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