“Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian spiritual speaker, writer and philosopher
I focused on the words of Bruce Lee as shared by my sensei. To get into better shape, I had joined a local dojo. Each student sat cross-legged upon a small mat with fingers steepled and eyes closed. We had been instructed to focus intently upon our breathing.
“Empty your mind,” he began. “Be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup; it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Though I no longer study martial arts, I still practise meditation. To me, it clears the mind, lessens my stress and brings the world back into balance. When I fail to meditate for a time, I soon find myself becoming anxious and unable to focus. Many of my greatest realizations came to me following a successful meditation session. When I meditate, I often reflect on events from earlier in life and, astoundingly, find them taking on a new and deeper meaning.
Once while meditating, I found myself carried back to a memory of a spring day in elementary school. I was sitting cross-legged in the tall grass next to the school, eating my lunch. I had closed my eyes and was savouring the delicious warmth of the sun on my face. When I opened my eyes, my attention was drawn to a nearby whirlwind – a tiny twister gyrating effortlessly across the playground, kicking up dust, leaves and gum wrappers. In my mind, I saw children duck and cover their eyes as the wind danced around them. I watched as the whirlwind carried the litter high into the sky before releasing its grip and allowing it to flutter gently back to earth.
I was surprised this seemingly minor incident returned to me in a meditative state. I have practised meditation long enough to realize whatever comes to mind is usually valuable.
It then occurred to me that without awareness, our thoughts are often like debris caught in a whirlwind – blown about by the winds of circumstance, scattered in a vast array of directions. Thoughts start, stop, and move in surprising ways from one second to the next. If we try to follow our thoughts without exercising control over them, we’ll be amazed at how genuinely inconsistent they are. Yet, if we apply our mind to a specific task, especially one that interests us, our thoughts gather force and allow us to focus our attention, creating tremendous energy.
Meditation is a powerful technique that allows me to free my mind to bring to the surface thoughts, ideas, and insights about specific life issues. And unlike the litter caught and tossed about by the wind, meditation is more like flying a kite. A kite is free to move with the wind, yet controlled by a flyer planted firmly on the ground.
I use meditation to gain insights and understanding – to enhance my self-awareness and, ultimately, my self-esteem. Meditation is a powerful process. A study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that just three months of intensive meditation training led participants to experience dramatic improvements in their ability to form thoughts and stay focused on tasks.
Research also suggests that meditation may help fight insomnia. A study cited from India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences claims that meditators consistently demonstrate enhanced slow-wave (deep) sleep and REM sleep across various ages.
One of the best reasons to meditate is to improve the quality of your life. Evidence supports that meditation may help lessen the body’s stress response and thus the physical and emotional wear and tear that comes from modern living. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress by lowering the production of cortisol. This hormone brings about stress and the reduction of blood lactate which contributes to feelings of anxiety.
Mediation may slow ageing by decreasing cellular damage and enhancing the activity of antioxidants – molecules that defend the body against free radicals. Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. In their quest to find another electron, they become highly reactive and can cause damage to surrounding molecules. And meditation has been shown to fight chronic inflammation, which contributes to obesity, diabetes and even cancer.
Meditation is more than closing your eyes and thinking pleasant thoughts. To get started, find a quiet and comfortable place where you can sit or lie down and not be disturbed for up to 30 minutes. Close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths of air, breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Focus on your breathing; become physically aware of the sensations in your body as the air enters and leaves your lungs. If you’re breathing correctly, your stomach should seem to swell and your chest will move little with your diaphragm.
Random thoughts are the greatest foes of meditation – especially in the beginning. Should your mind wander to other exciting thought and ideas, as all good minds do simply refocus upon your breathing. If you like, create a personal mantra and say it repeatedly.
Trust the process. Let the kite string out gently yet purposefully. Over time, you may suddenly experience answers to questions you’ve long struggled with or find yourself lost in a distant memory. With time and persistence, illusions governing your life will start to break down.
Alan Watts, British-born philosopher, writer and interpreter of Zen Buddhism, likened meditation to music and dance. “When we are dancing, we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point.”
Perhaps, as Bruce Lee once advised, we should all learn the arts of meditation so that we may start on the road to a stress-free (or less stressful) life – a life where we are in control.