A Sacred Process
For thousands of years, people have regarded meditation as a sacred process. However, since the 1970's Western culture and Western traditional medicine, meditation has become more widely accepted for its health benefits.
Since that time, Western culture has used many different meditation practices with a major focus on personal development, calming and quieting the mind, or obtaining a state of relation and spiritual connections.
Western medicine recognises the benefits
Western traditional medicine now recognises the various benefits and meditation is now used as an alternative to drug therapy. With relaxation and calming of the mind, it promotes natural healing of the body, increases positive emotional states, and improves immune functions.
Meditation has been studied more in clinical trials over the last 20 years to reduce stress on both the mind and body. Research shows that meditation can help reduce anxiety, stress, blood pressure, chronic pain, and insomnia. One particular study by a group of health workers found that those who meditated found more brain activity linked to better emotional states and a better immune system than those who did not meditate. Other studies of mindfulness meditation found that it seemed to assist the symptoms of ill health. The American Cancer Society wrote, "A controlled study of 90 cancer patients who did mindfulness meditation for seven weeks found those who meditated had 31% lower stress symptoms and 67% less mood disturbance than those who did not meditate. Some studies have also suggested that more meditation improves the chance of a positive outcome." 1
Life of Today
Life today has become extremely hectic as the standards of life in Western culture have increased dramatically over the last ten years, mainly because of the new age of technology, media and advertising. The new social expectation of the needs and wants to sustain the "upkeep" of those members of society have generally become more materialistic. To fulfil their own social needs of fitting in and increasing pressure on those individuals. This pressure is to work additional hours to earn more income to provide for the material needs and wants, which reduces the time those individuals have for family members and socialising, increasing time spent away from home. Generally, those individuals purchase more for the family members of today to replace the loss in time spent with those members, which becomes a vicious cycle of lack of time and increased stress on those feeling the pressure to "keep up with the Jones'". This in turn places a huge demand on people both physically and psychologically.
Whilst participating in this busy lifestyle, our senses are bombarded and our thoughts active and play out our role of "The Drama of Me." 2 To assist us with this melodramatic way of life, meditation helps us become calmer, clearer and to learn to focus on specific choices in our lives, not the myriad of demands we place upon ourselves.
Nowadays, to improve their performance in life, students, musicians, actors, dancers and many others use meditation to improve their results and performance. Together with business people, employers and entrepreneurs are all learning the benefits of meditation to help improve their choices of energy levels and increase insight to their work and lives. 2
When one becomes a little overwhelmed with stress, either physically or psychologically, meditation is helpful to reduce stress and to relax. However, meditation is not a replacement for traditional western medical treatment. 3
More World Wide Research
More and more research is being conducted around the world on meditation, specifically studying whether meditation has meaningful health benefits on reducing activity on the sympathetic nervous system and increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system in the human body. The sympathetic nervous system produces the fight-or-flight response, together with the heart and breathing increasing and narrowing of the blood vessels, restricting the flow of blood and tightening muscles. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system does precisely the opposite, referring to the "rest and digest" response. Further sophisticated tools are used in scientific research in noting the effects that meditation has by reducing the "fight or flight" response and increasing the "rest and digest" response, including what goes on in the brain and the rest of the body during meditation, and diseases or conditions for which mediation might be useful. 4
According to the Mayo Clinic Staff, "Scientific research about the benefits of meditation is continuing, and the results are mixed" (Mayo). However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, "A number of researchers believe that these changes account for many of meditation's effects". 4
Meditation may help conditions such as 2,4 :
Chronic Pain and associated physical or emotional symptoms
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Mood and Self Esteem problems
- Overall Wellness
The impact of meditation on chronic illness is now becoming more widespread knowledge in Western Traditional medicine, as clearly noted by Bonadonna "Clinical effects of meditation impact a broad spectrum of physical and psychological symptoms and syndromes, including reduced anxiety, pain, and depression, enhanced mood and self-esteem, and decreased stress. Meditation has been studied in populations with fibromyalgia, cancer, hypertension, and psoriasis." And "Health professionals demonstrate commitment to holistic practice by asking patients about use of mediation and can encourage this self-care activity". 5
Studies have also shown, although sporadic, and meditation with forgiveness helps to create more prosocial positive emotion skills, and when measured, demonstrate benefit. 6
Taming the Ego and the Mind
Whilst the body needs repair from life's everyday stress, the ego, otherwise known as "God's will", has a hand at keeping us universally separate from each other and all living things. Our egos lead us to believe it serves us to ensure we compete and compare to others or their possessions, achievements and reputations. The ego continually pushes us to be better than others, always leaving us feeling bereft and unfulfilled no matter how much effort we place or the priority we give things in our lives. The ego ensures our separateness to the oneness of the universe and all the energy it contains. Meditation essentially tames the ego by allowing quiet space and teaches us to listen to the ego without judgment and follow its orders or chatter. Meditation helps to give us a sense of empowerment by seeing ourselves as separate from the ego.
