Mindful Meditation: A Universal Application of Life
The practice of mindful meditation has been in human existence for centuries. Historically, various sorts of religions, churches, temples, and monasteries have embraced and continue to embrace the tranquil practice that simply aims to still the mind. Today, meditation/mindfulness is acknowledged and expressed even in the most prevalent aspects of society, ranging from education, science, business, sports, and entertainment. Like water, meditation is a free flowing element in which its uses can be manipulated for different purposes of life. For instance, although meditation has been incorporated in religion, its principles do not adhere to any one form of faith. Respected American author, public speaker, and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra once clarified that “Meditation is, first of all, part of every spiritual tradition… in the world.” There are breathing meditations in every tradition. It has nothing to do with belief or ideology or doctrine. It’s a simple mental technique to go to the source of thought” (Chopra). Chopra is correct in his declaration that meditation is a universal, and non-conceptual way of life that is accessible to anyone. While meditation is sometimes mistakenly perceived as an escape from reality, it is rather an inner confrontation with the inevitable, natural truths of life that we often try to repress. Thus, it is no coincidence that meditation has been deemed a beneficial practice, and has been applied in several aspects of ancient and modern culture because of these potential benefits. It would be untrue, however, to proclaim meditation is essential merely because of the human satisfaction and gratification it produces. Rather, meditation is important because of its extensive applicability; meditation is easy to embrace during times of comfort, but the true goal of mindfulness is to extend its properties in the real world, such as one’s role in business, education, sports, science, or religion. To do so, one must be wary of toxic obsession with productivity since the nature of meditation is to not concern with results. Meditation at home alone is like the training an athlete or debater does to prepare for the real competition. As Zen master Charlie Amber puts it, “If we approach meditation from the goal-oriented perspective of this cancerous money-obsessed era, we will fail every time. The key is to be patient with yourself as you understand the nuance of why meditation is ‘useful’.” Those who truly embrace the art of meditation know that its original intention is to detach the mind and keep it astray from all illusory thought, misconception, and falsities. No matter how painful or difficult the realization may be, meditation is a non-biased path toward acceptance of the everyday circumstances that we cannot control. In essence, meditation is a healing practice because it urges humans to make peace with their suffering rather than seek to avoid or unnaturally manipulate life’s hardships. Experienced meditator, author, and entrepreneur Charlie Amber speaks on the necessity of confronting one’s uneasiness: “What happens when you dive into discomfort? In the same way a dark cavern is less scary when you navigate it with a light, exploring your own mind is less difficult when you do so with mindfulness” (Amber). Inner confrontation of the mind can therefore allow an individual to deal with harsh or painful experiences, whether these events be of the past, present, or future. In addition, meditation provides an individual with a neutral stance that serves as a valuable reminder of one’s self-worth: “Put into perspective, most of our worries can be seen for what they are — relatively insignificant. Part of meditation is recognizing yourself as both the center of the universe and also a tiny ephemeral speck” (Amber). Paradoxically, meditation benefits an individual because he/she does not prioritize him/herself. Meditation reminds individuals that they certainly matter, but to never put themselves on a pedestal. Through mindfulness, humility is viewed as a strength rather than a weakness.
