If you are looking to take a vacation, here is one I highly recommend. This trip will make you feel better. You don’t have to make a reservation, you can leave any time you want, and best of all it is totally free! I am talking about an inward journey known as meditation.
Meditation is part of many of the world’s religions. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have practiced meditation for thousands of years.
The Buddha achieved enlightenment after sitting in meditation for 40 days. He taught that meditation is essential for letting go of the ego and achieving liberation.
Christianity has a long association with meditation. There are numerous examples of prophets living for extended periods in isolation, spending time focused on the Lord. Jesus himself demonstrated a life of contemplation as shown by the 40 days and nights he spent in the wilderness, as well as by his night in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christians can become more loving from meditating, and this will be expressed in their relationships, their work, and their sense of service to those in need.
In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad spent many hours in meditation before he received his first revelation. Muslims meditate to transcend the illusions of the ego and to gain experiential awareness of God’s presence in their life.
Meditation is also an important ingredient in Judaism, where deep meditation brings one to love God, and contemplation on the godly essence of every individual leads one to love others.
A common thread in these religious meditations is to become less focused on ourselves (selfish), and more open to the needs of others (compassionate and caring).
Our lives today are filled with noise. The internet brings the world to our fingertips. Social media such as text messaging, Facebook and Twitter keep us constantly connected to each other. We have so many noisy distractions that we have become strangers to silence. We have almost come to fear it.
Meditation counteracts this by connecting us to silence, thus leading us to our inner selves. Meditation is a journey of connection to our true selves. This connection helps us to love ourselves more, and leads us to love others more as well. Meditation increases our capacity to love.
In addition to benefiting our spirit, meditation benefits our body and psyche as well. Scientific studies have shown that meditation can improve our attention, resilience, compassion, and relationships.
One easy way to meditate is to focus on your breath. If you can breathe, you can meditate. Your breath is always there, like an old friend who might have been neglected for a while. Simply pay attention to the air coming in through your nostrils as you inhale, and going out as you exhale.
And you don’t need to do this for hours sitting on a cushion. Any length of time spent in meditation is good. You can meditate while waiting in line at the supermarket, sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or after pushing your snooze alarm in the morning. Everyday events like eating an apple or taking a photo on your smart phone can also become opportunities to meditate.
Mindfulness is another common meditation practice. Here, you focus on the present moment without judgment. This prevents you from having negative thoughts about the past or “what if” fears about the future.
When any such thoughts occur (as they do for even the most experienced meditators), you simply acknowledge them, let them go, and calmly return to the present moment. Benefits of this type of meditation include reduced psychological stress, reduced anxiety, and reduced depression.
You might prefer meditating in a group because it helps keep you focused. If you would like to try meditating together with others, come to the River Sangha which meets at 8 a.m. every Sunday at the Social Capital building, 28 Spring St. in Belfast. We meditate for 45 minutes, and you are all welcome.
Don Pan is a GBAM member, representing the River Sangha Buddhist meditation group in Belfast.