Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some concepts and terms

  1. Two types of meditation: (1) single-point emptying the mind and (2) observation of own thoughts as they pass by
  2. Sources of the idea of meditation: Hindu practice, Buddhist practice, American psychology and medicine
  3. Terms and descriptions: Eastern meditation, relaxation response
  4. Purposes:
      1. originally, perhaps, to sacrifice and to restrain natural tendencies for religious discipline and glorification of god(s)
      2. also religiously, to be open to the entry of divine into one's self
      3. American psychology and psychiatry
        1. self awareness, self knowledge
        2. mindful awareness of what thoughts one is harboring in the mind
      4. Other American physical medical purpose: elicit the relaxation response, balancing the flight or fight response in the body and dealing with stress

In recent days, I have written about ideas of meditation from Prof. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response and The Relaxation Revolution.  For knowing your mind and self, meditation is a great tool.  But just what is meditation?  I am referring to the idea of sitting still and quiet for 10 or 20 minutes and attending carefully to the state of your mind.  During the meditation period, you watch what you are thinking.  As soon as you realize that you are caught up in thoughts, gently put them aside.  That is all you do and doing that reaps big benefits.  Not immediately but over a couple of weeks of daily practice.

If you look at the popular literature on meditation, you will find two types mentioned.  Practicing as I just indicated will start you with mind-emptying but over time, that leads to more observational awareness of what your thoughts (and feelings) are.  Doing the practice leads to more awareness of your mind, both during the meditation and at all other times.

So where did this practice come from?  The earliest records indicate Hindu practice.  The idea seems to have come from sacrificing for religious purposes.  Fasting or celibacy for the body and the cessation of thought for that restless organ, the mind.  In some cases, stopping thoughts seemed to open a person for visits by divine presence or guidance, much as Quakers tend to believe today.  In truth, versions of meditation are present in all religions.  See Lost Christianity by Jacob Needleman  and many other sources.

Prof. Benson tends to emphasize the physiological results of quiet sitting and its value as a de-stressor.  Personally, I find that the mindful awareness of what I am thinking, a more mental result of practice, is more important and more valuable.

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