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    Wednesday
    Oct072015

    Four Recommended Articles on Meditation

    If you're interested in either meditation or the teaching or study of meditation, you might want to take a look at these four articles, mostly from mainstream sources: Sam Harris, author of the bestselling "Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion," Aurora Healthcare, Gaiam Yoga. They offer a good, thorough overview of contemporary meditation practice.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate

    http://life.gaiam.com/article/meditation-101-techniques-benefits-beginner-s-how

    http://digitalrepository.aurorahealthcare.org/jpcrr/vol2/iss2/4/

    http://innerpeacemeditation.org/?gclid=CNLs76-ozMgCFZcYHwod9qsAjQ

    To begin, let's clarify what we mean by meditation. "Meditation" is a broad category. Saying "meditation" is  like saying "sports" instead of saying "tennis" or "football." In essence, any type of sustained mental/emotion focus could be called a meditation. So when we speak of the practice of meditation for the purpose of self-development or self-improvement, what exactly do we mean by that?

    It's complicated. Meditation practices have been a part of every religious, philosophical and spiritual tradition. There are hundreds of different approaches and techniques of meditation, most of them embedded in a cultural or religious tradition, many of them shrouded in mysticism and superstitious thinking.

    Buddhist tradition describes meditation as a sitting practice that allows for insight into the true nature of reality.

    Yoga tradition describes meditation as an internal practice that provides for the systematic release of resistance and stress from the body/mind, allowing one's true nature to shine forth.

    I would define meditation as any formal, internal, deliberate mental/emotional practice (for me, true meditation must engage both aspects of subjective experience) that consistently produces a more adaptive, more resourceful, more rewarding state of mind and emotion for the practitioner.

    There are many other meditation traditions: Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Shamanic. They're all worth exploring but that's beyond the scope of this article.

    For our purposes, there are presently two main streams of contemporary practice in the US: mindfulness based practice (MBSR as an example), which stems from Buddhist practice, and mantra-based practice (TM is one example), which originated in the Yoga tradition. Each has it's advantages and disadvantages and each has it's own advocates and critics, but each works in its own way to remove the stresses and strains of everyday life and promote overall health and well-being without any need for esoteric beliefs or practices. But they are not the same. There are subtle but important differences in approach and technique and the benefits vary as well.

    In the case of meditation, all roads do not lead to Rome; different practices produce different results. In addition, some techniques, especially the ones that seem simple to learn, prove to be maddeningly difficult to practice. With breath-focused techniques, "mindfulness' type practices, it's often a case of "minutes to learn but a lifetime to master." Mantra meditation can take more time to learn and properly understand, but it often proves to be more consistently easy and beneficial to practice in the long run.

    Personally, I think the two practices compliment each other very well. They're both worth learning. I recommend that people learn both forms and choose the one that works best for them on any given day. It's perfectly fine to mix and match meditation practices. As a matter of fact, I recommend it.

    Practiced properly, correct meditation will feel easy and rewarding, but ultimately we judge the effectiveness of our practice by the results we get in our everyday lives, not by the way it feels during the meditation itself. The process should be easy, and the results should be rewarding.

    I recommend learning meditation from a teacher, in a structured way where there is comprehensive guidance and support. Don't go it alone. Subtle differences and small adjustments to technique can make a huge difference in practice. Choose someone who has broad and deep personal experiences with their own practice, and who is personally familiar with different approaches to meditation. These days, lots of people seem to think they can teach something about a year or two after they learned it themselves. Not the best approach where meditation is concerned.

    Guided meditations are also worth exploring. They're limited in their long-term value, but they can provide useful insights and guidance for both the beginner and also the advanced practititioner.

    All that being said, there is probably no simpler, cheaper, more effective way to safeguard and improve your mental health and well-being than a regular practice of meditation. Make it a habit and you'll never regret it.

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