‘LIVING’ AND ‘EXISTING’ ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT CONCEPTS
When I first started my spiritual journey, one of the toughest things that I had to learn to do was clearing and silencing my mind. At the height of my anxiety and depression, my mind was a clusterfuck, pardon my French. My inner voice was buried by the loud and clamorous voices around me. It made me doubt myself and doubt every decision I made until I no longer wanted to make one due to the crippling fear of upsetting anyone with the wrong decision.
I let worry and insecurity control my life. Stress was something I had used to distract myself from the troubling thoughts I wanted to bury deep in my mind. I figured if I kept busy and occupied myself with what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing, instead of doing what felt right to me, everything would work out and we’d all live happily ever after.
READ MORE: 7 Ways to Live a More Spiritual Life
It seemed like the more I was fulfilling others’ expectations of me, the farther away I got from the pursuit of happiness. My mind was cluttered with the toxicity of other people’s fears and judgments. The clutter blocked me from seeing the Light that once illuminated the path before me. It prevented me from hearing my own voice and persuaded me to distrust my own intuition. I felt suffocated from the constant pressure that I allowed in my life. The intensity of that pressure eventually broke me to the point where I had no choice but to lay still silently, breathe, and just listen.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
If we refer to our handy dandy dictionary, meditation means:
- : to engage in contemplation or reflection
- : to engage in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness
- : to focus one’s thought on : ponder over
- : to plan or project in the mind
Basically, meditation is reaching a state of consciousness different from our normal waking state. The practice involves bringing your awareness to a particular subject through controlled breathing and peaceful relaxation.
It sounds simple, mainly because it is. However, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Meditation is a skill that needs to be practiced consistently with a great deal of mindfulness. It took me a long time to finally clear my mind of the outside noise but I got there. Pretty soon after that I started hearing my inner voice again. By steadily emptying my mind, I learned to control my own thoughts and eventually started reaping the benefits that come with the practice of meditation.
LIFE-CHANGING BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
Meditation aids in stress and anxiety management.
Stress is an inevitable part of life. Anxiety is a reaction to that stress. Before I started meditating, I used to turn to other activities to help me cope with life’s stresses. About 80% of those activities involved a cocktail or three and almost always end up in remorse. Turns out my sloshy solution didn’t do much but only add to the overwhelming anxiety that was already bubbling inside me.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University suggest that mindfulness meditation can help with issues regarding generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and chronic pain. Mindfulness meditation teaches us how to analyze our stresses without harsh judgement. We are then able to utilize these stressful experiences as motivation to keep trucking forward rather than allow them to hinder our growth.
Meditation increases self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own identity, emotions, motives, and desires. This knowledge can only be obtained through calm introspection of the inner self. There are two types of self-awareness: internal self-awareness, which shows how clearly we see our own thoughts, values, behaviors, feelings, strengths and weaknesses, and how we influence others; and external self-awareness, which shows a clear understanding of how other people view us.
Being fully aware of ourselves allows us to take control of our lives. When we are conscious of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we understand them more effectively. We are able to liberate ourselves from the destructive patterns of behavior that has caused our hindrance in the past. We make wiser decisions as we become more confident in our own actions. I didn’t realize how oblivious I was to my true self until I started meditating and soul-searching. I think most of us are reluctant to look in because we’re afraid of what we may or may not find. But if we never explore, we’ll never discover.
Meditation enhances brain function for better focus while also stimulating creativity.
To clarify an earlier statement, meditation doesn’t mean clearing your mind of everything until you’re thinking of ‘nothing’ (what is ‘nothing’, anyway?), instead it means clearing your mind of anything that would interfere with what you need to be focused on.
Practicing meditation on a regular basis alters our brain patterns over time. The changes in patterns bring about advantages in mental focus that enhances cognitive performance. What lies middle of our head, on the underside of our brain is the ventral postermedial cortex (vPMC), a region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering. When we aren’t focusing on anything specific, our brains go in “default mode network” – which is brain activity constantly running in the background. Learning how to control the “default” activity is crucial for focus.
Focus meditation is perfect for activities that require convergent thinking, which is the pattern of thinking that concentrates on finding and narrowing down the best possible solution/answer to a problem/question. However, creativity demands a broad scope of attention and mind-wandering. Techniques like movement meditation or visualization meditation help stimulate divergent thinking, a pattern of thinking used to produce creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
Meditation gets you in touch with the Source.
One of the best things about meditation is that it doesn’t belong to a specific religion. Whether you’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccan, or whatever your religion may be, meditation helps you to tap into our true Source and experience interconnectedness to all things on a deeper, more profound level. Meditation allows us to tune out our Ego, so we can tune into our Soul to align ourselves with the vibrations of the universe. During spiritual meditation, our mind focuses on connecting us with the Divine as our hearts open to receive the Divine Light.
Meditation helps us discover our true purpose.
The Source is where we discover our Soul mission, or true purpose. Before we were born, our Soul picked the life we are currently living because it believed that this is the best way to learn or do whatever it is we were sent here for. We know this coming into this world, however, we forget it as we grow older because we tend to cater more to society’s demands than we do our own. Spiritual meditation breaks down the blockage that’s been keeping us from seeing our true purpose. The more we meditate, the more we connect with the Source, the clearer we see our purpose.
HOW TO MEDITATE: SIMPLE TECHNIQUES
The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind and empty it of distracting thoughts.
- Find a peaceful, quiet place to meditate.
- Get comfortable.
- Close your eyes. Bring your attention to the present.
- Take deep breaths as you let your body relax.
- Focus on your breathing. Take notice of how your body moves as you inhale and exhale. Observe the movements in your body. If your mind starts to wander, simply shift your focus back to your breathing
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEDITATION
There are several different types of meditation for whatever state of consciousness you are trying to achieve. I’ve narrowed our list down to seven techniques:
This is perhaps the most common type of meditation; mindfulness combines concentration and awareness; it is essential in understanding natural wisdom through quiet observation of the present.
In this technique, we focus our thoughts and attention exclusively on whatever activity we are doing; many think that multitasking is the most productive way to go but bouncing between many thoughts and activities leads to a cluttered mind.
Involves the repetition of a sound, word, or phrase called ‘mantra’, which creates subtle, positive vibrations that bring our mind to a state of peace and calmness.
As mentioned earlier, spiritual meditation focuses on connecting us to the Divine and includes elements of silent, spoken, or chanted prayer.
This technique involves moving the body while focusing on the movements; practices include walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other martial arts.
This method is done by creating an image in your mind; imagining relaxing and positive experiences releases chemicals in the body that generate feelings of positivity.
This method is a personal favorite; kundalini in Hinduism refers to a form of primal energy (or shakti) located at the base of the spine; this technique awakens that energy.
- Corliss, Julie. “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School.
- Eurich, Tasha. “What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It).” Harvard Business Review.
- Gowin, Joshua. “Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus.” Psychology Today.
- “What are the Different Types of Meditation?.” Mindworks Mindfulness App.