SALT LAKE CITY — Meditation is not just for yoga instructors anymore.
A Ph.D. In Seattle includes meditation as a treatment protocol for a personality disorder, a midwife in Maine teaches its practice in preparing women for childbirth, a Minneapolis business guru advocates it as a way to increase productivity, clinicians across the nation suggest it as a pain management regimen.
The practice of meditation and the principles of what is being called “mindfulness” are being brought into life’s mainstream as the many benefits are being recognized and embraced.
But for many, mediation is still a bit mystical and a strange practice they do not understand.
“There are just so many misconceptions about meditation,” said Kate Mitcheom, director of midwifery at Fair Haven Community Health. “It’s not mind control, and it’s not denying what’s going on in your life. It’s learning how to focus your mind and to pay attention to the present moment.”
Benefits of meditation
Living in the present moment is a powerful concept but can be elusive. As Jennifer Drawbridge, midwife and writer, observed, “Focusing on the present — not allowing my mind to race forward to stress over an imaginary and catastrophic future or circle back to review hideously stressful past experiences — is not one of my strong suits.”
Meditation can seem like a waste of time in our busy lives, but there are real benefits to it, and you can do it without sitting in a conspicuous lotus position in the park. So what are the benefits of meditation?
Mitcheom extols another benefit of meditation: “Through meditation, we become aware of patterns in our mind and gain insight into how our minds work.”
Research literature also indicates that awareness and the insights it provides can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, decrease symptoms of depression and help in dealing with chronic pain.
Mindfulness depends on meditation to create awareness of what is going on inside the mind and heart but also requires “acceptance” to produce its greatest benefits — primarily, acceptance of those things that are beyond one’s ability to control. Alcoholics Anonymous’ Serenity Prayer provides the guide, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change.”
Resistance is the “anti” of acceptance. The factors of life outside of one’s control, those things one perceives as unacceptable, are awareness killers. They are the engine driving the stress and drama machine that seem to come as original equipment on most Americans.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists,” said pre-emminent awareness guru Eckhart Tolle.
Some resist their past. They can get lost in their perceived shortcomings, reliving, remembering, reproducing all the shame, guilt and depression that comes with it. Some resist the future with worry, the mother of anxiety and apprehension. Each approach can create emotional storms that obscure awareness.
“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”
These storms of emotion disrupt connection with self. People are easily lost in them. They lose touch with the present moment. Like Mother Nature’s violent thunderstorms or tornadoes, these emotional storms can make one emotionally desolate, unable to nurture the awareness connection.
The past, it turns out, is history; it cannot be changed. The future does not exist yet; it is not real. With the exceptions of prudent planning and preparation, any worry effort placed in the future will be outside of reality and, therefore, pointless. As Tolle would say, “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”
The other great deterrent to awareness is the racing mind. The out-of-control coming and going of thought creates “mental noise” that obscures awareness of the present moment. Quieting the mind with acceptance and practicing meditation reveals this particular moment’s opportunities. Once it is in place, awareness and experiencing the present moment become possible.
Practicing meditation need not be elaborate. For chaotic times, Mitcheom advises, “When you wake each day, take a few deep breaths and set an intention — a thought for yourself and for others — and repeat it throughout the day. Something as simple as, “May I have happiness, may those around me be happy.”
Another simple form of meditation involves using the second hand on a watch or clock. Draw in breath for five seconds and release the breath for five seconds, and repeat for several minutes. Empty the mind of thoughts and don’t follow any new ones that want on your mind’s stage. Send them away and do not follow them. Just bring your attention to your body and its breathing: In, two, three, four, five, Out, two, three, four, five.
There! I think I feel better already.