Philosophy

Meditation: Going beyond positive thinking

Meditation: Going beyond positive thinking

Beyond Positive thinking

There is an old adage in yoga psychology which is at the heart of the phenomenon of positive thinking.

‘The mind takes the shape of its object’.

When you pour water into a container, it will take the shape of the container. Our mind stuff, that most subtle of all substances, acts in a similar way. If you think of a camel then there is a portion of your mind that takes the shape of a camel, which is another way of saying that the mind forms an image of a camel. Now as we learned earlier, each and every expression of the universe is vibrational in character. A thought is a mental wave composed of psychic energy or mind-stuff. Because it is vibrational in character that mental wave has a particular wavelength. The wavelength of the thought-image of a camel will not be the same as the wavelength of the thought of a vast ocean or a feeling of compassion. Some thoughts are subtle in character and some are less so. Subtle or expansive thoughts, as you might suspect, have a long, steady wavelength while crude thoughts have a much shorter, erratic wavelength. Our mind as a whole has its own characteristic wavelength which is the composite of all the waves active in the mind at any one time. While our mind’s wavelength is constantly changing as different thought-waves rise and fall in our mental ocean, it never changes very much because we each have our own habitual style of thinking, our personality, which determines the nature of those recurring individual waves.

Now what happens in nature when two interact? There is a clash between the two waves and each is influenced to some extent by the other. The stronger the wave is, the greater the influence it exerts, and the less it is affected by the other wave. When two waves are similar in character then there is very little clash. They vibrate sympathetically. On the practical level we experience this as a natural affinity or dislike for the people and things we come into contact with. Our feeling of like or dislike depends on the degree of sympathetic or non-sympathetic vibration between our mental wavelength and that of the object we come in contact with. ‘Good vibes’ is exactly that, the good vibrations that come when we experience a parallelism between the wavelength of our mind and that of the person or object or environment we are in contact with.

As the mind stuff gathers to take the shape of the mental object the wavelength of that thought-form is going to affect the overall character of mind. To some small degree it will influence or alter the characteristic wavelength of that mind. If the thought object is very subtle then the mind will be benefited. If the wavelength of the thought is cruder than the mind is accustomed to then the mind will be affected for the worse. Over time the constant repetition of a thought of either a crude or subtle nature will either degrade or elevate the mind. It is for this reason that the yogis teach that excessive preoccupation with crude physical objects such as money gradually crudifies the mind. Our mental power diminishes, and our capacity for happiness, enjoyment of life, and Self-expression is decreased. But if we fill our minds with expansive, more subtle ideas, it will stretch and expand and grow to accommodate these new lofty ideas.

Changing the mind from crude to subtle is the task of meditation. In order to accomplish this we think about the subtlest object possible, consciousness, with the help of the mantra. By raising subtler and subtler waves in the mind through the constant and concentrated repetition of mantra, the mind gradually expands and becomes more subtle. It gains the capacity to transmit and perceive subtler vibrations. The regular practice of meditation opens the mind up the higher realms of experience — the awakening of intuition, a deep appreciation for art and aesthetics, profound emotions of love and compassion, feelings of sympathy and oneness with nature, and a yearning to realise the inner Self. The world around you changes from a world of fixed and immovable boundaries to one of infinite possibility.

Looking at it from this perspective underscores once again the importance of what we meditate on. History is full of examples of individuals who developed psychic powers through the practice of concentration techniques, but who eventually became degraded by that same practice because they allowed their minds to become crudified.

 

Source : Ananda Marga Ra’ja’dhira’ja Yoga

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change – HuffPost

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change

Posted: 10/02/2013 7:58 am
By Angela Wilson, MA, RYT

One increasingly popular form of meditation is loving-kindness meditation (LKM), the practice of wishing oneself and others to be happy, content and at ease. In the yoga tradition, loving-kindness is seen as an opportunity to “cultivate the opposite.”

Where many meditation techniques encourage students to explore difficult feelings or emotions directly, in loving-kindness the invitation is to send well wishes to oneself (who is in distress) as well as the other (who we feel distress toward). This isn’t meant to suppress the feelings as they arise, but instead it can be thought of as a soothing balm, something gently placed on a wound for healing.

