Meditation: More Than an Empty Mind
By Larry Wilcock
I will be blunt: I always thought meditation was a giant crock of mush. I never gave it much credence, never really cared. I grew up in an era where meditation was identified with rather isolated groups or beliefs, where political correctness hadn’t yet taken a hold of society. It was something the hippie did, or the Hari Krishna solicited, something that seemed so out in left field, most people avoided it. The 1960s and 1970s seemed to birth this strange child, this meditation concept that seemed so foreign in my conservative part of the world.
And then in the 80s and 90s the concept of meditation seemed to morph into a rather benign cultish type of thing, when meditation classes of group silences and barefoot, cross-legged posture seemed to enhance the experience of what seemed such a mysterious concept to me. I remember a friend of mine making fun of such individuals, commenting on how very “granola” the whole thing was. (To my credit, I remember rolling my eyes in disapproval of his judgment and stereotyping).
And then in the early 2000s, the phrase “empty your mind” appeared to find its way to the word, morphingit yet again into this impossible, unrealistic directive. Empty your mind? Really? I remember thinking: I have spent 30+ years putting stuff into my mind, and now to be at meditative peace, I’ve gotta empty the thing?!? What a waste!
It wasn’t until a few short years ago I noticed more chatter about it. It had entered the yoga world, even Hollywood began referencing it often. I found it in the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, Buddhism, Hinduism, existentialism, all sorts of various isms; it was showing up all over the place! Hmmm, I thought. Perhaps I should give this word another look-see.
So I studied. And studied. I read. I experimented. I learned. I was surprised to find out that there are hundreds of ways to meditate! Hundreds!! Kinda blew me away. Maybe, had I known how poorly it was societally represented through the decades, I would have given it closer inspection earlier in my life. I think it would have been as beneficial then as it has been for me now.
But what is meditation? Why is it so important? What does it do? How, pray tell, would it benefit me? So many books have been written on how to do it, but few talk about what it really is and what it does, the physiological benefits of meditation. It didn’t take long for me to realize the scientific principles that our modern-day research has brought out of ancient obscurity, “proof” if you will, that explains most — if not all — of not just the benefits of meditation, but the sound science that explains how it works. This got very exciting for me. I knew if I could understand how it works, how the body responds to it, and the effects it could have, I knew that I could purposefully do it, and intentionally bring about reliable results every single time. If I understood the science behind it, I could guarantee an experience every time, be it mental, spiritual or physical. Guaranteed.
That meant I wouldn’t be blindly sitting on a yoga mat, meditating, and waiting for something to mysteriously enlighten me. It was no longer a mystery to me, but something I could understand on a logical level, making it easy for my not-empty mind to grasp.
So, then, what does meditation do?
This is what really stymied me for so long. For years, I got prayer and pondering mixed up with it, having those concepts presented to me as synonymous with meditation. But I knew they were different. I mean, prayer is prayer. An open communication with the Divine, the Source, or God, if you will. Pondering is pondering, deep and continuous focus on a particular thing or thought.
Meditation had to have a separate meaning.
I believe in God. I grew up praying to Deity. I know what prayer is.
I also know how to ponder things, processing and trying to understand things that the world introduces to me. Where did meditation fit in?
The only way I knew to find the answer to that was to experiment with it.
I quickly got overwhelmed. There were hundreds of ways to meditate! Which should I choose? As I read and studied, I found that I was already doing several different methods of meditation.
Here are some of the things I found.
- Pacing. The body focuses on one act, allowing the mind to flow freely in whatever thought(s) needs to coming forward.
- Peacefully swinging back and forth. My garden swing quickly became a favorite!
- Jogging with headphones. Shuts out the distractions, the body is engaged in focusing on one act.
- Sitting in a recliner and just relaxing and turning off outer stimuli.
- Sitting in a hot tub and listening to the bubbles.
- Getting a massage even counts!
- Sitting still and visualizing whatever you desire. In other words, imagining stuff!
The list went on and on. The common thread that showed up was creating an environment where the body could be still and the mind wasn’t constantly being stimulated, allowing thought to flow freely.
Getting grounded is the first step: holding still and focusing on something, isolating that something from other somethings. Most people just focus on the sound and feel of their breathing, as this accomplishes holding still and isolating something with focus.
Something miraculous starts to happen when grounding occurs.
- The heart rate slows. Blood pressure goes down, and the body relaxes. This is great for those suffering from anxiety.
- Because of the breathing, oxygen levels in the body rise. Oxygen burns fat and calories. That’s just the inhaling part! Exhaling releases toxins in your body, cleansing the lungs and blood, which in turn increases brain health.
This can be done for as long as you want. The health benefits alone make meditation a seriously physical value. The longer you do this, the more relaxed and healthy your body becomes.
For me, the problem with only sitting and breathing got boring really fast. Two minutes of only that, and I was out like a light. Snoozeville. Not exactly the well-rested result I was aiming for!
So I looked into visual meditation. I would pick something I wanted to focus on in my brain, get grounded, and meditate with a specific intention, a specific result I wanted to get out of it, and visualize it.
For instance, for several years I suffered from extreme anxiety. Stress weighed heavily on me day and night, and even medications weren’t helping much. Stress releases adrenaline into the system. If stress is being felt all the time, the adrenals are working constantly, with no rest, exhausting themselves until adrenal failure begins to occur. This causes anxiety, sleep disorders, fatigue, foggy brain syndrome, and more. It affects every aspect of your body, even the digestion system and your skin!
So I decided to visualize having no anxiety. I would focus on what it would feel like to not be stressed out. I was shocked at the results. I noticed that I wasn’t as stressed as normal. And not just for the time I meditated, but it would last nearly all day! My blood pressure came waaaaaaay down almost immediately. I wasn’t freaking out so much at unexpected happenings. I felt so much more in control.
I thought, this is great! It was worth doing. But then I noticed other things. My eczema started diminishing. My digestion improved. Acid reflux stopped interfering with sleep. The bathroom scale started chattering at me that I was finally losing unwanted weight. I was astounded!
Now, I am not saying that this would be the exact results for others, but I couldn’t deny my personal results.
It is scientifically proven that stress causes disease and dysfunctions of the body.
Also scientifically proven is that lowering stress levels, somehow, would improve health. Just a few minutes of meditation a day does exactly that.
Through more study and actual experience with different kinds of meditation, more science can be applied than I can ever possibly cover in this already-too-long article. But even with what little I have written, I can attest to the physical, mental and spiritual health benefits of meditation.
I have taken my meditation to new levels and have opened up my mind and body to things I didn’t think were possible. I have created scripts that I follow for several different types of meditation. All of my meditations have intent. All of them work.
In my humble experience, I believe meditation, if done right, can create miracles. It can make what seems impossible, possible. Life becomes new amidst the hardship and takes on a happier flavor, a more positive hope for each coming day. Life becomes a joy. Perhaps we can shine a little brighter, spread a bit more happiness. Let’s create some miracles!