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In the last 20 years, with almost a symbiotic rise in the popularity of yoga, meditation as a practice has become increasingly popular. Odds are, if you are reading this article now, you probably know somebody who swears by meditation.
But what is meditation? Why do people like it? Is it a spiritual practice? How do I do it well? What’s the goal? There are a lot of meditation questions I want to answer so I’m going to update this article over time as a live document to be your go-to source for meditation information and practice.
The History of Meditation
The earliest documented records we know of mention meditation involved Vedantism, which is a Hindu religious/spiritual tradition in 1500 BCE India. However many historians believe the practice predates that time by 1500 years.
Some of the earliest known meditation practices predate literate societies. Depending on how you categorize it, the earliest prayer practices could be considered meditative as they reflected deep and concentrated effort in communication with deities.
What is Meditation?
Great question. I believe most meditation practitioners would consider meditation practice of self-discipline and conscientious awareness. But what does that mean?
I personally consider meditation to be the practice and goal of doing nothing for an extended period of time. This can seem like a tremendous waste of time to many of us but how often do we actually take time to do nothing?
Many meditation teachers consider it an important way to reconnect with our internal voice. The hustle of work, the confusion of politics, the frustration of traffic, and many other daily occurrences can force us to detract or veer off course from our goals, values, and true intentions.
I consider meditation to be the recognization of the importance of relaxing and calming your mind beyond its natural relaxed state. This is more than just a way of getting to sleep at night. Meditation is the active practice of reducing the brain’s scattered nature and resetting your attention to more healthy things.
What are the Goals of Meditation?
Depending on what gets you into meditation, there are many reasons why people practice it. And in the corporate environment many Wall Street and Silicon Valley individuals practice meditation to keep themselves alert to the ever-changing winds of financial and consumer demands.
Increasingly more often, meditation is being used as a method of Western spiritual revival. Many data analysts are pointing out the increasing change in the “none” group of spiritually identifying individuals according to recent western data. Many of the biggest walk religions like Islamic and Judeo Christian Christian religions are seeing decreased attendance while Traditionally Eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism are seeing a gentle increase over time. Members who become disaffected or disenchanted by the religion of their Gen X families are transitioning to these Eastern spiritual practices instead.
More often than not, spirituality isn’t the core reason for meditation though. Yet many individuals turn to meditation simply as a non-medicated way of relieving depression and anxiety symptoms. Many depression and anxiety issues stem from anchoring or core self in the past or the future or the future and holding our present self to a standard from our past or present.
Meditation forces individuals to confront the pain that they suffer and has even shown chemical changes in the brain during the process of meditation.
Spirituality in Meditation
Meditation is a very common practice amongst Eastern religions yet legends while I personally believe Ali personally believes meditation has always been involved in Western religions under the guise of “prayer.”
Meditation asks the meditator to talk to themselves as a third party and address the issues hovering in their subconscious. In Eastern religions, this can present itself as chatting to multiple Hindu deities or recognizing your spiritual connection to the interrelated universe.
Very similarly, western religions acknowledge the devil within life as the negative forces we see and God as the good forces we see. In western religions, we fight the devil and offer praise, solace, and service to God. In a way, western and Eastern religions practice their own version of meditation to give the practice a sense of community, purpose, and connection.
Is Meditation Good for Mental Health?
Many people have used meditation to improve their mental health. If you have anxiety, meditation can be a great way to practice grounding techniques that have been triumphed by mental health professionals for years.
Though it would be irresponsible to claim that meditation can cure your mental health disorder, I personally have seen a lot of benefits from using meditation in combination with therapy to become better at recognizing and addressing stress management, ADHD management and more.
Can Meditation Cure Depression?
Meditation is not a cure-all. One of the biggest problems I have with meditation “gurus” is they often to meditation as a way of avoiding the problems they face in their day. If you get into meditation… do not start recommending it to anyone and everyone you meet.
For some people, the process of sitting still is informative, sometimes transformative. For others, it can be agonizingly frustrating. People who do not enjoy meditation are not lesser individuals because they don’t meditate.
If you are struggling, meditation can be a way to relieve anxiety and depressive symptoms. But in my personal experience, it is something that is extremely subjective and everyone deserves the right to try things that do/don’t work for them.
Best Tips for Meditation (According to Buddhists)
In my life, I have used meditation as a way to recoup from extreme life/death trauma from childhood and cope with spiritual abandonment after leaving The Mormon Church. I have nothing against that particular vein of Christianity, it just simply wasn’t the right spiritual practice for me.
Meditation was a key if not THE key factor in my recovery. My anxiety symptoms lessened, and I got off my antidepressant medication. But I cannot stress that if you need your medication, please continue to take it. Choosing to stay with antidepressants is a personal choice that everyone who struggles with depression must make.
For me, the side effects were too great even on the mildest dosages. This has to do with my health issues and life/death trauma earlier.
So for me, I needed something to help me mitigate my negative mental health symptoms while trying to go to school and work a full time job.
If I could offer you some tips it would be in this order.
1) Don’t try and control your meditation.
Meditation is a form of experiential healing. That means that the healing you will experience during your meditations comes when you allow the meditation to be uncontrolled. Allow yourself to breathe comfortably, sit in a way that is comfortable, and be kind to your minds natural tendency to float in thought.
2) Join a meditation group.
I plan on running a study on the available data to see how much our mental health correlates to that of interpersonal relationships.
Until that time, you have only my word and the data sources of meditation practitioners.
Traditional mindfulness training methods promote the idea of Sangha, a traditional Buddhist concept denoting an active community of Buddhist practitioners. Thich Nhat Hanh (1998), an influential Buddhist monk and author, asserts that “practicing with a Sangha is essential. Even if we have a deep appreciation for the practice, it can be difficult to continue without the support of friends.”
In my personal experience, you get maybe 10% of the overall effect of meditation when you do it alone. Personal meditation is impacted and important, but you will have a much better experience with a community of fellow mediators.
3) Meditate without your phone
Meditation is hard. It’s very hard. We have a million things that serve to distract and prevent us from achieving a mindful state.
This difficulty is compounded when you have your phone nearby. Every few minutes, a notification, text, call, or random buzzing of social media will tempt you to conclude your meditative practice.
These notifications always seem like the most important thing in your life when they happen. But if you silence or turn off your phone when you meditate, you will find it easier to find peace in your present moment. Especially if you consider yourself someone who has an addiction to their phone.
These are the things that I wish somebody would have told me when I first started meditating. It took me a few months to gain these basic principles of meditation.
If these tips or this article helped you in any way, please let me know down in the comments!
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