Meditation - What is it for?
Updated: Jun 8
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From somewhere deep inside, we may sense there is more to who we are than the tumultuous world of our emotions, thoughts, and reactivity.
Every now and again we catch a glimpse of that ‘larger self’. We feel our own transparent spaciousness and experience an almost indescribable sense of peace and at-homeness in the moment, right where we are.
Then the moment passes, and we find ourselves back in the grim grind of our own small universe of mixed emotions, struggles and strategies.
Where did the glow go?
What is the key to getting it back and being in it more of the time? Maybe one day all the time?
This is where meditation comes in.
Meditation: The Bigger Picture
Meditation is not simply a useful tool for relaxation and stress relief. It offers us far more than that.
Wanting to feel more relaxed and resilient to stress may be the original motivation that impels you try out meditation to begin with, and that’s okay of course — it’s just not the whole picture of what meditation can offer.
Learning to breathe deeply, relax our thoughts and take time out from our busy schedules does have a positive effect on our stress-levels, and can improve our quality of life. It is often the place where our meditation journey begins. This is only the beginning though, and not where meditation ultimately leads us. It is not the main purpose for which meditation was developed.
The practices of meditation and contemplation are designed to bring about changes in our brain’s neural pathways and biochemistry, and open us to a new perception of ourselves and the world around us. These practices help to free us from the impacts of the conditioning we have accumulated in our inner ‘biosphere’.
Given enough repetitions, the practice of meditation re-wires us and connects us with the vast spaciousness of our true nature as awareness Itself.
Just as a musical instrument requires tuning in order to play beautiful music, meditation ‘attunes’ us and allows us to enjoy a profoundly enriched and expanded experience of our interior life. We are supported in gaining access to a sense of spaciousness and bliss that for many people is still just a distant dream.
Meditation is multi-faceted in its positive effects, and is one of the most kind and life-changing things you can do for yourself.
For example, while in the meditative state, solutions to problems both individual and collective may come to your awareness, giving you the opportunity to create better outcomes at a practical level. You can also focus your practice on the cultivation of warmth and acceptance towards yourself and others, thereby enhancing your own happiness levels and the quality of your relationships.
Meditation is a Science
Meditation and contemplation are also a science. They are the subject of extensive research today using technologies only discovered in recent times, however inquiry into these experiences began long before our modern age. We could regard the meditating yogis of the distant past as the early ‘scientists of consciousness’. They, like many pioneering researchers, had no option but to experiment on themselves, and report back what they found. Long before science as we know it today existed, people just like you and me were exploring ways to end human suffering, and solve the existential mysteries of life, through engaging in their own direct inner inquiry. In many cases they pursued their inner quest for decades, or even a whole lifetime, gaining insights into the human condition that were deep and universal. The principles of what they learned are just as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago.
The Neuroscience of Meditation
Now some of the world’s most respected quantum physicists and neuroscientists are confirming what the yogis, saints, monks, and nuns have asserted for so long; that we, and the universe, are so much more than we have imagined.
These researchers are, among other things, questioning the key assumptions upon which materialist science has been based, and are exploring the premise that consciousness exists in and of itself, independent of brain activity, and that consciousness influences matter. In doing so they are paving the way for a new psychology, and a new view of what it is to be human.
The Galileo Commission, comprised of ninety scientific advisors, and spanning thirty institutions worldwide, has produced a report that identifies the shortcomings of our current scientific model, and discusses its impacts on our medical system, our mental health, and human well-being in a broader sense. The report suggests a new direction for scientific inquiry; one that includes data previously considered anomalous because it didn’t fit with the existing view of reality. The report recognizes consciousness as an integral factor in our experience.
These changes in the sciences will allow us to view meditation and contemplative practices in a new light. Currently meditation, approached from the perspective of materialist science, is seen as merely a tool for relaxation; as one part of our physiology acting upon another. When we consider it from the viewpoint of consciousness, we find ourselves in a different ballpark entirely.
Just imagine what might become possible if we came to see ourselves as consciousness first and foremost, and as matter or body second. The basis of our sense of self would fundamentally change, and our approach to mental health would radically shift.
Approached from this direction, the findings of neuroscience in the field of meditation and spiritual experience could be applied in ways that allow us to plumb the uncharted depths of human potential. By valuing the discoveries made by the meditation practitioners of the past, and combining their knowledge with the data being gathered today, we find ourselves equipped with a rich resource that we can use to improve our lives in a real way.
It is exciting to know that many researchers such as Dr Mario Beauregard (affiliated with the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona), and Dr Andrew Newberg (The Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania), are confirming the validity of the meditative experience, and helping us to learn more about how our brain operates during these states.
You can find out more about Dr Beauregard’s research on his website.
Meditation practitioners, both ancient and contemporary, report back to us encounters with the nature of reality that challenge the way we commonly view ourselves and the world. They invite us to extend the boundaries of our awareness, and explore life way beyond our existing comfort-zone.
The journey we embark upon when we begin to meditate leads us not only to a place of greater peacefulness and contentment, but into a larger sphere of experience which reaches far beyond the limits of our imagination.
This invitation is being extended to us now, as it has been for thousands of years. Perhaps it’s time for more of us to take part in this voyage of discovery. What if we learned to meditate deeply in our thousands, or even better in our millions?
Perhaps it’s time to test it out, and find the answer to the question… ‘how might the world change on the outside, if we dared to transform on the inside?’
Taking the Next Step
So, let’s look at some simple and easy things can you do right now to take the next step forward into a new world of awareness.
If you aren’t meditating yet, consider starting a regular practice. Just committing to meditating a few minutes a day to begin with, can create a strong foundation that you can build upon over time. Even when you are just starting out, you can already take comfort in the fact that your meditation practice is about so much more than just ‘stilling your thoughts’; an idea that discourages many new meditators straight out of the starting blocks!
You can feel free to let your thoughts float in and out, knowing that your real nature is spacious awareness, and that your larger consciousness is already carrying you and supporting your relaxation into it from day one.
If you already have a regular meditation practice, it can be helpful to consider what you understand or believe about your practice.
When you reflect on your ‘why’ and how it informs and influences your ‘how’ (the way you approach your practice) you will be able to identify any old beliefs or attitudes that may be limiting your meditative experience.
For example, a common attitude that may carry over from daily life into our meditation practice is being overly controlling with oneself, goal-driven and achievement focused. This can turn meditation into a chore rather than a joy and result in a ‘dry’ practice that lacks warmth and sweetness.
One of the easy keys to experiencing spaciousness in your meditation is to set the intention to surrender into a feeling of being carried. You can help yourself to gently cultivate this atmosphere by taking a nurturing approach to your meditation practice, and setting the space at the start of each meditation session by imagining that you are completely supported and surrounded by a luminous ocean of kindness.
In my next article I will be sharing more simple techniques that you can use to bring warmth and a feeling of expansiveness to your meditation practice.