Meditation has been a huge part of my spiritual journey. I have been on various meditation retreats and spent long periods practising mindfulness (even before it was cool!) and focusing on what is often referred to as ‘living in the now’. But is any of this really helpful? Here are a few reflections.
It’s possible to be so carried away in thought that we become out of touch with our bodies and immediate surroundings. Being in tune with our bodies helps us to stay healthy, and being in tune with our immediate surroundings helps us to be more relaxed, and at peace. If you experience a lot of stress, live a life that is very fast-paced, or have mental health issues, meditation could certainly be beneficial.
If you’re attracted to meditation because you want to experience ‘Christ consciousness’ or some other deep state of spiritual awakening, you’re going to be disappointed. Often people begin meditation practice as a form of escape, and the dangling carrot of enlightenment has a strong pull for spiritually-inclined people. But as I explained in depth in this article, there is no enlightenment. You may experience more peace and a greater awareness, but if you’re looking for a grand mystical experience that will free you from your troubles, you’re taking the wrong approach. Psychotherapy or counselling are likely to be a much better option.
There are of course many different ways in which to meditate, and I would encourage you to explore different approaches and methods and see what appeals. A great way to get started is the 5-4-3-2-1 meditation practice, which is explained in this video. By far my favourite meditation technique is Autogenic Training, which has helped me to counteract the onset of panic attacks, as well as to de-stress in times of personal difficulty.
If all of that sounds too complicated, try simply sitting or lying in a quiet space and focusing on the sensation of your feet. Whenever your thoughts wander, return your awareness to the feeling you are experiencing in your feet. Do this for 10-15 minutes and you might be surprised by how relaxed you feel.
Of course in certain Eastern religions, meditation is central. For Christians, things are rather more complicated. Prayer is itself a form of meditation, and many Christians will feel that prayer is the most important and most effective way in which to impact our circumstances. In my own experience, the practice of focusing deeply on my thoughts gave me a greater awareness of the existence of God, and while this isn’t necessarily typical, meditation is complementary to philosophy and religion in that we are exploring the nature of our experiences and what it means to be alive.
The word ‘meditation’ encompasses a variety of practices that are focused on making us more aware and in tune with how our minds and bodies function. If you’re just starting out, be aware of your motivations for wanting to meditate, and consider whether talking therapy might be more beneficial, or at least complementary to your meditation practice. Don’t expect miracles, but a small regular time commitment to a meditative practice can reap great rewards and contribute to a more balanced, happy life.
I have written an extensive account of some of the dangers of more extreme meditation practices in my book entitled The Philosophy of a Mad Man. For more information, go here. What’s your experience of meditation and/or mindfulness? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!