Benefits of Meditation for Physical and Mental Health Part 1

About the benefits of meditation for physical and mental health, history of the exercise, definitions and explanations.

Recharging Yourself through Meditation

There are almost as many definitions of meditation as there are people meditating. It has been described as a 4th state of consciousness (neither waking, sleeping, nor dreaming); as a way to recharge one's inner batteries; as a state of passive awareness, of "no mind." Some teachers regard meditation as the complement to prayer: "Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God." Meditation teaches the conscious mind to be still. The mind must learn to be still and listen, whether it listens to God, to the subconscious, or to an outside influence. Which of these one listens to depends on one's point of view and on which of the many forms of meditation one is attempting.

Contemplative meditation is a preliminary exercise for beginners in which one stares at an object, trying to focus the entire consciousness on it and on nothing else. In meditation "with seed," also known as concentrative meditation, one mentally focuses the mind on a visualized object, phrase, or part of the body. Meditation without seed is far more difficult, for here nothing is visualized; the mind becomes, or tries to become, a blank. There is also "open" meditation, in which one tries to be totally aware of one's environment, the sounds, the sensations (roughness of a sweater on an arm, weight of one's body pressing down on a chair, etc.). The reverse of this is meditation involving total sensory withdrawal, tuning out the environment. Mantra meditation involves the continuous repetition of a sound. (Transcendental meditation is one version.) Although we think of a meditator as sitting motionless, there is moving meditation too. The renowned whirling dervishes of the Sufis are actually meditating as they whirl. Tai Chi Ch'Uan, an oriental discipline now becoming popular in the West, combines slow physical movements with the mental techniques of meditation.

Why do people meditate? Why leave a busy schedule to sit silently, spending valuable time apparently doing nothing? Isn't this a flight from the world? Couldn't we spend our time more constructively? Doesn't it foster anti-intellectualism? Doesn't such passivity make us mentally flabby, unable to face reality let alone try to change and improve it?

Opponents of meditation ask these questions and then answer them affirmatively themselves. Most who have had experience in meditation disagree. The latter will tell you that with meditation they are calmer, more able to cope with problems. Far from withdrawing from life, they meet it more exuberantly, are able to think more clearly about what should be done to improve it, and have more energy to do what needs doing. Yet until recently all this was subjective. We could not tell if people were really benefiting from meditation, or if it was just the brief rest from routine that made them feel so good.

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