Meditation, mindfulness and mind-emptiness

 This article was published by The Conversation

Mindfulness essentially involves the passive observation of internal and external stimuli without mental reaction. Image from shutterstock.com

Ever been unable to sleep because you can’t switch off that stream of thoughts that seems to flow incessantly, mercilessly through your head?

When your mental noise distracts you from the task at hand, makes you forget why you walked into a room, or keeps you awake at night, you’re a victim of what is known in the East as “the monkey mind”. It is this thought stream that, according to Eastern tradition, is the source of much of our modern day stress and mental dysfunction.

So, what can you do about it?

Meditation

In the West, meditation has become a woolly term under which many different methods have found a home. Mindfulness is the latest, and certainly the most popular, addition.

Scientifically speaking, all approaches to meditation – be they relaxation, mindfulness, visualisation, mantras or otherwise – are associated with measurable but non-specific beneficial effects. So too are all stress management-style interventions even if they are not labelled as “meditation”.

So, does meditation have a specific effect or is it just another way to relax and de-stress? These are the questions that the scientific community continues to struggle with. Importantly, we can only answer this question if we have a clear understanding of what meditation is (or isn’t).

Our research shows that by defining meditation as “mental silence”, which is an evolution of the mindfulness concept, we can effectively answer the key scientific questions about meditation.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness essentially involves the passive observation of internal and external stimuli without mental reaction. It is most explicitly, but not exclusively, laid out in Buddhist meditation texts.

 

The Buddhist connection is one reason Mindfulness is so popular. Image from shutterstock.com

 

Mindfulness has become immensely popular for several reasons: its connection with Buddhism, which is very much in fashion; its secular style; and its suitability as an adjunct to many other mental health counselling strategies such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

There is no doubting that mindfulness has a useful role to play in preserving health and promoting wellness. But despite its hundreds of clinical trials, there is no consistent evidence of an effect specific to mindfulness itself.

In fact, the vast majority of evidence concerning mindfulness relates to clinical trials that do not control for placebo effects. This is something relatively few researchers seem to want to talk about, either because it’s too difficult or too politically incorrect.

Mental silence

Perhaps surprisingly, the oldest known definition of meditation predates both Buddhism and mindfulness by thousands of years. In the ancient Indian Mahabharata, the narrator states that a meditator is “… like a log, he does not think”. In other words, the earliest definitions describe the key defining feature of meditation as an experience of “mental silence”.

Many other explicit examples of this definition can be found in Eastern literature from virtually every historical period. Lao Tzu, for example, urged us to “Empty the mind of all thoughts” in the Tao Te Ching.

Yet Western definitions of meditation have consistently failed to acknowledge its significance. Perhaps this is because of the predominance of the Cartesian dictum “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) that has come to characterise not only Western philosophy but the psyche as well.

This might explain why for most people in the West, including the academics and researchers on whom we rely to generate our scientific knowledge, mental silence represents both an alien concept and an illogical experience.

Yet the results of more than a dozen years of scientific research here in Australia tells us that mental silence-orientated approaches to meditation are in fact both achievable and associated with specific benefits above and beyond those seen in non-mental silence approaches.

Take, for instance, my 2011 Meditation for Work Stress Study, involving 178 full-time Australian workers; it’s one of the most thoroughly designed randomised controlled trials of meditation in the scientific literature.

 

Mental silence is responsible for many of the benefits of meditation. Carnie Lewis

 

Participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups: either mental silence meditation, a relaxation-orientated intervention (non-mental silence) or a no-treatment control group. Their stress, depressive feelings and anxiety levels were measured using scientifically validated measures before and after the eight week program.

While people in both intervention groups improved, those in the mental silence group manifested significantly greater improvements than the relaxation group and the no-treatment group.

randomised controlled trial of meditation for asthma sufferers mirrored these findings by comparing mental silence-orientated meditation to a stress management programme promoted by the state department of health. Not only were the psychological improvements significantly greater in the meditation group but there was also a reduction in the irritability of the airways.

Although further work needs to be done to identify the mechanisms, this change is likely the result of the modulation of chronic inflammation pathways, presumably through altered signalling from the brain.

Other larger surveys as well as smaller trials also demonstrate promising outcomes – all pointing toward the idea that mental silence is the key defining feature of meditation, responsible for effects specific to meditation.

Brain studies report some interesting findings. First, the experience is associated with a characteristic pattern of brain electrical activity – increased alpha-theta activity at the front and top of the brain along the midline. This is associated with reduced anxiety and improved attentional focus.

There was also a strong correlation between these objectively measured electrical changes and the subjective experience of the quality of the meditation experience.

Second, meditators exhibit reduced stress responses in the brain compared with non-meditators. This implies that the benefits are occurring at a neurophysiological level rather than being just a suppression of emotion or of its peripheral features.

 

The effects of meditation seem to be beyond the ability to suppress emotional responses.Flickr/premasagar

 

Meditators, therefore, seem to be fundamentally modifying the way they generate negative emotions in response to the environment.

Reduced negative emotional reactions to stimuli should logically lead to reduced stress and an improved sense of well-being. But until studies where the brain changes are simultaneously measured alongside clinical changes, we can’t definitively state that these brain changes are the cause of the specific effects uncovered in our clinical studies.

Mind-emptiness

So how does this all fit together?

The mental silence paradigm is both complementary to and a progression of the mindfulness concept. While mindfulness involves the passive observation of stimuli with the aim of reducing mental reactions, mental silence involves progressing this experience to, and attaining, a state of no-mental-content-at-all, while remaining in full control of one’s faculties.

The original intention of mindfulness is as a method to facilitate the attainment of mental silence rather than being an ends in itself.

This shift in our understanding resolves many of the paradoxes that were hitherto insoluble – while at the same time offering consumers and clinicians a practically useful way to understand and benefit from meditation.

You can try the evidence-based techniques that we have evaluated for yourself by going to www.beyondthemind.com.


Ramesh Manocha is the author of Silence Your Mind, published by Hachette.

The 6th Step: Balance

balance

In perfect balance we have from everything equally. Moving out to gain more of one side will always result in having less on the other.

SubtleSystemChartWeb

We experience complete balance when our emotions and desires (shown in the figure as the blue channel) work in perfect harmony with our actions (the yellow channel). On such days everything will be in the flow and even the most grumpy person will not be able to spoil your day but on the contrary might be shocked about the big undisturbed smile you might give him.

Most of us surely have enjoyed such days but when it comes to keep this pleasant state we might have ended up with a big question mark.

The 6th Step:

It is easy to say “find your balance” but unfortunately it is not that simple. We first have to understand what  throws us out of balance and the effect of it on our subtle system. Only then we are able to make changes.

Imagine an airplane with only one wing, or one wheel. Everyone knows that it will never take off. The same principle applies for our subtle system. If we have only developed the right channel but not the left or vice versa we might face difficulties to reach our objectives.

Moon

If we go too much into our left channel representing our emotions, desires or the past we lose touch with our right channel which is the power of action. This can result in continuous drowsiness, lethargy, exhaustion, feeling depressed and in a later stage becoming suicidal.

sunIf we push ourselves too much into the right channel, thinking a lot and constantly planning the future we lose touch with our left channel which is our emotions. This results in a lack of attention, restlessness, becoming more impatient and ending up with outbursts of anger or violent behavior.

When we are in balance we are in the present moment. In this state we are in complete control of our thoughts – if we want we can think, if we do not want we can stop our thoughts. We are not dragged down by our emotions nor are we beaten up by our demands and expectations what we have to reach. Everything we do becomes effortless and enjoyable.

-test-clipart-9Here is a small test:

Take a pen and a paper and over the day (maybe every hour) check in on yourself and see what you were thinking right then.

Write it down.

At the end of the day determine if your thoughts were more about the past or the future. This will give you a good idea if you tend to go into your left side or into your right.

Another test:

Watch people around you and try to determine if they are moving in the left channel (past, emotions, desires), in the right channel (futuristic, dynamic, thinking a lot) or in the center channel (balanced and in harmony with oneself and others).

