Before embarking on important undertakings,
sit quietly, calm your senses and thoughts, and meditate deeply.
You will then be guided by the great creative power of Spirit.
— Paramahansa Yogananda
Contrary to what many may think, meditation is not some woo-woo thing that one must do while posing cross legged on hippy cushions, intermittently chanting, and saying “Namaste” to the scent of burning incense. Nor is meditation sacrilegious. Meditation is not a form of prayer; nor is it reserved for Buddhists, or “enlightened” people, or yoga people, or religious people. Meditation does not require one to sit still for long periods of time with eyes closed, thumbs and forefingers touching, and mind devoid of all thought. There is no one way or right way to meditate. It does not require taking a class, or reading a book, or learning from a mystic.
Where did meditation come from? Is it a science, an art, or a spiritual practice? What does it do?
Meditation is neither an art, nor a science, but a method of connecting with our spiritual Source, our Essence, the Divine, our Soul, Universal Intelligence, the flow, or whatever you want to call it. It is allowing ourselves to rest from thought, desire, focus, effort, emotion, stress, and ego. It is letting go of resistance, letting go of thoughts, conversation, and attention to past, present, and future circumstances and conditions. It is a means of rejuvenating our energy, fine-tuning our center, and re-balancing ourselves in our truth. Meditation is the language that we use to connect with and receive guidance from our spiritual essence.
The word meditation originates from the Latin word “meditatum,” meaning: “to ponder” and was first introduced in the 12th century AD by a monk named Guigoll. However, there are various sources of the origins of Meditation. Meditation is believed to have started in India several thousand-years BCE (Before the Common Era). The earliest recordings mention meditation around 1500 BCE in the Indian Hindu tradition of Vedantism, Other forms of meditation are reported to have developed between 600 BCE and 500 BCE in Taoist China and Buddhist India. Historians believe, however, that meditation was practiced as early as 3000 BCE. The practice of meditation spread to the west, via the Silk Road, and began to influence other religions over the next centuries. In 653 BCE, a Japanese monk named Dosho discovered Zen during a visit to Chin and introduced the practice of Zen Meditation to Japan, where it rapidly grew in popularity and resulted in the creation of the first meditation hall in the early 8th century AD. The practice of meditation has grown exponentially since that time, growing widely popular in the early 18th century in the western culture and has developed into the practice we know, or hear about, today.
Many studies have been published on the benefits of meditation, including the most common desired benefit, the ability to better manage the negative side effects of too much stress. In the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal, Professor Willem Kuyken reported that “meditation benefits just as much as a commonly prescribed antidepressant drug.”
Perhaps one of the most recognized benefits today is Mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to the ability to be fully, energetically present in each moment, rather than thinking about the past or future. Though the term mindfulness was coined at the beginning of the 20th century by Buddhist scholar T.W. Rhys Davids, its root traces back to the word “sati” from the Pali language of ancient India, meaning “present moment awareness.” Its increasing popularity has resulted in the term “mindfulness” becoming an increasingly popular “buzzword,” as well as a newly coined form of meditation, known as “Mindfulness Meditation.”
In Harvard Health Publishing’s article, “Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety and Mental Stress,” Executive Editor, Julie Corliss, wrote: “When researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 40 well-designed trial studies that addressed those issues [meditation’s effectiveness in promoting mental and physical health]. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that Mindful Meditation can help ease psychological stresses, like anxiety, depression, and pain.”
Dr. Sarah Bowen reveals another benefit of meditation in her article, “Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention,” published on aaagnostica.org: the ability to transform negative emotions, which lead to negative cravings. “From what I see and experience, it’s helping people become aware of what’s happening in their minds. Once they see that, they have a choice, and they have some freedom. We are trying to teach people to become experts on themselves, so they can see these processes unfolding and leading to places they do not want to go. Then, they see the places where they can intervene. How do we become aware of how we feel, and practice sitting with things that are uncomfortable – things we feel like we cannot tolerate? In fact, we can tolerate them. We just need to practice.”
One of the most beneficial results of meditation is improved quality of sleep.
The domino effect of that is that better sleep reduces stress, which increases energy, which raises vitality, all of which lead to an improved outlook on life.
“A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia,” a study conducted by Ong JC, Manber R, Segal Z, Xia Y, Shapiro S, and Wyatt JK, tested 54 adults with chronic insomnia over an eight-week period. The participants were randomly grouped into those receiving Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), those receiving Mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI), and those who self-monitored their conditions. The conclusion revealed, “Mindfulness Meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments.”
Investigators from the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital found that practicing meditation brings about what they called, “the relaxation response,” the opposite of the “fight-or-flight response,” which happens when we get stressed. Their studies found that the relaxation response alleviates anxiety and has positive effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity.
Another benefit of meditation is “Improved Working Memory.” A 2010 study by Jha et al. documented an eight-week study of three groups: a military group participating in Mindfulness Meditation training; a non-meditating military group; and a non-meditating civilian group. Both military groups were in a highly stressful time just prior to deployment. The study concluded that over the eight weeks, the working memory capacity had the following effects: a decrease in the non-meditating military group: a stabilization in the non-meditating civilian group; and an increase in the meditating military group. The study also revealed that the practice of meditation was directly related to self-reported positive effects, and inversely related to self-reported negative effects.
In addition to helping people become less reactive, the research shows that Mindfulness Meditation may also provide greater cognitive flexibility. One study found that those who practice Mindfulness Meditation appear to develop the skill of self-observation. This self-observation disengages the automatic neurological pathways (auto-pilot reactive living), created by the individual’s prior learning and conditioning, and enables present-moment learning (creative now–generative living) to create new neurological pathways (Siegel, 2007a). Meditation activates the region of the brain associated with our adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations, enabling us to create new responses in ways we desire, rather than reacting beyond our intentional control.
