Meditate To Better Health and Happiness
Plus questions and answers
By: J. Marlando
This is my second article on meditation but I felt compelled to write it after reading a Harvey Black piece in Scientific American with title, Meditate That Cold Away.
His article is based on yet another article which was published in Annals of Family Medicine and tells how researchers recruited 150 participants—80 percent female over 50—and placed in three groups. One group trained in “mindful meditation” another did walking and/or jogging under supervision and the third control group did neither. The results was that participants who meditated missed 76 percent fewer days of work from September through May than did the control subjects—those who had exercised missed 48 percent fewer days during the same period. Also the severity of the colds and flus were also different. Those who exercised or meditated suffered for an average of five days; colds in the control group lasted eight.
It is not so much the statistics of this particular study that impresses me as it is the implication of the study. For one thing, if only eight weeks of practice resulted in positive results, what might eight month, eight years or eight decades produce?
Over my years I have witnessed (and been told about) some pretty amazing things that have been experienced or accomplished through meditation. For example, I have a friend of mine who told me about a friend of his who had endured a serious weight problem for years—she began to meditate and evidentally her metabolism changed and she began losing weight naturally. I know most virtually countless stories of people reducing their pain by meditating. I have done this myself a few times. Incidentally MIT and Harvard neuroscientists have explanations of why the practice of meditation “tune out distractions and relieve pain.”
The Brain Research Bulletin reported that researchers found that people trained to meditate over just an eight-week period were better able “to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms. Christopher Moore, a MIT neuroscientist said that, “Our data indicates that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by better regulatibng how things that arise will impact you.”
Remembering that scientists are typically (extremely) cautious with what they support this is a “glowing” acknowledgment. When it comes to health and neuroscientists, however, no one has been as daring as Candice Perta world renowned researcher *who, among so many other accomplishment, located receptors for opiates and other neurochemicals on the surface of immune cells. Indeed, what she said is, “I no longer believe in disease at all. Disease is a hundred percent mental. It’s just your brain state being reflected in your body.”
This statement was made at great risk since her peers (and traditional science) ridicule and reject such speculation and scoff at such unproven theories. This is precisely what happened to the famous cancer surgeon Bernie Siegel when he announced that love heals and is physiologic. Today, however, doctors and surgeons worldwide have changed the way they treat patients just as I suspect that futuristically the Candice Pert belief will unfold as a science of mind as well.
Many years ago I taught a class in “Creating Charisma” which included the observation of how what we “are” in the inside always reflects on the outside. (Because the class was primarily a training class for actors, I taught a system of meditation as a pre-performance technique. It worked miracles for some and not at all for others).
I started each new class with a question and answer period because most of the students had never thought about meditation or, if they had, didn’t know very much about it. Keeping in mind that I was only speaking from my own experience and point of view, the following attempts to answer the questions that were most ordinarily asked: perhaps there will be readers who have the same or similar questions?
Q: When did you start meditating?
A: I started back in the 1960s. I had friends who were reading about and practicing Zen and so I joined in every now and then. When I really got into it, I realized Zen wasn’t the right practice for me and so I began practicing meditation on my own.
Q: You never had any formal instruction?
A: Not for years and years but then I took some lessons from The Self-Realization Fellowship which I still highly recommend.
Q: Why did you start meditating?
A: My friends were always talking about a thing called Dharma which is the seeking and finding one’s path in life while obtaining a higher state of consciousness. Since I was looking for a more spiritual way, this immediately interested me. I was also intrigued in the possibility of accomplishing nirvana, also called “enlightenment” since I had never been fulfilled by any organized religion. My goal then was to seek the divine.
Q: Did you ever reach nirvana?
A: No. Not yet!
Q: Did you ever find the divine?
A: Absolutely. I think that I have had moments of what is called Samadhi which only means linking one’s own consciousness with universal consciousness; it is a wonderful feeling and wonderful freedom!
Q: And where did you find what you’re calling “the divine?”
A: Everywhere and in everything…well, with the exception of a lot of human action. In any case, every blade of grass, each rain drop; the entire universe! I believe that everything is permeated with consciousness and so the mind of God.
Q: Do I have to believe that in order to meditate?
A: No. Meditation is not a religion nor is it a way of thinking. Indeed, real meditation is non-thought.
Q: What is the difference between meditation and concentration?
A: Concentration always has an object while meditation strives to empty the mind of all thought.
Q: Exactly how do people meditate?
A: There are many ways and many techniques of meditation. I can only give you mine. I prefer sitting in lotus or simply cross legged in front of a blank wall. I then create a point to focus on and I stare blankly at the point. I have always found it easy to empty my mind of thought but I know this is not the case for a lot of people. And so, if thoughts keep popping into your mind, just keep pushing them out. One proven way to keep your mind empty is to concentrate on your breathing, some people count their breaths! You can find books and even videos these days giving you traditional Buddhist methods. (Also I show a link at the end of this article to a piece that suggests ways to get started).
Q: That brings up a point that has kept me away from meditation and Eastern thought. I am a Christian and do not want to lose my own religion.
