Meditation helps us focus on the mind and tune out external events
The popularity of a practice more than 5,000 years old is currently on the rise in American culture. This far-from-New-Age activity teaches people to calm themselves not by escaping life’s stresses, but rather by embracing them. This practice teaches mindfulness, and those who practice it enjoy a more fulfilled life of happiness, compassion and understanding. This practice is meditation, and to do it, one needs only to breathe.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
From the Latin meditatum meaning to ponder, meditation is a way of life for millions of people worldwide. It is a practice that focuses on breath to calm the mind and body. Meditation guides practitioners to a more peaceful way of dealing with life’s challenges.
Lama Chuck Stanford of The Rime Center in Kansas City has been an ordained Lama (or teacher) since 1998 and has practiced meditation for more than 20 years. He explains that mindfulness and meditation go hand-in-hand. Through meditation, we learn to “pay attention without judging,” he said.
“We are overcommitted. Our minds are constantly engaged in other things, so rarely are we really present in what we’re doing,” Stanford says.
With meditation “we can calm the mind and body and reach an ongoing flow of awareness. Others bounce from ecstasy to despair. When one cultivates mindfulness, he or she is less emotionally reactive.”
Stanford explains that when we experience any emotion—anger, for instance—three components are always involved: 1) an external event happens; 2) we feel angry; 3) our minds respond.
“Rarely do people ever get to the third component,” he says. Instead, we are stuck at number two and revisit number one and the cycle continues. Meditation “makes us focus on our mind and not the external event,” he said. That helps us better deal with the situation.
Janet Nima Taylor of Kansas City’s Unity Temple on the Plaza and co-founder of serenitypause.com says, “Meditation is learning how to create a gap between stimulus and response. Instead of responding in an unskillful way, meditation teaches us, through process of awareness, to slow down and to choose a more skillful response.”
Doing so has a “cumulative benefit of liberating our relationship with feelings” like greed, anger and sadness, Stanford says.
Regular meditation also has lifelong health benefits for stress, pain, insomnia, panic disorder and addiction.
“It has been scientifically proven that if we take these moments of awareness, it helps reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels to help our bodies respond to stress,” Taylor says.
Kansas City resident, Cara Duryea, has experienced many of these benefits. Duryea started meditating in 2002 and has found it dissipates anxiety, lowers blood pressure and helps her get a full, deep sleep. She added, “The great thing about meditation is there is no competition. Only with yourself. When I meditate on a consistent, daily basis, everyday problems seem less problematic and easier to deal with. I notice I ‘don’t sweat the small stuff and everything is small stuff.’”
WHAT MEDITATION IS NOT
Many myths and misconceptions surround meditation. Stanford and Taylor offer explanations to demystify it.
1) Do I have to be Buddhist or any other certain religion to meditate? A person can meditate regardless of religious background or belief. “Although one can have a spiritual experience through meditation,” Taylor says, “you do it on your own. It’s not pushed on anyone.” Stanford says the meditation he teaches is “secular in nature.”
2) Do I stop thinking completely during meditation? No. Taylor explains, “Using our breath and being aware of minute sensations give the mind something to focus on. In concentration meditation, we “incorporate all sounds/thoughts/sensations into meditation and when we realize we’re distracted, we embrace it because that’s a moment of awareness.”
3) Do I have to sit for a long time on the floor when meditating? Taylor encourages practitioners to meditate in a comfortable position. “You can become just as enlightened while sitting in a chair as on the floor,” she says. Some people even lie down. Some do it while walking. It’s a practice that can be incorporated into all areas of life. “You can have a meditative experience wherever you are,” Taylor said. If you’re stuck at a red traffic light and are in a hurry “instead of feeling impatient, take those moments to breathe and enjoy calmness,” she says.
4) Does meditation mean “I just go inside myself?” No. “Meditation is holistically about enabling us to be fully aware of every moment internally and externally,” Taylor says.
5) Am I going to achieve an outrageous or supernatural experience by meditating? “You’re not going to levitate or anything like that,” Stanford says. He tells people to not “accept the teaching until you know truth for yourself. Develop a daily practice and see the change for yourself.”
Story by Kelli White