Historians reckon it’s around 2,600 years since the guy we now refer to simply as “the Buddha” sat under his Bodhi tree and refused to budge until he attained Enlightenment. According to legend, it only took him forty-nine days.
The ancient practice of meditation pre-dates the Buddha by at least a couple of thousand years and yet, in the West, its following has been patchy at best, restricted to a minority of individual practitioners. Christian religions recognize the practice, but limit it to a process for gaining personal contact with their exterior god, rather than the inner self.
They’ve yet to realize the inner self and God are one and the same. But, give them time; they’ve only been at it 2008 years. Presumably, the Buddha’s ‘forty-nine days’ was something of a fluke.
Meditation is generally utilized as a means to quiet the thought processes, by focusing on something that requires no thought, such as the breath. It’s long been realized by Buddhists that our thoughts, in particular the continuous process of ‘mind-talk’ that exists in our heads, is nothing more than a load of irrelevant garbage distracting us from the truly important matters of life; the feel of a raindrop landing on one’s cheek; the colors in a butterfly’s wing; the glory of wind sighing through the trees.
Rather than sensing these joys of nature, we concentrate instead on matters such as: “when can I get a burger?”; “is the boss looking at me funny?”; “have I got cancer?”
What thought is passing through your mind right now? Focus on it. Is it positive, or negative? The chances are it’s negative, dragging you down into gloom and despondency. Instead of reaching for the joy so abundant in your life, if you bother to look for it, your thoughts keep you mildly worried, depressed, or just plain bored.
Here’s a little experiment. Take ten seconds out of your day to switch off your thoughts. Close your eyes, visualize a “Pause” button on that tape recorder running in your head, and press it firmly to the “Off” position. For about ten seconds, do nothing but experience your being – your body, your senses; those moments in your life as they pass by, each one the only moment that you are alive. The one before it has gone; it’s dead. The one ahead has not yet happened.
Chances are, in the process you took your finger off the “Pause” button and allowed those random, negative thoughts to take you over once more, but just for a few moments, did you not feel better?
For most people, the answer would be, “Yes.”
With practice, it becomes much easier to turn off those negative thought processes, and for longer periods. All that’s required is time; time to be contemplative – to meditate.
“Ah, but that’s all bullshit!” I hear some of you cry.
No it isn’t, says Professor Mark Williams, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, a pioneer of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – which primarily consists of meditation.
Professor Williams states, in a BBC report out today:
“”It teaches a way of looking at problems, observing them clearly but not necessarily trying to fix them or solve them.
“It suggests to people that they begin to see all their thoughts as just thoughts, whether they are positive, negative or neutral.”
The report goes on:
“MBCT is recommended for people who are not currently depressed, but who have had three or more bouts of depression in their lives.
Trials suggest that the course reduces the likelihood of another attack of depression by over 50%.
Professor Williams believes that more research is still needed.
He said: “It is becoming enormously popular quite quickly and in many ways we now need to collect the evidence to check that it really is being effective.”
However, in the meantime, meditation is being taken seriously as a means of tackling difficult and very modern challenges.
Scientists are beginning to investigate how else meditation could be used, particularly for those at risk of suicide and people struggling with the effects of substance abuse”
“Dr Richard Davidson has been carrying out studies on Buddhist monks for several years.
His personal belief is that “by meditating, you can become happier, you can concentrate more effectively and you can change your brain in ways that support that.”
In one study he observed the brains of a group of office workers before and after they undertook a course of meditation combined with stress reduction techniques.
At the end of the course the participants’ brains seemed to have altered in the way they functioned.
They showed greater activity in the left-hand side – a characteristic which Davidson has previously linked to happiness and enthusiasm.
This idea that meditation could improve the wellbeing of everyone, even those not struggling with mental illness, is something that is exciting researchers.
Professor Williams believes it has huge potential.”
Science, it seems is finally beginning to wake up to the reality that meditation really can make us healthier, happier, and probably wiser.
Not that we all need to take a course in ‘Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy’.
You could just go sit under a Bodhi tree for forty-nine days.
Filed under: Thought less