A: First of all you can be Buddhist and any other religion at the same time—Buddhism is not a dogma or doctrine it is, in fact, a quest or path to be freed from such earthly attachments. As for Christianity, in the Western tradition 4th century months practiced a discipline, in the Egyptian desert, of meditation in order to unite with God. This is another way of saying “to seek the divine.” Jewish students of the Kabbalah have a way of seeking the divine and a way of meditating. Catholics also have a “path to God” that includes purification, asceticism and contemplation. My point is that pure Buddhism is not a closed state but instead, open and welcoming.
Q; When do you think meditation began?
A: I am not alone in this opinion and I am convinced that meditation goes back to our Stone Age cousins and probably first practiced by early shamans by any other name. For one thing meditation is a way of weaving one’s own consciousness into the fabric of universal consciousness; of becoming one with the God-ness or spirit of Nature. (I do not believe, for example, that cave paintings were a form of creating sympathetic magic but rather stories of mystical experiences. That’s a subject for another day).
Q: How long and often do I have to meditate?
A: There are no rules but I suggest to get started, you should meditate at least ten full minutes in the morning and evening. That is only twenty minutes a day and when you begin “feeling” results you will no doubt decide on more intense scheduling.
Q: When will I know that I am accomplishing what I need to accomplish?
A: I cannot answer that question for you but I have been told that you will know when “consciousness stops having an object.”
In regard to the above, I have been convinced for quite a few years that there is (apparently) much more to this life…to existence than is generally assumed or, for that matter, experienced. We human being simply get too emerged into the material realities and divorce ourselves from the more mystical. Even Jesus told us that if we want to know god and if we want to know heaven to go inside. When we really stop and think about it, we realize the complexity of his message; the kind of complexity that sages and holy people had (and have) been giving the rest of us for millenniums.
Meditation is the route to our own (collective) unconscious; that ability to “connect” with the universe through conscious effort. This is the fundamental desire of Buddhism, Hinduism and Japanese Zen; to become one with…
As a quick aside, there is a great Zen story that tells how a student became intrigued watching a cat climbing a pole. He goes to his Master and asks, “Master, which is God, the cat or the pole?” And the wise, old master replies: “Ask the pole.”
We cannot hope for enlightenment while still clinging to symbols and concepts. Illness, for example, is a concept symbolizing discomfort, pain and sometimes agony but also “punishment,” “justice” or even “escape.” Just remember that what we deem to be true…always is. As I have said many times, deem the rose bush a thorn bush and that is what it will become…for you.
In regard to the above, I have also shared this good news from Dr. Paul Pearsall who tells us: “The ‘I’, the self, is much more than the reverberation of neurons and we are much more than we ‘think’ we are. We are also what we believe, hope, feel, and sense. We can tell the brain not only what, but how to think.”
This message is absolutely important when it comes to the goals of this article. When we realize that when we say things such as—this makes me sick…I can’t stand it…I wish I was dead and so forth, we are not just howling in the wind but making affirmations if we are meaning to or not. Meditation eventually clears such messages from the brain’s storage cabinets making room for more positive and loving files; more enlightened files!
Remember reality is projection—the thorn bush exists out of our projection ever as real as the rose bush is as seen by someone else. One of the best descriptions of so-called reality is from Gary Zukav who tells us this: “‘Reality’ is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends upon what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends upon what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.”
What the above tells us is that as long as I “perceive” myself as being sick or sickly, like turning the rose bush into a thorn bush that is what I will become since what we believe determines our realities.
When we truly grasp all this we realize what is actually meant by the aphorism that tells us life is illusion: Meditation is a path into actuality or, in other words, is a method for transcending illusion. Transcending illusion is a condition of enlightenment!
But for purposes of this particular narrative what becomes overtly apparent is that what we “tell” ourselves creates much of our reality. After all, no one has ever calmed down by announcing that he or she was a “nervous wreck.” In fact, to say, “I am a nervous wreck” affirms your condition which your brain supports chemically.
In regard to the above, meditation, beyond all else, helps you get rid of all the baggage in your brain on both conscious and unconscious levels. You simply become healthier through meditative practice; healthier and so happier. How far you wish to take your practice is of course left to you but know also, very few people truly seek enlightenment as the demands of ordinary life get in their way…this is as true in Eastern life as it is in Western! Yet there are those few who become real masters. I say “few and real” because there are as many phony gurus as there are Evangelists and snake charmers. The point for this narrative, however, is that meditation can and will make a positive, natural difference in your life.
I have been convinced for a great many years that the ancient Chinese wisdom that tells us, “The Universe is all mind and all phenomena,” is pure and absolute. Once we can grasp only this much we can begin to also grasp that reality is virtual and transient; that we—you and I and everyone else—are all connected to everything else. Meditation is the way to experience that connectedness in its loving and benevolent wholeness. Both love and benevolence strengthens the immune system giving us far more control over our bodies than we would otherwise have and when we walk in oneness, we necessarily walk in universal joy.
If you would like to learn more and find out how to start meditating click here:
References: Zukav, Gary *The Dancing Wu Li Masters * Perennial Classic
Hooper, Judith & Teresi, Dick *The e-pind Univrse*G.P. Putnam;s Sons