Mindfulness and Beyond
Meditation is vast topic. Cultures from around the world have been practicing and refining it for thousands of years. Perhaps because it offers quick results with less effort required than 'getting in shape', and continues to increase the longer and deeper you dive in. Scroll down to read more.
How Meditation Will Help
Training the Mind to Tune-In
In many ways, defining meditation is much harder than describing how it is helpful. It is challenging partially because the word itself is used to refer to many different activities, and ultimately refers to something that is more of an art than a science.
When I use the term meditation, I am referring to a range of mental activities that are all aimed at inducing a state of clarity and engagement. By clarity, I mean a mental state that sees the world and oneself as they truly exist. Hence, not a distorted view based on what we believe (or are told) ought to be, or a view that we wish were so, or a fantasy (e.g. catastrophe or miracle) that we imagine will be, but rather an honest assessment of the good, the bad, and the reality. Seeing the world as it truly is can be a scary place, we all spend a lot of time trying to “avoid the harsh reality” of our lives. Thus the next key step is engagement, which is the ability to accept reality as it truly is (something Marsha Linehan calls radical acceptance) and to be able to take action that is in our best interest and reflects our highest self.
The most well-known form of meditation in the U.S. is “mindfulness”. This term, like meditation, gets used in many different ways. A description of what it is like to be in a state of mindfulness is “present focused and non judgmental”. Training in mindfulness involves focusing on what is happening in the present moment (and if you are sitting still on a cushion its not much), and learning not to judge the current moment as good or bad or fun or boring, but just to accept it as it is. There is a reason why this practice is well-known and popular, engaging in formal activities aimed at developing mindfulness reaps many psychological and physical health benefits - without requiring you to be change your belief about the world. Dedicating oneself to this practice is a noble endeavor.
What many people don’t realize is, mindfulness is only one activity that falls under the umbrella of meditation. The Tibetans have been particularly astute at categorizing and teaching a wide variety of meditation practices that benefit the mind and heart, and these are the practices with which I am most familiar. There is an entire genre of meditation referred to as “mind-training”, which includes mindfulness but focuses more attention on “thought exercises” that either reinforce positive states of mind (e.g. compassion, empathy, patience, loving-kindness) or help us challenge distorted perceptions (e.g. “I am useless”, “nothing will ever change”). One can easily spend a lifetime exploring and perfecting these practices (many monastics do just this). Fortunately, we don’t necessarily have to do that in order to benefit from learning these methods and applying them in our daily lives. The one caveat is that many of these exercises do require us to at least question some of the views we have about how the world is organized and how reality exists. Thankfully though, one can try them out, see what practices are helpful and what is not and reap the benefits without being forced to accept any overarching dogma.
So, generally speaking, meditation involves a host of “contemplative” practices aimed at either instilling a positive state of mind or cultivating clarity and engagement in order to make good decisions that lead to positive outcomes for ourselves and the world. Most of these practices can be learned by anyone and anyone who puts effort into them will most likely realize a host of psychological and physical benefits.
I invite you to listen to the following recording of a guided meditation aimed at increasing your sense of loving-kindness (the wish for others to be happy) and see what you think.