Over the past several years, as meditation research has become more prevalent, science has become interested in the effects of loving-kindness practice on the mind and the body. Under the guidance of such well-known contemplatives as the Dalai Lama, researchers believed that LKM would offer similar benefits to other forms of meditation, such as breath meditation or open-awareness meditation.

As it turns out, LKM offers unique benefits that are subtly different from other kinds of meditation. What are those differences? Some just might surprise you.

LKM is a key tool for an optimal life.

One benefit of LKM is that loving-kindness reduces the stress response. Those who practice even a short course of LKM (say over the course of eight weeks) experience less distress than those who do not by the end of those eight weeks, according to this study. Probably no huge surprise there, right?

However, further exploration into this practice may intrigue you. The study on the effect of compassion meditation also investigated the impact of LKM on the body’s inflammatory and neuroendocrine system. At first preliminary results revealed that LKM showed no discernable differences in inflammation compared to the control group.

However, when divided into high-practice group verses low-practice group (i.e., those who practiced LKM each day compared to those with minimal practice) the results became more striking. The high-practice group saw a significant decrease in inflammation compared to the low-practice and no-practice groups. This research highlights two important findings. First, that not only can LKM subjectively reduce distress, but it can impact the body’s physiology as well (in this case, LKM reduced inflammation). The second, equally noteworthy finding is that this only happened for those who activity engaged in the practice of LKM. Simply attending a meditation class once a week was not enough to produce a change. Students had to practice at least a little each day.

Another pivotal study in the investigation of LKM was conducted by positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Dr. Fredrickson and her team investigated the impact of LKM not only on emotions, but also on how this practice could actually build personal resources (cognitive, emotional and physical). Her research team invited a group of people to practice LKM over the course of nine weeks. Participants in the LKM group had to practice at least a little every day, and researchers measured subjects on a variety of outcomes — including their experiences of positive emotions, their immunity to illness and their relationships to others. Her question: Could LKM actually build a person’s personal resources?

It did. In their seminal research paper, Dr. Fredrickson and her team write,

The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of nine weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others and good physical health… They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.

These findings are powerful.

The Brain on LKM.

So we know that LKM positively impacts our emotions, our physical health, our sense of connection. But does that translate to an impact on the brain?

Neuroscientific meditation researcher Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin became interested in just that question. He has extensively studied the effect of meditation, including LKM, on the brain. He had a simple question. Would LKM change the brain? To investigate the exact implication of this practice on the brain he invited two groups of subjects into his lab: those who had at least 10,000 hours of LKM under their meditative belt and those who were interested, but new to meditation. He invited both these groups into the fMRI scanner to see how LKM would impact the brain.

The results were clear. The practice of LKM changed several important brain regions: both the insula and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) lit up as a result of LKM. The insula is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to empathize with others, and to make oneself aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. While both groups saw an increase in insula activity, the group with 10,000 hours of experience showed significantly more activation than the other group. This group was experiencing higher levels of compassion than the non-practicing group.

A similar finding appeared for the TPJ. The TPJ, like the insula, is also related to our ability to process empathy and our ability to attune to the emotional states of others. Again, compared to short-term meditators, those with a long-term meditation practice showed significant activation of this brain region.

Loving-kindness creates feelings of social connection.

Given this research, it is no surprise that LKM has been shown to increase social connectedness, even for strangers. A study conducted by a group of researchers from Stanford University found that in just seven minutes of LKM, subjects reported greater social connection toward others. Other studies have shown that the feeling of social connection can predict changes in a person’s vagal tone (a physiological measurement of resilience and overall well-being).

As a yoga teacher for Kripalu’s Frontline Providers Program, I have the opportunity to teach the Loving-Kindness practice to members of a workforce who are at high risk for compassion fatigue — health-care providers. In just the 10 minutes that I invite participants to practice LKM toward themselves and others, something powerful emerges. Some students begin to cry. Some bring their hand softly to their heart. Some physically relax. Afterward, when I invite the group to look around at each other, the sense of connection is palpable.

What is striking about the research and about the experience teaching is that these changes can happen in a short amount of time. Concentrated practice is essential. Even a few minutes creates a shift, and that shift is marked.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” And indeed, it seems that in fact, with a little practice, LKM has the potential not only to improve our connection with ourselves, but to foster deeper connection and care for others as well.

For more from Kripalu, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.