2 Ways Meditation Heals | Psychology Today Canada
The Oxford Handbook of Meditation is the most comprehensive volume on meditation today, written by the world’s foremost experts. Its publication is scheduled for December 21, 2021. In the chapter Meditation and the brain in health and disease (Fox and Cahn, 2021, p 433), meditation is defined as:
“… a family of mental training practices aimed at monitoring and regulating attention, perception, emotion and physiology.
Can Meditation Heal Mankind?
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To find some orientation points in this vast area, I start from two central themes in many scientific studies of meditation.
A variety of meditation as mental training has been part of all cultures around the world for at least 2,500 years. Meditation can be found in many variations within the framework of religious, spiritual, philosophical and mystical traditions.
The science of meditation, on the other hand, is remarkably young. The first scientific studies date back about 50 years. The past decade has seen an unprecedented acceleration in meditation research.
William James was one of the first to take a psychological perspective on meditation. In his revolutionary work The varieties of religious experience (1901) he wrote on meditation as the cultivation of extraordinary states of consciousness.
Much of what we know today about meditation comes from Asian traditions: Taoist, Buddhist, and Yoga. It is important to realize that their central concepts are often written in the ancient Pali and Sanskrit languages. These languages are open to multiple interpretations.
Merging their meanings with modern psychological concepts is no easy task, in part because many central psychological concepts – such as emotion and consciousness – lack standard definitions that all science agrees on. . The result is that we often mix complex ideas with popular interpretations.
Our modern ideas about mindfulness and yoga are often examples of this fusion. Both are very popular as psychological aids. Sometimes heartwarming New Age lingo is used to promote mindfulness and yoga, confusing the timeless and deeply valuable practices and their marketing.
A first theme in the science of meditation
A first thousand-year-old theme of meditation is revealed in the Introduction: Understanding and studying meditation (Farias, Brazier & Lalljee, p 5). Here we can find this meditation:
“Involves actions of concentration supported by attention in order to move away from the usual flow of thoughts, sensations and feelings. “
This theme dates back to classical Taoist meditations (400-100 BC), such as the “inner cultures” of the book. Zhuangzi. It also goes back to Patanjali Yoga Sutra (300 BCE -300 CE) as the cessation of our mental fluctuations.
The theme of relaxation and calming of the mind plays an important role in Buddhist meditations. One of its fundamental formations is called shamata, like learning the technique of resting the mind in its natural state. The proven methods offered by these rich traditions of wisdom are still highly relevant and among the most used fundamental practices in meditation today.
There is a growing body of scientific studies on the biophysical changes that support the self-healing qualities of meditation. Dozens of scientific papers containing innovative research on meditation-based strategies for cultivating wellness are published by the Richard Davidson Affective Neuroscience Lab and his Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
A growing body of scientific research supports the claim that meditation as a mental training can deeply pacify our mental activity, which improves the regulation of our thoughts and emotions and can change our personal traits and even our genome to the best (Goleman & Davidson, 2017).
A second theme in the science of meditation
A second theme found in many meditative traditions (Farias, Brazier & Lalljee, p 5) is a transformed conscious mind:
“aim to arrive at a transformed state of consciousness, categorically different from the everyday self.
In this transformed conscious mind, we can discover a new perspective on our perceptions, thoughts and emotions and how their dynamics shape our daily selves.
Discovering our most precious selves, as I described in my previous article, is one of those transformational experiences. Our valued self is defined as “the integrative knowledge that emerges from becoming a full person trying to express the values of being: truth, goodness, beauty and love”. Meditation is the lifelong training and cultivation of a highly valued conscious mind that is categorically different from our everyday conscious mind.
After decades of studying, teaching, and practicing mental training, I have been able to observe how the meaning of meditation has shifted from New Age blur to the weird and unusual, and more recently to a scientific cure. validated for our current mental crises: epidemics of depression, burnout and sleep disorders; the confusion, intolerance, violence, polarization and fear that accompany the current Covid pandemic.
So why meditate?
The science of meditation is developing rapidly but is still young. Most of his research today focuses on psychobiological effects on health. More unexplored areas are the possibilities of meditation in learning and education, the regulation of emotions, relational intelligence, creativity and, above all, meditation as a tool for peace.
The relevance of meditation as indispensable mental training will only grow in a world where 9-10 billion precious human spirits must learn to live together this century on a breathtaking but extremely fragile, slowly warming planet. and making life more unpredictable than ever. .