Meditation and Mental Health
Meditation is the intentional practice of uncritically focusing your attention on one thing at a time. The nature of the mind is such that it does not want to stay concentrated. The heart of meditation lies not simply in focusing on one object to the exclusion of all other thoughts, but rather in the attempt to achieve this type of focus.
Meditation works by the enlargement or expansion of awareness. Awareness can be defined as a pure unconditioned state of consciousness that you can experience deep within yourself. It exists beneath or prior to the conditioned patterns of thinking and emotional reactivity you’ve learned over a lifetime. This unconditioned awareness is always available to you, but most of the time it’s clouded over by the incessant streak of mental chatter and emotional reactions that make up your ordinary moment-to-moment experience. Only when you become very quiet and still, willing to just be, observing your inner experience in the present moment and without judgment, and without striving to do anything, can this uncluttered awareness that underlies your thoughts and feelings begin to reemerge.
When you experience this unconditioned state of awareness, you simply feel a deep sensate of peace. Out of this place of inner peace can arise other nonconditioned states such as unconditional love, wisdom, deep insight, and joy. This state of inner peace is nothing you need to develpe. You were born with it. It’s always there, deep inside of you. You can discover it if you simply become still and quite long enough to allow it to emerge. The practice of meditation is the most direct, straightforward way to do this.
Benefits of Meditation
In 1968, Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School decided to put meditation to the test. Volunteer practitioners of Transcendental meditation were tested to see if meditation really could counter the physiological effects of stress. Dr. Benson scientifically proved that during meditation, the following physiological effects were observed:
- Heartbeat and breathing rates slow down
- Oxygen consumption falls by 20%
- Blood lactate levels drop (This level rises with stress and fatigue)
- Skin resistance to electrical current, a sign of relaxation, increase fourfold
- EEG ratings of brain-wave patterns indicate increased alpha activity, another sign of relaxation
Since the time of Benson’s work, considerable research on the long term benefits of meditation has established that it can alter personality traits, behaviors and attitudes. If you suffer from anxiety, meditation can break up obsessional mental patterns and help you restructure your thoughts more productively. Meditation has repeatedly been found to reduce chronic anxiety and worry. Often the dosage of tranquilizers or other medications can be reduced if you are meditating daily. Other long-range benefits include:
- Sharpened Alertness
- Increased energy level and productivity
- Decreased self-criticism
- Increased objectivity and nonjudgmental perception
- Decreased dependence on alcohol, recreational and prescription drugs
- Increased accessibility of emotions
- Heightened self-esteem and sense of identity
Meditation has been used successfully in the treatment and prevention of high blood pressure, heart disease, migraine headaches, and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. It has proved helpful in curtailing obsessive thinking, anxiety, depression and hostility.
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