What’s “Meditation” About?

If you had an amazingly useful tool or natural ability that you overlooked or took for granted, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Maybe you could use it and cultivate your ability. Many people would say “yes”! Well you do, and you can, and it’s called “awareness” or consciousness and you are it. You would neither exist nor know anything about yourself or the world without it. Conscious awareness if ever present; we use it every day. However, it usually goes unnoticed because it is transparent and works behind the scene. It has no content, but our minds continually fill it with content. It is like an empty screen, a vast expansive infinity space, where anything can appear, like a film. We live our lives preoccupied, fascinated, distracted, frustrated, happy, sad, and curious, etc. with what appears in our awareness and all the contents of the mind.

What if you temporarily stopped looking at what appears in your mind and the external world—on the screen? What if you stopped thinking about all your interests, joys, troubles and responsibilities and paid attention to only the feeling of being present, and ignore what arises in your awareness? This is the space in which thoughts, images and objects, even your body appears. What if you just stop doing everything for 10 minutes and put your attention on that space alone? Or, alternatively, what if you just focused intently on one thing? Well, something both amazing would happen. You would start to relax, but you would also start noticing how much your mind was full of thoughts and images and how it runs on automatic. You might also discover how frustrating it can be to remain in this state. Your mind is like a self-propelling machine that keeps on going and going without you controlling it. You might also notice discomfort in your body and realize how stressed you are—stress you were previously unware of or where avoiding altogether. Some people might also feel numb. All those thoughts and mental activities have a direct physiological effect on the body and mind—call it the body-mind complex, because they are fundamentally inseparable. By convention we separate the body and mind, but they cannot practically be separated—the mind is embodied.

Nothing happens for free in this universe. The body-mind uses energy and stimulate the nervous system and activates the chemistry of the body. It may get frustrating to see all that activity. You may get impatient and start thinking about all the stuff you have to do or prefer to be doing besides this exercise. If you decide to stay with the exercise, you will gradually discover a peaceful space in which you exist as the feeling of “I am”—the presence of awareness as consciousness itself. Your energy will increase, because you are not engaging mental activity. You’ll discover how refreshing it is to be in that space, which is actually you! We are not in a space, as if we are walking into a building, or forest, we are not just in a space—we are the space of awareness itself. All consciousness is self-consciousness, and meditation is ultimately meditation on the Self becoming transparent to itself. Amazingly, after resting in this space, your mind will show more clarity not less. It’s like waking up in a pristine environment after a good night’s sleep, but better, because it didn’t take eight hours!

The exercise or practice I described is traditionally called meditation or contemplation. Meditation is an act of focusing one’s attention, or awareness, but unlike thinking, one does not actively engage the mind. There are different forms of meditation, but they all have the essential form that I have described. People can meditate using various techniques, such as focusing on or counting one’s breath, or focusing on an object or silently repeating a mantra, (a word or series of words). The process produces a shift in your normal state of consciousness and changes your physiology in a way that is deeply relaxing. All humans have a natural tendency towards contemplation. When not activity hunting for food or defending territory, animals remain in a contemplative state. Some enjoy it with little effort, like watching a beautiful sunset, scenery or the ocean waves. Others don’t take the time for it because they are too preoccupied with survival, goals, daily life and responsibilities, distracted with their thoughts and fantasies or entertainment.

Meditation is by no means new—it has been used in religions and in many spiritual traditions for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries such as India, where it is integral to yoga; China, as part of Daoist and Buddhist practices; and Japan, as part of the Zen tradition. In the West it comes in the form of prayer and contemplation. Over the past few decades, millions in the West have adopted different forms of meditation. People are now using meditation to help with stress, for emotional and mental health, and as a way of coping with physical pain and disease. Mindfulness meditation is also being integrated into some forms of psychotherapy.

Meditation has penetrated into the popular culture. People are realizing it has great benefits that go beyond its original religious and spiritual intent. It’s increasingly being used by educators, medical, and health professionals who are recommending it. Many large corporations are not only encouraging it, but are actively organizing it into their culture. It’s good for both the organization and the bottom line. It promotes more effective performance, reduces stress, enhances cooperation, and maximizes productivity. While the incorporation of meditation into workplaces is largely view as positive, critics argue that its a misuse of meditation, which was intended as a tool for introspective, to increase awareness, and for personal and spiritual development. Regardless, the fact that it is spreading can only increase public awareness of the nature of consciousness and ourselves.

When you start to meditate, there is a shift in the relationship between body and mind. You start to feel the body more, notice the habit where you put your attention and become less preoccupied with the content of your mind. Staying with the practice produces in a deep relaxed state as bodily functions like breath and heart rate shift into slower rhythm, and nervous system balance and stress-chemistry transforms. The result is that you feel better, alert and more energized. “Feeling-better” is what people normally we associate with being happy, but it not the kind of happiness we get from external objects or our imagination—it’s innate. In the next articles we will present some more reasons to take up the practice of meditation. What better way can you spend 10-30 minutes of your day?  It can increase your productivity, energy, help you locate your innate happiness while decreasing your stress and your potential for dis-ease. And it’s free!

© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh