This week, on our Pagan Primer, I want to talk about meditation. Meditation is an amazing tool that somehow eludes a great many people. It’s also one of the areas of mysticism that I hear lots of questions about, so I thought I would talk about it tonight.
So, what is meditation? On a physical level, it’s the ability to, at will, change the state of your brainwave patterns. Most people know that our brains are biological / electrical devices. They are amazingly complex … more complex than any computer that’s yet been developed. Even the Internet, with the world-wide collection of computers working together still can’t do some of the things that the human brain is capable of.
When something that operates with electrical signals is working, some of those signals are transmitted into the environment around it. Our brains are no different. With sensitive electronic instruments, we can measure these signals, and scientists have discovered that there are distinctive patterns to these signals. When we’re alert and working, there is a low amplitude signal that ranges from about 13 – 30 cycles per second. This is called a Beta pattern.
As we start to relax, the voltage of these signals increases, but the frequency decreases. When we’re relaxed and reflective, that signal decreases in frequency to 7 – 13 cycles per second. This is an Alpha pattern.
When we’re meditating deeply, the frequency drops to 4 – 7 cycles per second. This is the state that we’re looking for when we’re meditating. It’s also the state that our mind enters when we’re dreaming.
Meditation has profound effects on the brain. Some studies have shown that those who meditate actually increase their brain matter … their brains can actually grow and create new connections. This might have significant impact for people with brain injuries or Alzheimer’s disease, but I don’t know if such studies have been undertaken.
In any case, that’s the physical aspect of meditation, and it really doesn’t talk about how someone might meditate.
The most common comment I’ve heard about meditation is “I can’t sit there and think about nothing”. Normally, when we’re entering meditation, we’ll hear someone say to “Lay aside our thoughts and worries of the day, empty your mind.”
But the idea of meditation isn’t to “think about nothing”. Really, it’s about relaxing, and letting go of the things that will keep our attention from whatever work it is that we might be working on.
One of the reasons many can’t meditate is that we hang on to our anger and emotions and frustrations of the day. As soon as we’re quiet, we think about someone who might have wronged us or someone to whom we owe money, or how are we going to pay the rent this month or we’ve got to get the car inspected and registered or we’re going to be 50 next month … we have so many things on our mind, and we simply can’t let them go.
The art of meditation isn’t about thinking about “nothing”, it’s about letting all the worries that are affecting us and raising our internal energy to unhealthy levels, simply go.
It’s amazing what our mind and our worries are capable of doing to us. Years ago, ulcers were thought to be caused by stress. Then, some physician found that there is a disease process, an infection by the bacterium, Helicobacter Pylori. As soon as an organism was found, the stress theory was abandoned. What wasn’t recognized at the time is that people under stress still get more ulcers. Finding an organism took the focus away from the fact that people under constant stress still get more ulcers … they are more succeptible to Helicobacter Pylori.
Stress also increases blood pressure, but we’ve got drugs that lower blood pressure, so we don’t worry about the stress that causes it anymore.
Basically, our modern medical system has taken disease that is caused in its first cause by the mind, which causes our bodies to be unable to prevent disease, and we simply treat the bacteria or the blood pressure, which really, are only symptoms of a mind that cannot be at rest.
The inability to put things aside is endemic in modern society. We see it especially when we’re driving, in the incidents of speeding, jockeying for the seemingly faster lane or getting angry when someone takes our parking place.
We see it in hockey games or other sporting events, when fans and parents are getting angry at umpires or other players.
An interesting example of composure and stress was presented to us in the recent elections. Just recall the unflappable Barack Obama and his composure in the midst of the accusations and the torrents of innuendo about his past and his associations. Compare this to the visible internal struggle that John McCain exhibited when confronted with something that contradicted him.
Barack Obama impressed even many of his detractors with the level of imperturbability that he demonstrated. Some went so far as to suggest that his very calmness was suspicious.
This is a state of mind that can be trained to by meditation. Look at people such as the Dalai Lama. Peacefulness instills confidence among those who witness it … unless of course, you’re one of those people who wishes to remain angry at the calm person.
So, how might someone start meditating? Here’s an exercise that might help you along your way.
I like to meditate in a place where the noise of the city isn’t going to bother me; where natural sounds prevail, where things aren’t following a predictable pattern, with a gentle wind through trees, flowing water or surf, or other natural sounds. So, what I’d recommend for starting to meditate is that you find a place near a stream or a beach, or in the forest … somewhere away from the engines of trucks and cars, away from the smell of exhaust, where you can hear a gentle breeze through trees or a stream tumbling over rocks, or where there might be a waterfall in the distance … something that’s not incredibly loud, but quite natural.
If you can’t find such a place, try getting one of those indoor water features and set it up in a quiet room, so that you can hear the water flowing.
What we’re trying to accomplish is to create some sound that will be in the background, that we can use as a “focal point”, but one that cannot be “focused on”. By virtue of being random, even if we’re focusing on the sound, we can’t focus deeply simply because in being random, it’s unpredictable. We can’t expect what’s next, but it’s safe and relaxing. It is calm, but we can’t anticipate a pattern.
So, let’s go to that place. When we first try to meditate, we don’t have to meditate about anything. In fact, we don’t even need a goal. Our only purpose in our first forays into meditation is to simply relax.
We don’t need music or words or someone to guide a meditation. Just go to the place and be there for some moments. Sit for a while, and relax. Listen to the water or the wind. In your mind, see the cause of the sounds that you hear. If it’s the wind, see the wind moving through the trees. If you’re listening to the water, see the water flowing over the rocks. In your mind, see the water splashing.
You’ll probably find that some of your daily worries will soon enter your mind. Don’t worry about that … they’re normal, but you’ll simply let them go. The daily thoughts entering your mind are not a failure in meditation … they are simply opportunities to let go once again, and to improve.
After you’ve done this for some time, open your eyes … look at the water, or the movement of the trees or the clouds. Focus clearly on these things. Look at the motion try to embrace it in your mind; to understand it as clearly as you can. Don’t get caught up in any scientific details … you don’t have to describe the clouds as cumulus or nimbus … you don’t have to identify any fish that you’ll see. Just see the water or the motion of trees or clouds
Believe it or not, in doing this, you’ve changed your brain waves … they are no longer beta, but alpha, at least … perhaps even theta.
Take time to notice the calmness that you’ll be feeling. When you repeat these exercises, see if you can notice the amount of time you’re able to do this.
At first, you might be able to stay in this place for only a few minutes. When you’ve got beyond just a few minutes of calmness, in a place away from the city noises, try this in your home.
The next time you’re driving, and on a busy road with angry people, remember the calmness of the place you selected. Remember how you are able to take the worries of the day and let them go. Then when someone cuts you off, practice letting it go. Start noticing that you can achieve this calmness just about anywhere. Believe it or not, this is a fruit of meditation … the ability to let things go, the ability to be calm and unflappable.
Just with this short step into meditation, you’re experiencing benefits in health. By letting go of anger and stress, we have made an impact on our resistance to disease, we’ve increased our chances of successful relationships, and even our chances at success in business.
There’s no magic … although meditation is the foundation of magic.
In some upcoming issues of our Pagan Primer, we’ll take some forays into meditation. Maybe I’ll work on an actual guided meditation to let you experience that sort of journey. If you’ve got something that you’d specifically enjoy, email me at dee@paganfm and let me know.
© 2008, Deirdre Hebert