I’m an American and to me, “meditation” is a dirty word.
Or at least it was until i spent some time both studying it and practicing it, and it wasn’t until i had done that for a couple of years that i started to let go of some of the questionable associations i had with the term. The word “meditation” smacks of vague, new-agey spiritualism and conjures up hazy images of long-haired neo hippies, with tatoos of the Sanskrit symbol “Om” sitting on cushions with incense burning, a sound generator playing gentle water noises, and maybe some energy crystals lying around…
I’m going to put some words and images out there. See if they seem to fit somehow with “meditation”:
-Fortune tellers/tarot cards
When i used to think of meditation i kind of felt like Stan locked in a dark room with his grandpa playing Enya: it sounds like something that is cheesy but lame and eerily soothing at the same time…
The last scene in a popular movie that i can think of that featured meditation in a positive light was in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace when Qui-Gon is fighting Darth Maul and they get trapped in between some crazy energy fields and have to pause the fighting. Watch this clip on youtube and you will see Qui-Gon meditate around 2:26: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPLXwrj7i7Q
So while taking a mandatory time-out from their light saber battle, Qui-Gon kneels, and meditates while Darth Maul paces like a New Yorker in line at Starbucks during the AM rush hour. And needless to say, Qui-Gon’s meditation doesn’t seem to help him out that much as he is summarily dispatched by a light saber through the chest. Pacing like an angry New Yorker: 1. Focusing your energies to deal with the present moment: 0.
Before this, i think it was Ben Kingsly in “Ghandi”. I don’t even remember a scene where Ghandi is specifically meditating in this movie because i haven’t seen it in so long but i have to assume he did and it was cool.
So maybe we need a different view and a different term for “meditation”. How about something that Life Coach and Buddhist teacher, Joeseph Mauricio called, “Breath-Synchronized, Mind-Body Awareness” (BSMBA)? Or maybe even just “sitting”?
Western scientists have started to study meditation and are starting to document things that practitioners have known for generations. Meditating reduces stress and anxiety. It boosts our immune system and develops areas of our brains that deal with love and compassion. It makes us more attentive, aware and helps us focus and concentrate.
Modern psychology has been studying the mind for the last 100 years or so. Buddhists have been studying the mind for thousands of years. It makes sense that there might be some crossover between the two… Terms like “mindfulness”, are becoming very popular in business settings and among life and career coaches. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction” or “MBSR” is becoming popular in psychology circles. The Weill Cornell Medical Center describes MBSR and its benefits in its website:
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center was developed to teach participants how to reduce stress by systematically and intentionally cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness is best defined as nonjudgmental, moment to moment awareness. Two decades of published research in this relatively new field within behavioral medicine indicate that the majority of people who complete the program report:
* lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms
* an increased ability to relax
* reduction in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with chronic pain
* greater energy and enthusiasm for life
* improved self esteem
* an ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations
Individuals with one or more of the following concerns may benefit from participation in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program:
* Workplace, family and financial stress
* Anxiety and panic
* Chronic fatigue
* Back pain
* Excessive smoking
* Overuse of alcohol
* Compulsive eating
* Gastrointestinal distress
The Cornell Medical Center website: http://wo-pub2.med.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/WebObjects/PublicA.woa/wa/viewService?servicesID=3385&website=wmc+psych
The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists defines Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy as:
1. CBT is based on the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change.
Truth is, this MBSR, CBT, BSMBA train has been rolling for thousands of years under the moniker “meditation” and it is good to hear that the psychotherapists are finally getting on board…
So why then is meditation poked fun at in our culture? Why is it so consistently portrayed in caricature in western media? Probably because we have an automatic mistrust of anything that we think might subvert our values- particularly in regards to our religious or moral beliefs. Meditation however is not about replacing our Judeo/Christian/Muslim/Agnostic/Atheistic beliefs with an eastern religious tradition. It is not replacing “prayer” with “meditation”. Practicing meditation is like going to the gym… for your mind. Studying meditation is actually studying how your mind works and learning techniques that will help you work with your mind to be more present, more aware and more compassionate. The study part gives you good form and the practice part strengthens it.
Whatever you want to call it, CBT, MBSR, BSMBA, sitting, practice, meditation– it works, and it helps us live happier, healthier lives. If “meditation” is a dirty word, well then… Its time to get dirty.