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Spirituality Essay:

Meditation, Part 2    ( January 2011 )

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Last month we initiated an exploration of meditation, what it is exactly, and how and why it works. Often called "both the easiest and hardest thing to do," meditation is practiced by millions because of its many positive benefits.

Meditation can offer a "spiritual high" like almost nothing else in life. This is the second of three discussions of how and why meditation works.

Recapping briefly, meditation is the spiritual practice in which one typically sits quietly, and gently but consciously redirects the mind away from the "monkey mind" chatter - either to an area of quiet contemplation or, by slowing and stopping one's thoughts, to something else, usually one's breathing and body sensations ... and, hopefully, into a place of deep quietude and empty-mind "nothingness," where incredibly powerful spiritual experiences can occur.

With so many kinds of meditation and, of course, varied individual experiences, it's impossible to encapsulate what exactly happens in a meditation and how and why its benefits come to pass. Most meditators I've spoken to speak more to the results (the calm and peace it brings; the greater awareness of who one is; the avenue it opens to living more fully "in the here and now;" and the deeper feelings of interconnectedness) than to understanding why and how they happen.

But here are some components ...

When one gently (non-judgmentally) observes one's thoughts as they pass through the mind, important self-awareness happens. Meditation helps show us how we (our minds) process life, and thus, who we, uniquely, are. Almost like therapy, one learns much about oneself, and at deep levels (like: what is this that my mind is thinking about? why is that there? and ... isn't it interesting that my mind wants to gnaw on that?).

Another benefit is the not infrequent reward of new information and actual answers to problems that arise in a meditation. Coming to us from the depths of our own inner wisdom, meditation opens doors to amazingly insightful new ideas that help us see things more clearly and manage our lives more effectively.

One meditator friend said she begins her meditation by asking, "What do I need to hear today?" and then awaits what her "higher power" answers.

Another view offered is that meditation works because it opens the right hemisphere of the brain. As we mainly use the left (analytical) hemisphere in daily life, this time spent in the right half helps nourish our creative, intuitive, and more loving sides.

Many meditators, however, seem to believe its many benefits come primarily from the quietude and deep peacefulness meditating creates. Hectic21st Century lives, bombarded with excessive stimuli and demands, find the silence of meditation restorative ... an opportunity to disengage from the world, de-stress, and reconnect with one's inner spiritual self.

This happens as one slows and deepens the breathing and brings the mind from its rapid churning down to a crawl. Downtime for the soul: so refreshing and rejuvenating - and ultimately healing.

Yet one more perspective on why and how meditation "works" is the deeper connection it establishes between us and our bodies. Our lives require so much thinking and processing - our bodies get such short shrift. Unless we're in pain or exercising, most of us walk through the day with little body awareness and feeling (this thing my brain needs to get things done, someone quipped). In meditation, by focusing attention onto the subtle movements and sensations involved in breathing, we cultivate a much deeper awareness and appreciation of our bodies - which then carries forward into our daily lives. Life takes on a more beautiful tone whenever we're more fully present in our bodies; we live a more alive, vibrant life, and open ourselves to what sages refer to as "the wisdom of the body."

In next month's essay, we'll look at how some of physical sciences" "laws of the universe" apply to meditation.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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Read more about the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast.

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