Although meditation is not regarded as a religious practice, every major religion subtly includes their own version of the breathing practice in their own faith. Environmental Fine Art Landscape Photographer John Paul Caponigro asserts that the five major religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all practice forms of meditation. In Hinduism, for instance, the eight limbs of yogic exercise are the foundation of the religion and the seventh limb known as “dhyana,” emphasizes inner focus that resembles meditation. Similarly, the religion of Buddhism evolved from the meditations of Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who renounced his status opting for a life of ascetic practice that led to his becoming the Buddha or fully enlightened one” (Caponigro). Buddhism is also credited with the creation of “Zen,” which “offers a unique form of meditation call the koan, a puzzle without an apparent answer” (Caponigro). Moreover, the religion of Judaism envelops meditation through the Qabalah philosophy, which is designed to further spiritual development. It is known that “students of the Qabalah transform their essential inner natures with the essential external nature, by internalizing symbols and gradually absorbing their characteristics through meditation” (Caponigro). Furthermore, even the often highly independent religion of Christianity has been proved to have ties with mindful meditation. Although not all practices are accepted in Christian churches, “the Eastern Orthodox traditions practice creating and using icons as a focus for meditation” (Caponigro). The Jesuit traditions use visualization and imagination to respond in a deeply felt personal way to scenes from the life of Christ” (Caponigro). However, The simplest and most universal form of Christian meditation can be found in the practice of repeating prayers, either individually, together, or in a cycle” (Caponigro). Last but not least, the prevalent religion of Islam combines meditation with the mystical path of Sufism, which is rooted in the Koran and teachings of Muhammad. Essentially, The arts (of sufism) reveal universal principles and everyday activities become vehicles for meditation — writing, calligraphy, geometry, architecture, dance, weaving, etc. “Everything is considered sacred and unity is expressed everywhere” (Caponigro). Known as “fikr,” The aim of (Islamic) meditation is to prevent the mind from going astray while the heart is focused on God and the self. Relevance of meditation in different forms of religion justifies its non-committal, transparent status, since it does not associate with a single entity or idea.
Ironically, meditation has also intrigued the minds of scientists, as there are scientific studies that affirm mindful meditation makes a substantial impact on specific (neural) parts of the human brain. For example, Washington Post contributor once conducted an interview with Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital neuroscientist Sara Lazar, who studied and produced a literature search of the possible human psyche’s evolved state from meditation. From this research, Lazar found that meditation had been associated with “decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life” (Lazar). After this realization, Lazar produced a specific study which grouped consistent meditators vs. a control group. From this study, Lazar found that “long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions (of the brain), the auditory and sensory cortex” (Lazar). Lazar reasons that the enhancement of the brain’s senses in the regions of meditators makes perfect sense, because those who practice mindfulness pay more attention to their breathing and “present moment experience,” and less attention to their cognitive ability. In addition to the initial study, Lazar conducted another which specifically assessed people whom never meditated before, and compared them with a group that started an eight week mindfulness program. After the eight week waiting period, Lazar claims her research team “found clear differences in brain volume in five different regions of the brains of the two groups.” In the group that learned meditation for the first time, Lazar asserts that her team specifically found thickening in these four regions: “posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance, the left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation, the temporo parietal junction, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion, an area of the brainstem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced, and the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general” (Lazar). Lazar makes clear that the “change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels” for those that were subjected to eight weeks of meditation. However, Lazar warns that meditation should not be viewed as a remedy for everything: “just like exercise, it can’t cure everything. So the idea is, it’s useful as an adjunct therapy” (Lazar). In other words, meditation should be treated as a supplement of a healthy daily routine and diet, but not viewed as a magical tool that heals all problems and human diseases.
As meditation has impressed the minds of scientists, it is not surprising then that it has gained attention from the education sector as well. Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, California has incorporated fifteen minute meditation periods through optional student choice during the morning and afternoon of each school day. Rather than just calling it meditation, the school has labeled the daily practices as “QT.” aka “Quiet Time.” According to the George Lucas Educational Foundation, since starting the Quiet Time intervention, this school has achieved 50% reduction in suspensions, 65% reduction in truancy, and a .5% increase in overall grade point average” (GLEF). Moreover, meditation has proved to be useful in high schools; Marblehead High School in Boston, Massachusetts is a prime example of the potential benefits that meditation can provide in higher level education. According to the American Psychological Association, “The drive to get good grades and gain acceptance into elite colleges, combined with participation on sports teams and other after-school activities, and hours of homework mix together to make teenagers the most stressed group of people in America when school is in session” (APA). School teacher and psychologist Violaine Gueritault says: “Students “are just craving for ways to handle and cope with their stress in healthy and non destructive ways. It becomes sort of like instinctive and intuitive for them to just search for alternative ways to cope with their stress that have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol or whatever destructive behavior” (Gueritault). In addition to the positive opinion of Gueritault, Marblehead school principal Layne Millington remarks: “I think that’s the reason that the students are latching onto this because when they’ve had a chance to stop, think, breathe and really kind of feel where they’re at, they know how much stress they’re under finally and now that they are aware of it, they can try to do something about it” (Millington). In short, Visitacion Middle School and Marblehead High School’s daily incorporation of mindfulness are examples of how meditation can positively impact the classroom and lower the anxiety levels of the students, teachers, and remaining school staff.
