Meditation comes in many flavors, kind of like ice cream. The key ingredients, the smooth texture and sweet taste are all common to ice cream…and meditation. Some of us have very keen taste buds, and others’ taste buds are, well, less discriminating. Some are able to experience deep relaxation and pleasant feelings while meditating, and some go much further, deeper, and even into the exquisite realm of meditation, the Cadillac of meditation – enlightenment.
But let’s slow down the ride and approach meditation gently. We’ll come back to the enlightenment mention. Most come to meditation as part of a yoga class or some stress relief and relaxation program that may be part of a holistic health program or, of course, a meditation class. The physical and emotional health benefits as a stand alone or as one part of a diet, exercise and meditation regimen are well studied and documented. Some of the studies are pretty thin, but that’s not a case against meditation. There are plenty of credible studies and reports that affirm the benefits.
While there are dozens, probably even hundreds, of meditation techniques, the most common three are meditation with a silent mantra or word(s) to silently repeat with each breath, as taught most popularly in TM, Transcendental Meditation, sound meditation such as Om Meditation, where the primordial sound of om is repeated or chanted, and Mindfulness Meditation, in which we learn to “observe” the flow of our own thoughts without the typical reactions – as a sort of witness to our own thoughts.
There are these basic three, as well as creative offshoots like the Mystic Heart Meditation, in which practitioners are gradually guided to go from conscious quiet awareness to breath awareness – focusing and keeping attention on the flow and rhythm of the breathing cycle, to heart awareness – listening silently for a “Wisdom Whisper” from the heart to gain intuitive insights… up to and including the Coupe De Ville ride into the cosmic or astral realm. But let’s not go too esoteric yet.
It all depends (or somewhat depends) on where we want to go. With some guidance, stress management, learning to relax and be less reactionary or stressed out about events and circumstances, is an early and easily achieved stage in the practice of meditation. As we continue in a meditation practice, even for just a few minutes on occasion, over time we find ourselves taking it easy more often and not as easily disturbed as before beginning meditation practice. This shift may come subtly and be hardly noticeable until they occur to us one day, but physiological changes in the brain responsible for this shift, especially the part of the brain that instinctively pushes the panic button when we feel threatened, have been mapped. Google meditation and the amygdala.
Many, probably most, meditation practitioners are content with this new found freedom from stress and notice that they make more mindful and even healthier choices in the course of their daily living and lifestyle. This more relaxed and mindful living translates to healthier relationships and healthier and more productive, creative, working and career pursuits. And this can be applied to controlling and even eliminating “bad” habits such as overeating, smoking, and whatever else we keep in the trunk of our consciousness where no one can see it.
There are those who come to meditation in a spiritual or philosophical (for the non-theist) context, looking for answers to a vague inner longing or sense of something missing in their lives, relief from guilt, shame or despair – quiet and sometimes not so quiet desperation. Unfortunately, this arena is crowded with con artists, money changers and pretend gurus, shamans, you name it. But much like the thin studies about meditation, this is not a case for turning away from the inner angst and looking for authentic teachers who can point the way to the promise of peace of mind, from their own journey and Cadillac ride.
What’ll it be? Vanilla, which is unfairly characterized as plain when it has a wonderful flavor, for stress management and healthier more mindful approaches to life? Or the Cosmic Cadillac ride into the realm of Unconditional Love?