The Goal

Thoughtless Awareness

Finding your balance means first of all to start being in the present moment by becoming thoughtless.

One can compare it with the state of a child. Children do not think about the past or the future. They are most of the time in the here and now. Therefore their attention is complete and can absorb everything around them apart from having seemingly unlimited energy that is not wasted by thought processing.

The Exercise

With the awakening of our Inner Energy, the Kundalini, balancing our left and right side becomes simple. When you meditate your Kundalini helps you to clear your thoughts and to calm down your emotions. If you have not done the guided meditation to awaken the Kundalini, yet, then see Step 1.

During the week-days there are live on-line meditations from 8:00-08:30 PM Eastern Time which you can join here: http://live.sahajameditation.com
These live meditations are being recorded, so that you can meditate also at any other time of the day with a guided meditation, if you wish to.

Here is a meditation with simple techniques how to clear the left and right side. This will help you to come into your center and enjoy the state of thoughtless awareness.

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In the following workshop Shri Mataji shows more techniques to clear the left and right side with the help of different elements:

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I wish you a wonderful time full of balance and joy,

Your’s, Angi

The Power of Meditation

‎”…if I see a problem, immediately I go into meditation – immediately – and the problem is solved. “
~ Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, October 1989

In our programs we are asked every now and then: “How do I meditate?” followed by the question: “In what way is Sahaja Meditation different to other meditations?”
Although the word “meditation” is quite common nowadays the actual meaning of it seems often unclear and vague. And it is true – there is meditation and meditation. It can be everything between simple breathing exercises to deeply spiritual retreat. Some of the common associations are certain breathing techniques, focusing, visualizing, chanting mantras and/or concentrating on a specific energy center.

Why Sahaja Meditation is different is simply due to the fact that our Inner Energy is awakened. This gives us the advantage that we do not only meditate, but that we can actually “use” meditation in our day-to-days life. The awakening of the inner energy enables us

1) to feel the state of our inner being
2) to direct this inner energy to any problem we face (inside or outside) and let it be worked-out for us
3) if we have exhausted ourselves too much, to have access to the unlimited universal energy around us
4) to awaken this inner energy in others as well

I would like to share a story with you (and there are many many more) what Sahaja Meditation is capable of – to just give you an idea that it is also something really practical.  This was a mail I received some years ago from a friend and I believe it is worth sharing, specially in times where there are threats hanging over our heads like Fukushima.

I’ve got a friend. His name is Victor and we have always called him uncle Vitya as he came to Sahaja Yoga Meditation at the age of 45-50.

He worked in Chernobyl, Ukraine, at the concrete casting of the nuclear reactor: after the explosion he was pouring concrete in the containment. Among those who worked with him, there was nobody alive then as they had got large doses of radiation. And Victor also got a disease which the doctors could not diagnose – he was, literally, a disabled person. After getting self-realization (the awakening of the inner energy) he got up at 4 am every day and cleaned his subtle body changing 5-7 basins when doing foot-soaking.
In several months there appeared improvement in his state and in 2 years he completely recovered.

He always had a beautiful quality – he loved people. I have always tried to develop this quality watching him. Victor came to Togliatti, Russia, 2 years ago. He was a man of 70 at that time. And he made washstands for 400 people in the camp where International Sahaja Yoga Festivals are held now.

I asked him, “Isn’t it difficult for you?” And he answered, “BUT I’M ENJOYING!”
If there is love and devotion, negativity is powerless.

So here I am, promoting the same again and again: meditate! – 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the evening. And in your meditation really try to connect to your inner energy and to the all-pervading universal energy around you. If you are a religious person, hold out your hands – after the awakening of your inner energy – and ask whomever you worship if he/she is there with you. If you do not believe in anything hold out your hands and ask if this is  the life force itself.
To have faith still means you “only” believe – but this is about the knowing, about the connecting, about a deep relationship that can only be understood in the heart, not by the brain. To pray means to express ourselves, to meditate means to listen.

I wish you a wonderful week with deep meditations!

