When I joined here, I really didn’t have a clue what that mystery word from the 11th step really meant.
In my opinion that had either to do with some overaged tree-hugging hippy crap, or with some Eastern religious shit.
It’s not surprising that many of us start here not knowing much about it. That’s just one of the results of active addiction : it keeps us away from the deeper spiritual investigation of who we are.
So I can only imagine, some of you also haven’t got a clue what to think of this word you’ll often encounter here.
So I hope I can lift a small piece of the curtain here for you.
Please be aware though that this is written by a guy who tries practising a Theravadan Buddhist lifestyle so it certainly defines his implementation and thoughts.
I hope others will chime in sharing other opinions and approaches though.
Is it religious, or for hippies ?
No. While it may be practised by many religions worldwide, meditation in itself isn’t religious. It can be integrated in every religion though.
But basically it’s just a way to thoroughly investigate your own being, motives, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. By doing so it creates an opportunity to understand how they are interwoven, how automatic thoughts trigger automated responses, how preoccupations and prejudice infuence our thoughts and actions, etcetera.
None of this has anything to do with a religion.
Isn’t it for Eastern cultures ?
Not anymore. Since the early 70’s an interest has risen in the West and many went tot he East to study over there for a while, bringing it’s influence tot he West. By now, it’s positive effects are not only researched, but also implemented in, for example, psychology.
This was more or less kickstarted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who started a treatment called MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
A while later Segal, Teasdale and Williams developped it into MBCT, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. From there, it found it’s way into the Western medical world and has since been proven effectively and scientifficaly proven to be evidence based treatments.
What is it exactly ?
Now there’s the one question that cannot easily be answered. It’s like trying to describe what a “vehicle” is. It’s not just one, closely described matter.
But let’s give it a try.
Meditation is described by some as “training of the mind”. Just like fitness can be used to train our physical bodies, meditation can be used to train our minds.
By others, it has been described as if praying was like talking to God, while meditating is like listening to God.
As different as these two sound, they have common prupose : finding a deeper understanding. And after all, thát’s what it’s about.
In a way we could describe it as “looking into ourselves without perception”. After all our perception is the way we interpretate, the way we think about everything we observe. We hear a sound and immediately label it “nice” or “horrible”. Everything we observe, we immediately judge and label to fit into our dualistic world.
Meditating means trying to let go that dualism for a moment, to observe without judgement.
This same concept is also found in RFT, Relational Framing Theory, which is at the base of ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
It is a theory that in short, explaines how our intelligence, our thinking, and our extensive usage of language, both is our biggest achievement while at the same time our biggest enemy.
What do we meditate on ?
This is hugely up to yourself, though there are some general guidelines.
First of all, it has been said that wisdom and compassion are two wings of the same bird. It cannot fly with just one wing. So meditation is used to develop both.
In many literature and meditations these are called Vipassanna (wisdom) and Metta (loving kindness) meditations.
But there is also the Samatha meditations, not meant to look deep into ourselves, but mainly meant to relax.
And of course there’s Mindfulness, which is pretty close to Vipassana.
What are those ?
Samatha is the focus on our breathing to reach a deeper state of relaxing. In times of for example stress, it can provide us calmth.
Vipassanna is “looking deeply” to gain more understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It uses breathing as an “anchor” to deepen our concentration. After that, focus is directed to our body, our senses, thoughts, feelings. Step by step we explore our observations, trying to do so without our automated minds making up it’s own stories about it all.
Metta is training our (self)compassion. It helps us realise that the pain and fear we experience, as well as the happiness and joy, are the same in other people, making us understand in a deeper level that we are not single specimen in a crowd, but that all life is entangled with each other. It focusses on both ourselves and others, as a away to develop compassion.
Is it for anyone ?
Yes. It certainly is. There are so many ways and so many practises that literally everyone can find a way that suits you.
Don’t worry if you, like me, haven’t got a clue what to think of it and whether will work for you.
If you are still confused by it, just have faith – in time it will become clear.
It’s not something to understand before you start it, but something you will slowly start to understand áfter starting.
I’ve been doing so for over a year now and finally get to where I find what works for me and what doesn’t.
Why do we do it ?
The benefits are many. And each and every method has it’s own purposes. In general though, it makes is more compassionate towards ourselves and others, and it makes us more aware of how our minds function and how wrongly it can guide us.
It provides us understanding of, and ability to change, automated responses in our minds into more functional ones.
Many use it as a way to relax though not all methods serve this purpose. Most methods do result in a more relaxed state of mind though.
What are common ways to meditate ?
There are as many different ways, as there are people practising it.
But in general, there are some often used methods :
- the bodyscan : from head to toes, focus is directed at each and every part of the body. It makes us more aware of specific physical sensations like stress and tensions, but also learns us to focus on parts that we do not notice normally. In many parts of our body we do not feel anything in perticular and we tend to ignore those parts. Of course this can be explained by what buddhism calls being led by attracktiveness and resentments, what in itself are causes of suffering. Nothing lasts forever and by clinging to what we have, or trying to avoid what we don’t want, we suffer. I don’t think I need to explain this to any addict…
- sitting meditation : we start with sitting a position that we easily can maintain for a longer period of time. Then we first focus on our breathing. From there we direct our focus to the body, senses, thoughts and finally emotions. Any distractions are noticed, accepted and once noted, we go back to our focus of attention. This is the most common Vipassanna meditation.
- walkimg meditation : instead of sitting and using breath as our anchor, we use our motions of the body while slowly walking as our anchor. Walk slowly and take small steps, while being aware of each and every motion in our body.
- lying meditation : basically the same as sitting, but lying down.
- bowing meditation : this may seem very religious to some. It isn’t though. In Buddhism, bowing down is often done before a meditation. It is done 3 times that often is described as showing respect tot he Buddha, the teachings (dhamma or dharma) and the community (Sangha). As formal as this sounds, it’s purpose is often found in being completely aware of how it feels. To me, it reminds me of being humble. Bowing down to me doesn’t mean worshipping someone or something, but making me feel part of the bigger whole.
everyday meditations : each and every activity can be made into an object of meditation if we focus completely on it.
This is the main part of mindfulness : come back and stay in the here and now. Too much of our time we spend thinking about the past or the future, meaning many of our activities are automated while our minds are drifting elsewhere.
And there is the essence of meditation : bringing our minds, bodies and breath back together again in the present moment. Try it and you’ll be surprised how often our minds wonder away to different places and different moments.
A final remark – to some, Metta meditation can be difficult because it more or less requires awareness of whát you feel. If you are not really into contact with your feelings and emotions, this can be too much of a challange.
If you struggle with this, try Tibetal Tonglen – it works for me.