The person sits in a comfortable position, back straight, usually with his eyes closed, counting his breath, or repeating a word, or concentrating on an object, image, word, or saying. He is meditating.
What is meditation? How can it help? What are the benefits of meditation?
In the past few weeks in this feature, I have argued that our thoughts and assumptions about the world determine our emotional reactions, that what we think determines how we feel. If this is true, then it follows that by controlling our thoughts we can control our emotions. But how can this be done? How is it possible to control our thoughts? How can we reduce our needless worrying?
One answer is through the use of meditation - the practice of mental discipline. Meditation is an act in which the mediator concentrates, centers, or focuses his attention on a single entity - a body process, a sound, an object or image, a word or saying - and attempts to exclude or ignore all other distracting thoughts.
You might want to try this experiment: sit in a comfortable spot at a time in which you will not be disturbed for fifteen minutes. Relax each part of your body as much as you can, then concentrate all of your attention on your breathing.
What happens? You will probably find that it is extremely difficult to focus on your breathing for a full fifteen minutes. Your mind wanders aimlessly as it flits from thought to thought or image to image. It is as if the mind abhors a vacuum and so rushes to fill itself with thoughts and images, a rush of mental content that is hard to control.
And how often do we do this in our everyday lives - keep ourselves stirred up with distracting, worrisome thoughts; fail to stick to a thought or problem; or think about all the possible bad or fearful consequences that might befall us rather than imagine the good?
Meditation can help us to reduce this sort of unproductive, purposeless thinking and can enable us to employ our minds more constructively. Michael J. Eastcott, in his book, The Silent Path: An Introduction to Meditation (Samual Weiser, 1973), describes the effects and benefits of meditation this way: "We are beginning to see that thought is a tangible potency which creates, influences, and has effect ... who has not found that by continual thinking about some worry it has assumed gigantic proportions? And that fear builds up out of practically nothing if we permit it to be fed by thought? Put these things out of mind and they atrophy and disappear.
"Thought rightly used can recreate both ourselves and our surroundings ... most of us miss out on much of our potential because of the little recreating that we do with our minds. We permit them a great deal of free range in unprofitable fields, whereas controlled use of them could harness valuable, constructive energy. Think love and we build it into ourselves; think of joy and we become more joyous."
# # # # #