Knocking on the Sky - An Introduction to MeditationBy Adam Sinicki
Meditation is something that unfortunately gets some bad press from people who don't really understand it. Unfortunately a lot people think it's without substance or benefit, that it's for hippies, or that it has to necessarily go hand in hand with religion. None of these things though are true, and the reality is that meditation is a highly useful practice that comes in many forms and that is perfectly scientifically proven to be of benefit – so much so that it's a crucial part of 'CBT' or 'Cognitive Behavioural Therapy'. It's also a great way to explore your own mind and the way your mind works.
The Idea Behind Meditation
The unifying idea behind all the schools of meditation is essentially to more closely control and explore your thoughts and to dedicate some time to introspection. A very simple and normal form of meditation is to just meditate 'on' a question or a topic – to try exploring an idea and dedicating time to finding a solution to a problem or creating something. I love doing this and it's my belief that whenever I have a problem in my life, or a challenge, enough thought and time can produce a workable solution to at least make the most of the situation. Interestingly taking away the outside world for a bit allows you to really focus on the problem and to view it in a new light. When you take away external stimuli, you not only have no distractions, but also nothing by which to gage time and you can get a lot more thinking done in a much shorter space of time.
However in many cases the idea of meditation is not linked to problem solving and instead it is focussed on trying to cease thought altogether. The purpose of this then is to allow you to take a break from the 'internal monologue' in your brain, and this is where scientists have noted that practitioners are able to change their brainwaves to a more relaxed state. This is thought to be very good for our brain and also a great way to combat stress – like a little bubble away from the world where you completely forget all the problems in the world. Your blood pressure will lower and you will find a calmness that many people simply don't experience. You can use this as a slight retreat - to create a little 'bubble' away from your every day troubles. Like reading a book - when you're stressed or bored you can just take five minutes of meditation to get away from it all and to calm down. Forget about the worries you have to face once you're done, and forget about the worries you went into the meditation with and enjoy just existing free of those burdens. It's something you can do anywhere at any time (in Tai Chi they even teach 'moving' meditation).
Mindfulness – Meditation in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
In CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy – meditation is used to achieve something called 'mindfulness'. Here the idea is not to completely stop your thoughts, but rather to 'watch them' like clouds passing in the sky. Don't control your thoughts but rather just see what the contents of your brain are like when you switch off and what sort of things you are thinking. If someone has depression or other similar problems then often they will find this is the result of negative and destructive thought patterns. When they start using mindfulness techniques they may then find that they are thinking things like 'I really am useless' or 'I will never amount to anything'. Once the patient is aware of these thought patterns they can then stop themselves thinking this way in future and catch themselves having such negative thoughts. Further you can then replace these negative thoughts with positive affirmations – repeatedly making yourself think for instance 'I am a highly valuable and capably individual'.
Often when you hear about meditation it is associated with enlightenment and with transcendence. This could be partly for many people what is off putting, but actually it's a highly fascinating and interesting part of meditation that allows you to explore the very nature of your brain.
The belief is that when you meditate enough you reach a 'higher plane of existence'. Of course this doesn't happen but something else very interesting can happen – because you have stopped any conscious thought for a long period of time your brain areas can 'shut down' from lack of use (temporarily of course). Normally this only happens while you're sleeping, so what you then get is the ability to experience reality with certain aspects of your brain 'switched off'. Many meditators claim they become 'one with the universe' and the reason for this is that the part of their brain responsible for letting us know the position of our body in space. This means they lose the physical sensation of being themselves and feel 'boundless' and 'everywhere'.
This is the exact same thing that happens when people are on mind-bending drugs which is why the Beatles turned from LSD to Eastern meditation. At the same time it's what happens when we have a stroke and if you watch the video 'What it's Like to Have a Stoke' on YouTube you will see her explain the exact same thing.
It's a highly fascinating and liberating experience, and what it allows you to do is to experience the world from a more bottom up perspective – to see reality without enforcing order on it and to think very truly 'outside the box'. It's certainly worth experimenting with and can really open up your thought process.
How to Meditate
To start meditating then all you will need is a quiet space where you can sit down. Take a position on a cushion or on the floor and sit upright so you don't fall asleep then close your eyes and let your thoughts drift.
One important tip when learning how to meditate is not to worry yourself with whether or not you start to itch or need to move position. Many people think when they're meditating that they aren't allowed to move, to itch or to cough and this then distracts them from the process. Realise it's no big deal if you shift position to start with – and as you forget about the worry you'll find you don't need to.
If you want to try clearing you mind then this is a little more tricky and takes a lot of practice. However there are countless methods that have been developed – one being to repeat a mantra either out loud or in your head – simply repeating a simple phrase over and over. This occupies your mind so you can't start having thoughts. Another method is to concentrate on a single point in your mind's eye, while many people find that concentrating on their breathing is the most effective technique.