MEDITATION: PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING by Ron Peters MD
“He who dies before he dies does not die when he dies.” Jon Kabat-Zinn,
Coming to Our Senses
“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” Herman Hesse
Nothing distinguishes mankind more than the ability to think. The wondrous span of human creativity depends on thought, as do most of the details of our daily life. Indeed the ability to think is the most powerful tool that we have. But this singular powerful force is a double edged sword as it also has spawned untold suffering, pain and disease both socially and individually.
Uncontrolled thinking fires our fears, worries, anxieties, and myriad forms of dis-ease in our relationships, work, finances, and, in our bodies. For many, thinking has become a disease that is unrecognized because it is so common, as it engenders a seemingly relentless flow of despairing personal pain, depression, neurosis and sleepless nights. It is no wonder that throughout human history we have tried to control our thoughts.
While singing, chanting, drumming, and dancing are some of the mind-quieting methods used by many cultures, meditation in one form or another stands alone as the best way to calm and focus the mind. It appears in every religion and is used by every culture throughout history. The rich spiritual traditions of India speak of thoughts as “waves arising in the ocean”, sometimes reaching stormy levels.
Meditation is the vehicle that helps us to know that we are not only the waves, but also the ocean beneath the waves – silent, infinite and unchanging.
More recently, Eckhart Tolle says much the same thing in his beautiful book, The Power of Now, when he wrote “… who you really are is who is listening to your thoughts.” All of the stress we experience in modern life arises from our thoughts and emotions turning on the powerful “fight or flight” stress physiology.
We worry about finances, children, business, relationships, politics and we are frustrated by a litany of common daily experiences. As always, thought creates fear and anger and the body “thinks” that we are in danger and prepares us to survive by running away or fighting. But the danger is really inside the mind itself arising from thoughts that bubble up from the unconscious mind which contains all of the emotions we suppressed to survive our childhood and the beliefs, many of which are dysfunctional, that we inherited from our parents and society.
It is a serious case of mistaken identity as we think that we are the wounded ego, which is always based on fear and separation, that fuels the chattering and worried thoughts that intrude into our consciousness.
Meditation is one of the best ways to turn off the “uncontrolled” mind and help us to discover that our true identity is a deep and profound peace or, Presence that is described in every spiritual scripture as the Kingdom of heaven within. While meditation has arisen from the shadows of history in every culture, it is now become a science with extensive research showing the benefits of this timeless wisdom.
The followers of Mararishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation movement in the 1970s led the way in meditation research. Since then over five hundred papers have been published in 108 scientific journals, authored by scientists at 211 research institutions and universities, in twenty-three countries worldwide. Studies of meditation have shown that quieting the mind through various forms of meditative practice benefit every system in the body, including weight loss, lower blood pressure, improved immunity, better digestion, reduced need for medications, as well as improved learning, concentration, less depression and anxiety and improved sleep.
Other studies have found important benefits for such diverse populations as prison inmates, drug addicts, and Vietnam veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorders. The extensive scientific research on meditation is summarized by the following:
EFFECTS ON THE BODY
• Lowers metabolic rate
• Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
• Improves weight loss
• Reduces cardiac output creating rest for the heart
• Lowers lactic acid in blood
• Reduces skin resistance
• Improves immune system
• Improves athletic and other physical performance
• Reduces asthma
• Reduces need for alcohol and cigarettes
• Reduces need for pain meds
• Improves resistance to disease
EFFECTS ON THE MIND
• Produces alpha brain waves
• Improved stress recovery
• Improves memory
• Improves coordination
• Increases sensitivity of perception
• Improves intelligence, including high school students
• Improves learning ability
• Improves academic performance
• Develops personality of self-actualization
• Decreased anxiety
• Decreased depression
• Improves mental health
• Improves concentration and focus
• Increased productivity
• Improved job performance
• Increased job satisfaction
• Improves relations with co-workers and supervisors
• Improves rehabilitation of prisoners
Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche write about meditation in a more gentle and persuasive manner in their book, Meditation 24/7 with the following:
• Your muscles and nerves relax throughout your body
• You are able to rest deeply and recover quickly from fatigue
• You release stress from the nervous system and reduce stress related ailments
• You strengthen your immune system to help prevent infections and cancer
• You lower your blood pressure and heart rate
• Your senses become more acute and you become more alive
• Your ability to experience physical pleasures increases
• You see and hear your own thoughts more clearly
• You become more alert
• You are calmer under pressure
• You are able to shift your perspective quickly from a narrow focus to the big picture
• You perceive more beauty in life
• You sense how things connect and work together
• You have more choice in how you respond to the world
• You are more open to new experiences
• You become more accepting of individuality
• You accept all your emotions
• You increase your empathy for others
• You feel more connected with those that you love
• Life seems more harmonious
• You are able to give and receive pleasure, attention and love
• You let go of resentment and hurt more easily
• You become a better friend due to your improved ability to listen
• You establish better boundaries in your life
• You have a specific time and method to feel and heal your pain and emotional wounds
• You have a sense of oneness with the world
• You experience more wonder and feel more alive
• You tune into your essence, your Soul
• You are more grateful
• You express more compassion
• You feel that life is sacred
• You come to terms with the mystery of birth and death
• You develop a stronger sense of meaning in your life
Harvard Professor, Dr. Herbert Benson simplified and reiterated the many health benefits of mediation in his 1975 book, The Relaxation Response, which he describes as “a simple meditative technique that will unlock your hidden asset and help you: • Relieve inner tensions • Deal more effectively with stress • Lower blood pressure • Improve your physical and emotional health”
The latest research on meditation shows that it focuses the mind and awareness into the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobes are the command center of the brain, where the full resources of the brain are made available for decision making, creativity and the experience of happiness and joy.
Whenever we are fully engaged in awareness of the moment, what is occurring now, we are in the frontal lobes. Sports, art, love-making, absorption into the beauty of nature, or, the wonder of any moment, are all frontal lobe experiences. When we stop focusing our conscious awareness on the moment, the brain relaxes and goes on “automatic” and that is when we experience reactive thought, or self-talk.
Based on our past conditioning from childhood, the reactive mind will “pop” thoughts into our mind, called self-talk. As mentioned, this endless inner monologue is the source of our stress; we worry about what may go wrong in the future, or, feel guilty about what did go wrong in the past. These reactive mental patterns of thought and emotion create our worries, frustrations, resentments, anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and an entire range of personal stress.
“Mindfulness” is another approach to meditation, which involves the ability to focus completely on only one thing at a time. In other words, in mindfulness the mind is full of whatever is happening right now. This can include walking, cooking, sweeping the floor, dancing, watching a bird, hearing the sound of a river, or any other focus you may choose. Whenever thoughts intrude, you simply return your attention back to the focus. This is a traditional Buddhist approach and has been widely popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., in the Stress Reduction Clinic, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester.
A final word of caution: meditation is not what you think. Sitting for 15 minutes and listening to your uncontrolled thought process can be frustrating. It takes time to tame the wild elephant so that it will become a great asset to the village. You do not expect a baby, or puppy, to be trained in a few days or weeks. It takes time, persistence and loving attention to train the mind so that it can be still and focus when needed. However, the benefits are enormous and allow you to enter the Now and access your Self. Meditation may be more important that good diet and exercise, especially in the turbulent and transformative times of modern life.
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Dr Ronald Peters Md practices in Scottsdale AZ
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