Furthermore, although meditation is not necessarily intended for celebrity culture, the mindful practice has recently been popularized by several celebrities and popular figures in the world of business, sports, fashion, etc. For instance, in the sports realm, NBA hall of famers such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal have credited a part of their success toward their mindful teacher George Mumford, who incorporates several focus-oriented breathing techniques and mindsets which he believes can enhance athletic performance. Mumford defines meditation as “not trying to go anywhere or do anything, meditation and being present is just seeing what’s there and letting it speak to you” (Mumford). Mumford emphasizes the importance of learning from experience through non-judgement: “Mindfulness is not judging, but learning from it and letting it speak to you. … we’re not really hearing what’s there, we’re interpreting it based on what we already know, and so part of this is to have the vulnerability to not know and just see what this is” (Mumford). The calm sensation of meditation can thereby allow an athlete to strictly deal with the situation in front of them, and tune out any outside distractions or disturbances that may affect their performance. Regarding his own journey with meditation, Mumford states that his practice allows him to feel liberated from falsehood: “I realized … it’s being connected to something greater than yourself, it’s being able to know the truth and ‘let the truth set you free’ that was the ultimate stress reducer, which is really understanding how this mind-body process works” (Mumford). In theory, anyone who plays or has played a sport is aware of the importance of mental strength; meditation is a tool that can help athletes achieve states of pure concentration which is vital pregame and during competition.
Furthermore, meditation can be useful in the world of business, as I have interviewed two successful entrepreneurs named Charlie Amber and Garni Sohrabian, who both incorporate meditation in their everyday lives. Successful figures such as these two make a strong case that meditation can even coexist in the busiest environments. Mr. Amber is a successful entrepreneur and author of DailyZen, which is a compiled 286 page book of his weekly Medium publications. When I asked Mr. Amber the greatest benefit meditation offers, he responded: “I think the greatest benefit is learning to detach from benefits. Doing this helps us get through periods where the future / results are uncertain” (Amber). I also asked Mr. Amber how meditation specifically has impacted his own life: “I don’t think I would have had the courage to start my own business without my meditation practice. I also probably would have given up on my relationship, which started difficult but is now really wonderful. So I think people who are obsessed with results benefit the most, insofar as they learn to let go of results and immerse themselves in the moment” (Amber). However, Garni Sohrabian, founder of the mindful watch company stealtimeback, believes one does not necessarily have to meditate to achieve a blissful state: “I believe that anything can be meditative if we immerse into it. Personally, I love to go into nature, write, and play soccer. Someone else may prefer yoga or meditation. What is zen for me may bring chaos to others and vice versa” (Sohrabian). Mr. Sohrabian, emphasizes the importance of finding one’s passion as long as it not harmful to the self or others. Doing so emulates a meditative experience itself, because one is fully immersed with joy and meaning in whatever they are doing.
On the whole, mindful meditation continues to be a success because of its unbiased, non-exclusive properties. To be mindful is to be aware, and content with all outcomes. To be mindful is to constantly add and remove conceptual thought(s), ideologies, and social norms to maintain a balanced, healthy, non-prejudiced state of mind. To be mindful is to respect and acknowledge all forms of peaceful religion, even if the principles of a belief do not align with one’s own. To be mindful is to love not only thy neighbor, but also oneself, for meditation teaches its users to accept themselves for who they are. To be mindful is to put full effort into all endeavors, but to not get discouraged from unsatisfactory expectations and results. To be mindful is to make peace with our human frailties, and to accept the inevitability of our natural growth and decay. To be mindful is to know that meditation is not meant to be used as a means for escape, nor is it guaranteed to heal the suffering of humankind. Buddhist Monk and Peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh masterfully shines light of this important reminder in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation: ”Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” The fundamental commonalities of meditation can and should extend beyond one’s personal reclusive life. Rather than futile attempt to dodge inevitable conflict, meditation serves as a learning tool for the individual to confront any situation to make peace with all possible outcomes. Thus, meditation is not separate from life, but rather, an extension of life itself, allowing the individual to uncover their greatest potential.
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