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The Purpose Of Meditation — It’s Not What You Think

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The Purpose Of Meditation — It’s Not What You Think

Nico is the son of a friend of mine. We’ve only recently gotten acquainted, but I find his background fascinating.

We sit with our coffees in a garden restaurant in central Mexico. We see the volcanically formed mountains with their strange shapes in the distance. Nico and I discuss various healing modalities, and then we focus on meditation.

As I sip the foam off my cappuccino, I ask Nico what he’s been up to. He tells me he graduated with a dual major in psychology and neurobiology. Our discussion about meditation, from his dual major background, takes an unusual turn.

The History of Meditation

Riding the Ox Home: A History of Meditation from Shamanism to Science, by Willard Johnson, describes hunting as the first meditation. When humans acquired fire, they could sit by it. It provided warmth and protection from predators. This was the beginning of sitting meditation.

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Shamans later discovered soma. Ingesting this substance provided visions — an altered state and a connection with the Infinite.

The archeological record shows that meditation goes back to at least 3000 BCE. Patanjali recorded yoga and meditation techniques around 200 ACE. This practice took the place of soma, allowing the meditator more control.

Patanjali lists three requirements for success in meditation:

  1. time
  2. persistence
  3. devotion

Mediation As Healing

There’s a lot of science-based evidence on the healing qualities of meditation.

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Clinical studies show that meditation helps treat disorders like depression, anxiety, addictions, and chronic pain. Dr. Judson Brewer of the Yale School of Medicine used an fMRI brain imaging study to identify functional changes in the brains of experienced meditators. He demonstrated the impact of meditation on brain function and connectivity.

The meditative state brain may become a normal resting function with continued meditation practice.

Experienced meditators can turn off areas of the brain. These are associated with daydreaming and psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. It’s been suggested meditation decreases daydreaming and egoistic thinking.

The Individual Meditator

The author shows the history of meditation duplicates the life history of individual meditators. Many people lead frantic lives, hunting for happiness, or working hard just to survive. They may use psychedelics to gain access to ecstatic states. When they begin with sitting meditation, this usually replaces the use of drugs.

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Riding the Ox Home is a series of picture koans that portray the history of meditation. In the first image, the master is chasing his ox. The last image depicts the master in meditation while riding the ox. The ox knows the way home. The images show the meditator controlling his body and his passions to finally arrive at Nirvana.

The Purpose of Meditation

Nico tells me that when Western culture adopted meditation, they got it wrong. In the East, meditation was not centered on healing. Its purpose was to experience the emptiness of the Infinite — the ground of being.

What science discovered about meditation and its healing qualities is true, though this was not its original intent.

Boomeritis by Ken Wilbur describes the different levels of consciousness. It’s an informational novel. He explains how our focus has been on “me” or “I”, neglecting to honor our past as part of who we are. He says that until we can do that, we cannot progress to the next higher level of consciousness.

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My feeling is that the same is happening with meditation. We are so caught up in what we can get out of meditation that we do not consider its founders or foundation. This missing part is the devotional aspect mentioned earlier as one of the three keys to successful meditation.

Meditation can be a trap, isolating us in our ivory towers while we sit. Or it can be a substitute for taking action in the world. Balance is important.

Meditation is experiencing the basic form of reality. All the benefits follow from that.

Featured photo credit: Pray/Belgianchocolate via imcreator.com

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Last Updated on November 22, 2021

Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

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Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

Thanksgiving, a day of pure gluttony, football, and possible uncomfortable situations with family members that you may or may not like. Oh, yeah, and the whole “know and reflect on what it is to be thankful and grateful.”

During the holiday season many people forget what this time of year is bout and are too worried about getting the “early-bird” deals on Black Friday and making sure that they have the perfect gifts for their loved ones. I am sort of a “Grinch” when it comes to the holiday season, mostly because of that mentality by many of the poeple around me.

But instead of being grinch-like this holiday season, I decided to simplify things and get back to what this time of year is actually is about; being thankful for what I have and what I can give.

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Simplify

I’m not a “minimalist” in any real sense, but in the last few months the talks of Patrick Rhone and others have got me to rethink my stance. Can you really have too much stuff?

Absolutely.

And with all that stuff comes the burden and the weight of it on your back.

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If you feel that the things around you are out of control, maybe it’s time to simplify and be thankful and grateful for what you have and use. Here are a few things that you can do to simplify:

  • You know those gadgets in the drawer that you said you were going to sell? Well, time to get the listing on eBay and sell them. Or, send them to a place like Gazelle. Even if they are old and won’t get money, you can at least recycle them.
  • Get rid of things you don’t need. Like old books, clothes, tools, etc. Have something that’s been laying around forever with no use? Donate it to a charity or church. If you aren’t using it, someone else could be.
  • Find your productivity tools and stick with them. Use tools and gadgets that serve multiple purposes so you can simplify your tool set.

Be Mindful

You don’t have to be a master Buddhist or meditator to be mindful (although, it can definitely help). Being mindful comes down to being cognizant of the present and not keeping yourself in the past or future. It’s about living in the moment and being aware of yourself and everything around you. It’s just being.

Without getting too “California” on you, it is super important to be mindful during the holiday rush. Rather than worrying about the things that you forgot at your house on the way to relatives or thinking about the next stop in your endless holiday travels, just breath and think about what you are currently doing.

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Spend the time with your family and friends and don’t crush the moment. Try not to concentrate so hard on getting the perfect photo of the “awesome moment” of the day and actually miss the awesome moment.

Being mindful over the holidays will help you be with your families, friends, and yourself allowing you to enjoy your time.

Reflect

As the year is coming to a close (yes, it really is that close!) it’s a great time to start reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you haven’t. Within the next few weeks we will have a more throrough reflection article here at Lifehack.org, but reflecting every now and then over your holiday break is a great way to see where you have been doing well in your life and where you need to improve.

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Reflection shouldn’t be used to “get down” on yourself. Reflection should be used to take an honset inventory of what you have accomplished, how you handeled situations, and what you can do better. If you journal everyday (a daily form of reflection) it may be a good time to start going over some of the things that you have written and start to put together a year’s end journal entry. I mean, how else will you write your autobiography?

But, seriously, reflecting on yourself makes you aware of your successes and faults and helps you plan and make goals for the coming year. It makes you a better person.

So, while you are stuffing your face with bird, stuffing, and mashed taters’, remember that the holidays are much more than the superficial things. Use this holiday to become a better person.

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Featured photo credit: Libby Penner via unsplash.com

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