to engage in contemplation or reflection;
to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
When the topic of meditation comes up we often hear, “Oh, I’ve tried it before and it’s just not for me”. Or, “Why do I need meditation, I’m not stressed”. The word meditation itself often evokes images of robed monks sitting perfectly still in a zen like state, immersed in their own state of inner peace. Not exactly a mirror image of most of our day to day realities, and probably the farthest thing from our own noisy and chaotic house of two young children while managing work, school, daycare and more. Yet within that typical North American urban home life, we have found meditation to be an anchor; a release valve and rejuvenator in our lives. And perhaps more importantly, it has become a window into where we can catch a glimpse of who we truly are and why we are here. Pretty powerful stuff.
History and Origins of Meditation
Meditation, in fact, is becoming more and more commonplace in our society. While its exact origin is unknown, the concept and practise of meditation has been around since recorded history. The earliest evidence was found by archeologists of wall art in the Indus Valley from 3500-5000 BCE depicting people in meditative poses. The earliest written records describing meditation techniques are attributed to ancient Vedic texts of India around 1500 BCE.
While the practise of meditation pre-dates the formation of religion, most major religions have incorporated it into their practises and teachings, particularly into their mystical branches. In Judaism there is the study of Kabbalah, Islam there is the practise of Sufism and Buddhism has numerous variations including Zen, Tibetan and Theravada. Christianity also has its own practices that are meditative in nature. Counting the rosary beads, the Eurachrist Adoration and time spent deeply in prayer all have meditative elements to them.
In the 1960’s there was a rise of interest in meditation in the West which was fueled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s (Yogi to the Beatles) teaching of Transcendental Meditation. And in 1979, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was founded in the United States, which used meditative techniques in the treatment plans for patients with chronic diseases. Today, you can find mindfulness based programs and meditation at centres and yoga studios across the city.
What is the Point of Meditation?
While methods may vary from culture to culture, meditation is seen as a cornerstone of spiritual development. In our society people most often come to mediation for many different purposes and from many different experiences. Some people seek it out as a way to reduce, stress, improve health and concentration and promote greater relaxation in their lives. Outcomes which many psychological and scientific studies over the years have indeed proven to be true.
While that may be your starting point, meditation can often make deeper, much more substantial changes in our lives and those around us if we let it. Meditation teaches us how to be in the present moment. The pace at which we live our lives often have us trying to fulfill a never ending to-do list with our thoughts either projecting us in the future or re-playing the past. Meditation shows us how to be in the here and the now instead. It is precisely this reason why many of us find meditation so difficult. Because we are training the body and mind to be in state that it is not particularly use to.
Deeper Understanding of Who You Truly Are
But that awareness of the present moment can often lead to other, perhaps unintended consequences as well. Meditation can provide you with a doorway to connect inwards and to glimpse a deeper understanding of your true self. It can provide a place where we can set aside our roles, responsibilities and relationships and just be. And in that awareness, you may be amazed at what floats to the surface. Because our daily lives are so often full, meditation allows you to begin to peel back the layers. At first peeling back those layers may be uncomfortable, bringing to the surface all the debris we've managed to bury deep into the vault of the sub-conscious mind. But once we spend some time clearing out that debris, like sifting through soil for that ever elusive diamond, every now and then, the peak of that brilliant rock just might shine through.
Moving Vs. Seated Meditation
When most of us think of meditation we think of a traditional seated meditation practise. Yet moving meditation, such as yoga, certain types of martial arts, running or even walking with mindfulness can calm and focus the mind while engaging in conscious movement of the physical body. Moving meditation can be an ideal introduction to meditation or the choice of those who prefer movement over a seated practise.
Purposes of Meditation
There are actually three different types of meditation, each serving a different purpose. There is guided visualization, where a practitioner or recording will walk you through a particular scenario for the purpose of relaxation. This sort of meditation is a great place to start. It occupies the mind and gives it a focus while you work towards maintaining that focus for longer periods and on your own.
Active meditation is another form of meditation and it can either be lead by a practitioner, or practised on your own. This form of meditation goes beyond relaxation and actively uses meditation in your life to problem solve, or seek guidance on issues in your daily lives. This, in our opinion, is where the value of meditation can really be seen. For in that space we start to connect with our inner senses and use them to make decisions in our everyday lives. Many of us tend to live our lives solely from the mind – imagine what your life would be like if we started living it from a deeper understanding of who we really are? If you're interested in exploring this type of meditation we have workshops coming up in June such as Spiritual Intuition and Sanctuary Meditation, which are great tools to start building this intuitive muscle and applying it in your life.
Passive meditation is perhaps the hardest or most elusive type of meditative practise, but perhaps also the most rewarding. It is the zen like state where the body and mind are still and one. Where we go beyond the physical senses and rational thought to touch on inner realms of peace and enlightenment. While this state may be fleeting it does require a certain mastery of the body and mind to attain and hold for any length of time.
Interested in exploring meditation on your own? Check out this introduction to meditation below.
Interested in more? Check out our Monday Nights Meditation where we explore guided visualization, active and passive meditation techniques or Chi Kung Tuesdays and Moving Meditation on Tuesday Nights for active minds and active lives.