In terms of relationships and communication, several research studies indicate that one’s ability to be mindful can indicate one’s capacity for relationship satisfaction, which includes: the ability to respond well to relationship stress; the skill to communicate one’s emotions to one’s partner; and the ability to express oneself in various social situations, thereby protecting against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007, Dekeyser el al., 2008, Barnes et al., 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
Meditation leads to a stronger ability to concentrate, and a dramatic reduction in stress. Through the practice of meditation, we experience a greater sense of wholeness and aliveness, even during seemingly mundane moments in life. We find that we begin to disentangle our minds from negative thoughts, reactions, and judgments.
Through the practice of meditation, we find that we greatly improve our ability to deal with any major upheavals that might arise in life. We become aware that our thoughts and feelings are not the sum of who we are, so we need not be victims of our own thinking. There is a great sense of freedom in this realization. But meditation is more than just a good coping mechanism; it is also very powerful for clearing the mind and developing space for deeper awareness and spiritual connectedness.
What is spirituality? Spirituality is the knowing of the truth of one’s true spiritual essence, Source, and sacredness, and living in that knowing. Spirituality is the spirit part of our beings. It is the awareness and the valuing of a God, religion, higher power, or non-physical Source, rather than material or temporal things. It is consciousness of our Essence, our Divinity, our Soul, Universal Intelligence. It is the nonphysical dimension, version, and Source of all that is, from which we receive inner guidance from birth to physical death, and beyond. Spirituality comes in as many forms as there are individuals and is uniquely experienced by each person. What you believe or do not believe is up to you, and you alone, and it cannot be taught or assessed by others.
There are various ways to strengthen your awareness of your spirituality. One of the most effective, fail-proof ways is through your emotions and feelings. Studies show that discovering and expressing gratitude connects us with positive emotions, such as optimism, generosity, love, compassion, vibrance, and overall vitality. These positive emotions deepen our awareness of our Spirituality and the seemingly magical creative spark that is in us all that is. When we see life in this way, when we look for the ways to connect with positive emotions and feelings, we feel our spiritual selves, and this shows outwardly with our radiating light, joy, and positive energy.
What are the benefits of our awareness of spirituality? We remember to stop and smell the roses. We are able to feel the blessing of simple things, like a light breeze, the warmth of the sun on our faces, the rain that washes everything clean, the songs of the birds. It is the simple things that cost us nothing but being present in the moment, like the ability to feel an unexpected and, often unexplained, sense of awe. Being in nature is a great example of showing how connected each of us human beings is with the grand scheme of things. To stand next to a tree that has stood for hundreds of years reminds us that the Universe is much larger than we typically are aware of and has provided for us this amazing opportunity to connect with it.
Spirituality breeds compassion. Realizing that we all come from the same Source, and thus are all related, enables us to understand that we all have the right to be here, that we were chosen to be here, and that we chose to be here. It is hard to see hardship, pain, suffering, or sadness without having a strong sense of desire to help, lend a hand, or empathize with someone in need. Connection with our spirituality reminds us to never treat someone as a stranger, to know that we are all here to care for one another, and to act more humanely and lovingly, from a place of awareness of our spirituality. When compassion is a regular part of our lives and gratefulness is our daily expression, we have better relationships with others. When we have better relationships with others, our self-esteem improves. As each of us knows and feels the highest version of ourselves, we radiate outward, and others benefit from it.
Expressing our spirituality, by living a life in awareness of the greater good of humanity, creates purpose in our lives, knowing that we are co-creating a better place by being in it. Living from a place of spirituality supports us in being the change we want to see in the world. Our awareness and honoring of our spiritual nature promote self-growth on an ongoing basis. It causes us to look at who we are, what we value, and how we see things. It asks us to continually strive for our potential every day, to become better individually, for the benefit of the whole.
When we are consciously living in a spiritual way, we live longer and more vitally, aware that our bodies are temples, grateful for the miracles that we are, treating ourselves as sacred temples. Remembering that we are spiritual beings living in a human experience inspires us to commune with our surroundings, which creates calm. Calm brings the ability to relax, maintain inner balance, and have deep sleep. Deep sleep reduces stress and tension. Reduced stress and tension bring more peace. More peace creates understanding and acceptance. Understanding and acceptance create a better world.
Awareness of our spirituality allows us to realize that we get endless opportunities for Love, adventure, exploration, change, expansion, freedom, and joy. We know that each new day will bring another sunset, another sunrise, another chance, another idea, another creation, another interaction, another day of love, and another moment to start anew, to create and experience a shift or a miracle. Our sense of our spirituality allows us to always know that we are all connected with one another and all that is. In our fast-paced world, our awareness of, connection with, and communion with our spirituality—through our emotions, our meditation, and our sacred celebrations—helps us to connect deeply with the Source of all that is, to better understand why we’re here and what we are to do.
Do you know why you are here? Only you can answer that, and the next few chapters will help you gain clarity.
Because we are spiritual beings having human experiences, not human beings having spiritual experiences, we need to reconnect to that spiritual beingness, allow it to be in control of our daily lives, and get out of the way. Do not underestimate the power of understanding the deeper meaning of this chapter and just move to the next chapter. Take some time to reflect on this.
You are connected to everything around you. Connect with the energy of you and your environment. Notice the birds as they effortlessly fly around you. You and the birds are interrelated, from the same source. Feel the magnificence of a sunrise or a sunset. You are a part of that magnificence. Smell the essence of the breeze as it passes and realize that you are a part of that essence. The wind carries with it every sense, including yours, on its path.
It is more liberating to know that you are a part of something grander and greater, than something isolated. When you are something isolated, you can cease to exist. Being a part of something greater and limitless means that you will continue as part of the greater oneness.