Meditation and Mindfulness are core practices in my life. I have found these to be essential practices for living as a human being on earth. They are tools I like to share and explore in my classes, workshops and teleseminars as well as here on The Heart Of Awakening Blog. I began my personal exploration with meditation when I was 14 years old and have been a practitioner and spiritual seeker ever since. I have explored meditative and contemplative practices from a variety of spiritual traditions and cultures and I continue to today.
Personally, I have certain foundational practices that I work with; and I am always open to exploring new ones as they enter my awareness. What I have found in my own journey and in working with others is that it is important to find practices that supports you where you are and where you would like to be. Additionally, finding ones that are resonant with who you are today supports cultivating and deepening in an ongoing practice. Living in a rapidly changing world as we do sometimes requires that we adapt and explore more regularly to keep pace with the changes arising both inwardly and outwardly. Meditation and mindfulness practices offer tools to support self-awareness, connection and balance in our lives, our relationships and our world.
Overall, meditation is a process of focusing, calming and observing the movement of the mind. It is an important tool to achieve mental clarity, ease of well-being and deeper awareness. Almost all spiritual traditions have some form of meditation or contemplation as a way to practice and deepen our sense of connection with self, others, the world and spirit. Metta meditation is a Buddhist practice that cultivates loving-kindness and compassion. It begins with self, as creating a foundation of compassion for self is seen as necessary to be able to offer this energy to others. I find this practice to be highly beneficial for both the beginning and experienced meditator; that is why I offer the annual May Is For Metta: 31 Days Of Loving-kindness practice during the month of May each year. And, I am excited to be moving toward completion of a book on that topic to be released this May.
Regardless of what type of meditation practice you are working with, it is fascinating to consider how science is really beginning to identify many of the benefits of meditation, which spiritual practitioners have known for so long. Many institutions including Harvard Medical School and NIH have now shown that meditation can have positive effects on an individual’s health and overall well-being. Research shows that this is accomplished as meditation brings the brain wave patterns into an alpha state, which is a level of consciousness that promotes a healing state. There is even scientific evidence that meditation can reduce blood pressure and relieve pain and stress.
One interesting piece I came across was in an article by David DeSteno on the Daily Good, entitled, “The Morality Of Meditation”. DeSteno heads up the Social Emotions Group at Northeastern University; as stated on their website, the group’s goal is “to illuminate the complex and reciprocal relations binding emotion and social behavior. In short, we’re most interested in how emotions shape decisions and actions underlying many of the most important facets of social living.” Aware of many of the positive benefits of meditation, the group wanted to actually explore Buddha’s original teaching that meditation is the path to ending suffering.
What they found was it took only a short period of time for people who just began meditating to become more compassionate than a control group. There has been other research on the aspect of the development of compassion through meditation, whether we are using a compassion practice, such as Metta, or another type of practice. Meditation makes us more compassionate – as we become more connected to ourselves, others and the world, that is a natural response. There are many benefits that have come to light through recent research and that support what meditation practitioners have long known, so at this point, there is really no reason not to meditate and every reason to practice. Meditation practice makes us healthier, more balanced and more loving and compassionate.
Here is a list of some of the ways that meditation can benefit us on a variety of levels:
- Decreased high blood pressure.
- Lowered cholesterol levels.
- Deep rest measured by decreased metabolic rate and lower heart rate.
- Lowered levels of cortisol and lactate, two chemicals associated with stress.
- Reduction of free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules that can cause tissue damage.
- Improved flow of air to the lungs resulting in easier breathing.
- Decreases the aging process.
- Greater creativity.
- Decreased anxiety.
- Decreased depression
- Decreased irritability and moodiness
- Improved learning ability and memory.
- Increased self-actualization.
- Increased feelings of vitality and rejuvenation.
- Increased happiness.
- Increased emotional stability.
- Increased brain wave coherence
- Experiencing a sense of oneness and connection
- Deeper understanding and fulfillment of purpose
- A sense of completion
- Strengthening intuition and insight
- Deepening our sense of empathy and compassion for ourselves, others & the world.
- An overall experience of well-being
There are a variety of techniques that may be beneficial in creating greater balance and harmony in your life; it’s a great idea to be just be open and explore, especially as you are beginning. But, even an experienced meditator can benefit from what is called “beginner’s mind”, coming to your practice and to your life with openness and curiosity. It can be beneficial to find a meditation practice that best supports you where you are in the moment as well as in moving toward the changes you wish to make in your life. As you explore, you will notice that meditative tools and practices vary according to culture and tradition. Here are some types of meditation practices you may wish to explore:
Basic Breath Meditation: With just one breath, we have the ability to move from being unconscious to being fully conscious and awake. If we work with the breath regularly, the potential for change is infinite. here are many ways to work with the breath and it is important to find a practice that resonates with you. But just one breath taken in a conscious way can be a meditation and a way to be more fully present. Several of these a day or some type of daily practice creates a powerful catalyst for transformation. Some ways to practice include using the breath as anchor, labeling the breath, counting breaths. So, stop now wherever you are and just take breath. Notice the breath, sense where you feel it entering the body, feel the fullness or shallowness of it, and label it “breathing in” and “breathing out”. That’s all it takes!
Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness practice is about being aware of the sounds and activities happening within you and around you. It’s almost a flow-like type of meditation, because you literally just let your mind be fluid and flow from one thought to the next, not really focusing on one particular thing. You are simply just noticing. It is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are. Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is. Some ways to practice include noticing the body, thoughts, location, or conscious action, e.g. mindful eating or washing the dishes.
Focusing Meditation/Concentration: If the idea of clearing your mind of all thoughts stresses you out, focused meditation or concentration is great because you can focus on a sound, object, mantra, or thought. The key here is to just focus on one of these things and stay committed to that one thought or object. If you notice your mind has wandered, you simply bring it back to the object of focus. For some people, music is a helpful focus as it can be relaxing as well. Others prefer to gaze at an object such as a candle or an image such as a saint or spiritual teacher. In our day-to-day lives, our minds can easily be in 10 places at once, so focusing on one is a powerful tool to learn now to be centered and balanced. I like to practice outdoors sometimes focusing on things in nature like a tree, a flower or a body of water.
Walking Meditation: Movement meditation may seem intimidating, but if you’re by yourself and you really get into it, it can be extremely uplifting and relaxing at the same time. Standing with your eyes with a soft gaze on the floor in front of you, simply focus on your breath and begin to step right and then left, mindfully. If it’s helpful you can label your steps, “stepping right” and “stepping left”. You can explore synchronizing a breath with each step. Walking meditation can be done in a circle or straight line pausing when you get to an end point and really taking time to notice as your turn around and pause how it feels to shift from movement to stillness to movement once again. This is something we can carry with us so that we might walk and move more mindfully and with greater awareness through our day-to-day lives.
Mantra Meditation: Mantras are words that are chanted out loud during meditation or can be repeated silently within. The sound or the words of the mantra actually becomes the object of focus during the meditation and can create a strong anchor for our attention. In yoga, the mantra Om is regularly used since it delivers a deep vibration that makes it easy for the mind to concentrate on that particular sound. It is considered a universal sound representing Oneness. So Ham is another well-know mantra practice, which reflects on the natural sound and rhythm of the breath. You can explore So Ham in my post So Ham Mantra: Breathing, Connecting, Being.
Guided Meditation Or Visualization: Particularly when beginning to meditate some people find it easier to listen to or follow a guided meditation or visualization. Again, there are many types of practices that can be guided from a gentle body scan meditation to a powerful visualization. Where guided meditations get really interesting is in the way that they utilize the power of your imagination and the power of visualization to effect positive personal changes. Visualization techniques are now widely employed in many fields such as the arts, sports, business, alternative medicine, psychotherapy and self-improvement as they help to create a positive feeling or intention. Check out my Meditation On Actualizing Intention.
Grounding Practices/Chakra Meditations: In the yogic tradition of India as well as other spiritual traditions, there is an understanding of the energetic nature of being, beyond the physical. Although systems vary according to tradition, the concept of chakras is a common thread. Chakras are energy centers, which reflect all aspects of our being, and working with them can help to foster balance and ease in our lives. The Root Chakra is at the base of the spine and can help with the experience of being grounded and rooted in the world. Usually when we feel out of balance, we are ungrounded in some way. Grounding can be as simple as making a connection to the earth with our breath and awareness or using a visualization to deepen our experience of rootedness. Explore Grounding practices in my post on Grounding In A Rapidly Changing World.
Metta Meditation: Metta is a foundation Buddhist meditation practice. It uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a loving-kindness and compassion toward oneself and others. With each recitation of the phrases, we are expressing an intention, planting the seeds of loving wishes over and over in our heart. It is a great practice for beginners and experienced practitioners. Examples of phrases include: May I Be Happy. May I Be Peaceful. May I Have Ease Of Well-Being. Join us in May for May Is For Metta: 31 Days Of Loving-kindness Practice, a virtual meditation event happening here on the Heart Of Awakening Blog.
- Wherever You Go There You Are By Jon-Kabat Zinn
- Loving-kindness: The Art Of Revolutionary Happiness By Sharon Salzberg
- The Miracle Of Mindfulness By Thich Naht Hanh
- How To Meditate By Pema Chodron
- Journey Of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook By Ram Dass
- Breath Sweeps Mind Edited By Jean Smith
If you’d like to explore more, consider joining my Facebook group, Meditation & Mindfulness In A Rapidly Changing World. This group is an extension of my Tuesday night weekly meditation & mindfulness group at The Zen House in Annapolis, MD and offers resources and practices to support meditation and mindfulness exploration. It is open to anyone who would like to explore and I will be sharing some classes and audios virtually as well.
Tashi Deleh (I honor the greatness within you)