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.

Science And Spirit

images“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with  our modest powers must feel humble.” Albert Einstein

When Curing Becomes A Side-Effect…

Dear All,

Today I would like to share a documentary (30 minutes long) of the early 1990s that dives deep into the effects of Sahaja Meditation on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level.

Here are some of the key topics:

  • Carl G. Jung speaking about the anima and animus (the left and right side of our subtle system) and about the imbalance of these two in Western society
  • Interviews with three doctors and their experiences with Sahaja Meditation, including scientific research on how Sahaja Meditation reduces high blood pressure
  • Shri Mataji giving a detailed explanation where and how most of the diseases start and explaining how the awakening of the inner energy works to cure them by ones own power

I hope you enjoy this documentary and that you will have as many Aha!- and Oh!-effects as I had. One such moment for me was that curing people is only a side effect of Sahaja Meditation, while  the essence of it enables us to go beyond and find out who we really are, our true Self.

.

So let’s start with our journey to the greatest mystery within –  our universal self! 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the evening is all you need!

The 10-Minutes-Meditation

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

  1. Awaken Your Inner Energy 
    This is done only once and takes about 20 minutes. 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: http://sahajayogawa.com/flash/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 the top of your head where your hand was.
  4. Sit still for about 10 minutes, hands palm upwards to let the energy flow freely through them, keep the focus on top of your head. If you find your mind wandering repeat step 3) as many times as it helps you to focus.
    If you feel like it have some pleasant music.
    In this time we allow our inner energy as well as the all-pervading power around to work on us – we do not need to do anything, just surrender to it.
  5. 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”.
  6. End the meditation again with “raising the energy” and giving yourself  “a bhandan” (shield of protection).
  7. Enjoy your day!

I wish you many exciting and joyful adventures on the road to Within!

Yours, Angi

What Has Star Trek To Do With Thoughtless Awareness?

Dear All,

I hope you have enjoyed wonderful meditation sessions at home or with others the last week! Here see one of my friends in deep meditation, clearly completely thoughtless.

You might have found out that each and every meditation is different. Sometimes it is easy to slide without any effort into the state of meditation, where we enjoy the silence within. Sometimes we might even feel all this nourishing energies at work, flowing to those parts in our body that need attention.  But sometimes it can be really difficult to stop all those thoughts that keep our attention in their grip! Then what to do?

Meditation starts by being thoughtless. When there are no thoughts going through our head than we are in the state which we call Mental Silence. Dr. Ramesh Manosha, who led an extensive Meditation Research Program in Australia , explains it like this:

The authentic experience of Mental Stillness and/or Mental Silence is neither concentration, nor relaxation, nor is it a different way of thinking.  Mental Stillness is the experience of inner silence, which brings a peaceful and clearer awareness.
Mental Silence is a state of effortless balance and integration, that facilitates not only the reduction of stress, but other therapeutic and integrational processes. This experience helps reduce stress and facilitate individual and interpersonal performance.

Now, if it is really difficult to become thoughtless I have a little trick: I watch Star Trek. And while I am watching most of the times I sit on the floor and have both my hands down towards Mother Earth. It seems that watching something that is “out of the world” calms me down, I can slowly detach myself from whatever has happened during the day and with my hands down I allow Mother Earth to balance me.

Which does not mean that everyone has to watch Star Trek now! No, the truth is, as many people there are as many different ways there are to help us becoming thoughtless. For some it might be sports, for some music, for some being creative, the list is endless. Find out what it is for you! Are you the one with the guitar in his hands?

Or more the one who likes to swing a brush?

Laubenvogel

Does your thought processing slow down when you go for a run, or do you become thoughtless when you just look at a beautiful sculpture? And here is a small surprise: Whatever helps you to become thoughtless is also something that gives you joy! So here is a small but significant formula:

Meditation = A State of Being Thoughtless = Joy

∑ : The more you are in meditation = the more joy
***

Did you notice something in my last sentence? I did not say ‘the more you meditate’, I said ‘the more you are in meditation‘. Because you do not do anything to meditate. You just are. Here and now. In a state of thoughtless awareness. That means you can meditate wherever you are, in the metro, on the bus, even in work. The only thing you have to learn is to control your thoughts. Then you truly are a master of meditation!

So here again a short 10-minute-meditation for your week

(sit wherever you like, on the floor, on the couch, in the bath tub… important is that you feel comfortable):

  1. As mentioned before this only works if your Inner Energy is already awakened. Here is a 20-minutes-meditation by the founder of Sahaja Meditation, Shri Mataji, herself where she leads you through the process of awakening this energy in you. If you have done that already before than skip step 1)
  2. We start our meditation by raising our Inner Energy and put the shield of protection around us:
    Here the nice animation how to do it: http://sahajayogawa.com/flash/charlie.swf
    Or the detailed description in our Meditation Tips on page 4 and 5:  Meditation Tips
  3. Put both hands on or towards Mother Earth, focus on top of your head and sit for about 10 minutes in mental silence.
  4. If a thought comes tell the thought: I forgive. If thoughts keep coming put your right hand on top of the head, put a little bit of pressure and focus there, where you feel the pressure. Put the hand down, but keep the focus still on that part of your head.
  5. 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”.
  6. End the meditation again with “raising the energy” and giving yourself  “a bhandan” (shield of protection).
  7. Enjoy your day!

And don’t forget: 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the evening! You might soon notice the benefit of doing it!

Yours,  Angi

Research on how Sahaja Meditation helps children with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

ADHD is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. It includes some combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Children with ADHD also may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school.

A new research in Sydney, the Royal Hospital For Women showed that Sahaja Meditation can significantly help children suffering from ADHD. 

If you want to know more about the scientific researches on the effects of Sahaja Meditation you might find this link to the website of Prof. Katya Rubia very useful. It covers topics like ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, Drug Abuse, Resilience and some more.

Start meditating with your child! Come to one of our programs (always free!) or simply go online. Following links might be helpful for you:

Meditation for Children

0-2 Years Meditation

2-4 Years Meditation

4-6 Years Meditation


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