Meditation is the practice of peaceful, focused awareness. It can be very simple, such as watching a butterfly. Or there are more difficult forms of meditation, such as ‘meditating on emptiness’, which take some time to master.
To meditate, we usually remove ourselves from the busy-ness of our active world, and find a peaceful place, free of noise and disturbance. This is because we are trying to teach our mind stillness, and, like a surgeon requiring an environment clean of germs, a meditator requires an environment clear of stimulation and distraction.
Some people, at first, find quiet places difficult to sit in. When we are used to stimulation and movement, it can be hard to remain still. Some of us have conditions, such as anxiety or ADHD, which mean that our minds get even more restless when deprived of distracting stimuli. It often takes time to settle down.
But the benefits are clear. Meditation reduces stress and anxiety, reduces depression, and helps to control pain. It can help control addictions. It also improves self-awareness, attention and memory. It can help us sleep. It can reduce blood pressure. And it can make us kinder. (See this link.)
One way of understanding these benefits, is to think of meditation’s opposite. Imagine a situation where you are rushing around in mad activity, getting angry at everyone around you, feeling defensive, in a highly-pressurised environment. You would become stressed, anxious and depressed. You may start losing focus and forgetting things. Your health may suffer. Meditation is an antidote to all this.
A SIMPLE MEDITATION PRACTICE
- Set aside 15 minutes from your busy day, and find a quiet place
- Sit down on a reasonably comfortable chair
- Place your hands together in your lap, and close or near-close your eyes
- Focus on your breath going in and out of your body
- Whenever you notice yourself getting distracted, bring your attention back to the breath
- At the end of the time, gently rise from the chair, and walk slowly back to your day
WHY DOES MEDITATION WORK?
There are several levels on which meditation works, but a few of the main ones are:
- Sitting peacefully reduces heart rate and blood pressure
- Focused attention reduces anxious thoughts
- The lack of invasive external stimuli reduces arousal and fear, and increases a sense of security and safety
- Repeated practice gives us the ability to generate peaceful focus at will
Meditation is the practice of peaceful, focused awareness. Some people find it difficult to settle down at first. But there is a good evidence base that regular meditation reduces anxiety and depression, and benefits health.
A simple meditation practice is to sit in a chair for 15 minutes, gently focusing on the breath. Even this simple activity reduces strain on the heart, and reduces anxiety.
With repeated practice, we can enhance our ability to control our attention and generate peaceful awareness at will.
Eventually, a meditative approach can become part of our normal awareness, and we can become peacefully present anywhere. For a discussion of this, see this talk by Eckhart Tolle.