and energy.