Yours, Angi

A 10-Minutes-Meditation to bring us into our inner balance

  1. Awaken your Inner Energy (if you have not done it before):
    Here is a guided meditation (approx. 10 Min.) to awaken your Inner Energy by the founder of Sahaja Meditation, Shri Mataji.  If you went through it already skip step 1). When your Inner Energy is activated it will stay so, there is no need to repeat the affirmations (although you can do so if you like).
  2. At the beginning and the end of each meditation we do what we call “raising the energy” and give ourselves “a shield of protection”.
    Here is a nice animation how to do it: charlie.swf
    You can also find a detailed description in our Meditation Tips on page 4 and 5: Meditation Tips
  3. The following guided meditation is about 10 minutes long. Please keep your eyes open (at least for the first time) as the instructions are in written form.

Physician learned the benefits of relaxation

By Laurie Bailey /

Eighteen years ago, Anjana Vijayvargiya, a self-described driven physician, couldn’t control her own headaches or her neck, back and shoulder pain.

Then she listened to her mother.

“She suggested meditation, since medication wasn’t working,” Dr. Vijayvargiya said.

It helped, and she’s been devoted to meditation ever since. Dr. Vijayvargiya, a pathologist at UPMC St. Margaret, recently shared her expertise during a recent class at Oakmont Carnegie Library.

Practiced for thousands of years, meditation was once recognized as a means for understanding the spiritual and mystical sides of life. Today it’s frequently used to reduce stress and create a tranquil mind.

“I was a workaholic with a type A personality. I used to be quite arrogant,” she admitted about the time before she started meditating.

Living and working in India, she was skeptical at first. But once she finally tried it, she said she felt completely relaxed.

“When I finished, it felt as though I had slept, but I wasn’t sleeping. I was extremely peaceful — a peace like I’ve never felt before,” she said.

Now living in Indiana Township with her husband, Ajay Kumar, and their 16-year-old daughter, Amogha, she said her headaches are less frequent. And more noticeable to her family and associates, her attitude toward those around her has changed dramatically.

“I actually see the best in everyone. I appreciate almost everyone. Earlier, I used to demand respect out of fear. Now, I am respectful of others,” she said, adding that it took her about six years to notice the changes in her personality, but others noticed it long before.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is an increasing amount of scientific research supporting the health benefits of meditation and that some researchers believe it’s too early yet to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.

Speaking from her own experience, Dr. Vijayvargiya has witnessed examples of improved health conditions when patients included meditation in their regimen of care, especially for those with high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. It can also ease the anxiety and other effects associated with chemotherapy, she added.

“Meditation can do wonders … but the person has to regularly meditate at least once every day for five to 10 minutes,” she said.

It can also help with drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction, she explained.

“A person becomes addicted for a variety of reasons. This meditation slowly (or swiftly) works on the root cause of the addiction and the meditators do not feel the urge to take the harmful substances. I do know people who gave up their addictions without going to rehab or counseling. They are sober for the past 20-35 years,” she said.

Although she said there are possibly hundreds of types of meditation, Dr. Vijayvargiya is a proponent of the Sahaja method of meditation. Sahaja means “born with you,” “simple,” and “spontaneous,” she said. The method was founded in 1970 by Indian spiritual leader Nirmala Devi.

“Meditation is a cleansing process, just like brushing our teeth and taking a shower. The latter two cleanse our physical body and the meditation cleanses our subtle system,” she said.

The subtle system is a network of energy centers within the body, she said.

Dr. Vijayvargiya said her teenage daughter now regularly meditates.

“She actually can see how much it is helping her. It makes it easier for her to handle a lot at once,” she said.

The doctor even taught a class in meditation at Fox Chapel Area High School and was amazed at how it helped even the more fidgety students relax.

“Even the students totally uninterested in the beginning of the lecture were convinced it worked,” she said.

She teaches regularly through Fox Chapel’s adult education program and at the Boyd Community Center in Fox Chapel.

The biggest challenge, she said, is that people are doubtful based on their own stigma about meditation from what they see on television.

But once they try it?

She said: “People love it, it’s really relaxing. They also realize they will calm their hearts and the chattering in their brain.”

Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

First Published 2012-04-12 08:59:36

The Art of Not Getting Angry

Who was not once in a while in a situation where anger was rising up inside, and we had to keep on smiling, teeth-grinding? Maybe with a boss who threw back  files (which cost a lot of over time for weeks) remarking he needs something different, and needs it ASAP. One option would be  to throw the job (and the files as well) , into the next trash-bin, or to hit the next innocent substitute (i.e. a wall) or simply to gulp down any angry feelings and get a stomach ache. No matter what course of action we take, the end result is the same – we are the ones who are up-set and angry whereas the other one might feel very comfortable and happy.

So what to do? Ok, ok, I know, I am repeating myself, but really, it helps: meditate! 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the evening and you might become a real anger manager! To understand how it works let’s go deeper into the mysteries of the second energy center, the Svadisthan which is actually a very important energy center for us modern, planning and thinking people. If this center is in balance, anger will not visit us.

 The Svadisthan

– center of pure knowledge, creativity, pure attention and intellectual perception

In our subtle body we use this center to be creative, to think and to plan. On the physical side, situated in the abdomen (the aortic plexus), this center provides certain organs with energy such as the liver, kidneys, uterus, spleen and pancreas.

The most important physical function of this center is that it breaks down fat particles in the abdomen to replace the grey and white cells in the brain, and so generates the energy which fuels our thinking. Excessive thinking and planning overworks this process, exhausts this center and creates heat. This heat shoots up along the right side into the left temple and into the ego, causing it to inflate into a balloon that blocks the central channel. The entire system is thrown off balance.

A tingling on the right thumb, or a sensation of warmth or heaviness indicates that this energy center is overworked with too much thinking and planning, producing excessive heat, thus creating stress feelings that might easily erupt in an angry outburst. So when our boss is asking us to work overtime, or work extra hard to finish something, we are very likely putting extra strain on this center. When this center is under strain, eruptions of anger can result!

How to keep cool

Regular Sahaja Meditation helps a lot to balance this center and keep inner peace, no matter the outside circumstances. Your boss might be yelling, but it won’t affect you!

In addition to the meditation you can cool down this center by putting an ice-pack on the right side of your abdomen.

We also recommend to do a foot-soak every day, best in the evening before you go to sleep as described  in the Meditation Tips on page 6 (that you can combine with your 10-minutes-evening meditation).

And here it is – our special 10-minutes meditation to keeping calm in every situation

(sit wherever you like, the most important thing is to feel comfortable)

    1. Awaken your Inner Energy:
      Here is a guided meditation (approx. 10 Min.) to awaken your Inner Energy by the founder of Sahaja Meditation, Shri Mataji.  If you went through it already skip step 1). When your Inner Energy is activated it will stay so, there is no need to repeat the affirmations (although you can do so if you like).
      .

    2. At the beginning and the end of each meditation we do what we call “raising the energy” and give ourselves “a shield of protection”.
      Here is a nice animation how to do it: charlie.swf
      You can also find a detailed description in our Meditation Tips on page 4 and 5:  Meditation Tips
    3. Put your right hand on your head for some seconds, put the hand down again but keep focused on top of your head where your hand was.
    4. Balancing your Right Side (to allow the heat to escape):
      With your right hand open in your lap, bend your left arm upward, with your left palm facing the back. You can ask your Inner Energy:
      “Please remove all imbalances and heat of my right side”
      Sit like that for several  minutes and allow your Inner Energy to clear your right side
    5. Then put your left hand on the right side of your abdomen, the right hand on the lap, palm upwards. That will help particularly to cool down the center. Meditate like that for several minutes.
    6. After the 10 minutes hold your hand over your head and see if you feel vibrations coming out – it might feel like a cool breeze, sometimes also like a warm breeze, like a tingling, or simply “somehow different”.
    7. End the meditation again with ”raising the energy” and giving yourself  ”a bhandan” (shield of protection).

If you meditate like this for some time you will find that you can keep a cool head in most situations, and react in a balanced way which at the end is beneficiary for everyone, most of all for yourself. You might even find yourself smiling with amusement where others might explode – it really happens!

I wish you a wonderful calm and anger free week!

Yours, Angi

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