As the Dr Dyer puts it, "The ego is our idea of how to be safe and loved in our physical reality. We've separated from our Source when we engage exclusively with the illusions of the ego." 7
Taming the ego with meditation allows us to become more mindful and centred, focusing on the spiritual side of life and re-connection with the universal energy. When our ego is overactive, the constant thoughts keep us from silence. This silence is where the re-connection can begin. With meditation practice, this silence comes, and the ego is quietened. We can then allow our thoughts to float by and not be controlled by our thinking mind. With meditation, the gap between our thoughts is broadened, and a self connection to our true spirituality is awakened. Dyers explains this with "This is where the process of peaceful, stress-free, healthier, fatigue-free life is available. Healing can happen. The principal reason for doing soul-nourishing meditation practice is to get in the gap between our thoughts and make conscious contact with the creative energy of life itself". 7
To further understand the mind, meditators can learn to listen to the constant chatter and demands of the ego-mind. Meditation can then give us the ability to decipher the constant chatting to listen and choose the useful words. It is then that one can begin to feel more centred and controlled within their own environment of themselves. In turn, this further understanding of the ego's thoughts will automatically create a more structured sense of self, as one can then see the thoughts that no longer serve them. Meditation is a healing process of both the mind and body as the process allows the mind to stop the negative chatter and allows the person's body to heal as the positive messages are then integrated into the body to enable the body to naturally begin its healing process.
Western Culture embracing the benefits of Meditation
Meditation is now recognised and embraced in Western Culture and becoming more and more popular as members of society realise that material items in this environment do not bring a profound acknowledgement of the self or a feeling of being fulfilled. After life-changing events such as near-death experiences, financial ruin, ill health or loss of love or a loved one, one begins to look within and seek wholeness and a shift in consciousness.
When this shift in consciousness occurs, it is then that one is open to listen to the self-talk and seek ways in which to begin to heal the body or the mind, whichever they believe requires help, but it is often both that need healing.
Western traditional medicine now incorporates and recognises the vast benefits that meditation can provide, and this culture now encapsulates Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a preference to drug therapy. Therefore, people of this culture have both resources to heal the mind and body, depending on the individual needs and the professionals' recommendations available.
The Meditation research conducted and the people who have had personal experience with meditation and its significant health benefits in the coming years will bring even more recognition to the practice. In addition, several Natural Health Centres and meditation facilitators now available will focus on this wonderful healing method of the mind and body.
Generally, a traditional medical practitioner's training is purely scientific, relying solely on scientific evidence when it is proven; those practitioners will not acknowledge the benefits of the meditation practice. In turn, the practice will not be fully embraced in the future.
However, in the Western Culture, natural therapies and training the professionals for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is now embraced, meditation practice is now widely available to those who choose the "natural" path.
For those patients that still rely solely on traditional medicine, hopefully, their practitioner does acknowledge and understands the benefit of meditation. Then they will be fortunate to be led into a direction of healing the mind and body and benefit from the proven scientific results of traditional medicine. On the other hand, those who rely totally on one particular practitioner who does not believe in these benefits are unfortunate as they limit themselves and healing opportunities.
The future is grand with the scientific evidence that is now arriving, particularly with the development of technology that can assess and analyse brain activity and healing within the body from meditation.
The Complementary and Alternative Medical practitioners in training and how the government is developing training courses today that embrace natural methods of living, healing, treatment, environmental care and well-being will change the thinking dramatically with generations to come. Real change occurs when a government embraces the changes required to assist its government further and its people for the benefit of all.
Just as traditional medicine practitioners have been taught in the past, and with the government's new training now and in the future, wider acceptance will automatically develop for newly trained individuals which embrace new belief systems, acceptance and encouragement to support meditation practise for self-healing of the mind and body.
In time, the newer Complimentary and Alternative Medical practitioners will then balance the perception of mind-body healing to scientific healing with drug therapy and hopefully, as time unravels, will overtake the scientific methods, where people can learn to rely more on their core beliefs, self-healing, and live a less materialist life, become more centred, less ego-centric together with spiritual connectedness.
Essentially staying connected to our inner spirit and the lives of those around us can enhance our quality of life, both mentally and physically. Remember that spirituality is a dynamic process and a constantly evolving internal journey. Our individual definition of spirituality may change with our age and life experiences. Still, it will always form the basis of your well-being, help us maintain a reasonable stress level and affirm our purpose in life.
- Meditation. American Cancer Society. [monograph on the internet]. USA. 2007 [cited 2007 Jul 27]. Available from: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Meditation.asp?sitearea=ETO
- Monahan P, Viereck EG, Meditation, the Complete Guide. Benenate B, Cone C editors. What is meditating? Canada: New World Library; 1999. p. xviii-xxi
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are [home page on the internet]. America: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2007 [cited 2007 Jul 27]. Available from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Meditation for Health Purposes (publication no. D308, page on the internet). National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site. 2006. [cited 2007 Jul 27] Available from: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/backgrounds/mindbody.htm
- Bonadonna R. Meditation's impact on chronic illness.* Holistic Nursing Practice. 2003;17(6):309-319
- Luskin F. Transformatic practices for integrating min-body-spirit. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005; 10(suppl 1): S15-S23. Available from: http:www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmb=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=15630819&query_hl=9&tool=pubmed_docsum
- Dyer, Dr. W. Getting in the Gap; making conscious contact with God through meditation. Krammer J, editor. Why meditate? USA: Hay House' 2003. p. 3-19.