We live in a hectic world that never stops talking, never stops doing.
The only state of consciousness that is encouraged in our culture is the logical, problem-solving consciousness useful for making money and being productive. Ironically, we may actually be more effective at our work if we take time out for meditation and self-care. When we do things from a centered place instead of a frantic one, moving steadily, we can achieve more in the long run. And we will certainly be more healthy. This is why yoga and meditation have been gaining in popularity in the West for the last few decades.
Many people imagine that meditation has to look a certain way: sitting in lotus, back straight, eyes closed, a mysterious smile on the lips; and that we must maintain this pose for at least an hour. Perhaps this intimidates some from trying it. There is great value in discipline, such as practicing a specific technique at the same time each day. However, simple daydreaming — letting the mind wander — can also feed the soul.
A five-minute meditation, or even five seconds of turning inward, can change our whole state of being. Meditation and self-care can take many forms: petting the cat, oiling our feet with love, appreciating the play of light and shadow, gardening, or stopping to smell the proverbial roses. Most Westerners have a hard time sitting in meditation and quieting the mind. This is why movement meditations can be so useful: after 20 minutes or more of dance or some other vigorous exercise, many of us can actually sit peacefully!
“A five-minute meditation, or even five seconds of turning inward, can change our whole state of being.”
Perhaps we’re better off thinking of meditation as something that happens both on and off the cushion. If we have a strict sitting practice, we may be tempted to leave it at that, and ignore all the other subtle opportunities to drop into mindful awareness. So whether we are sitting in lotus practicing one of the many meditation techniques, dancing, drumming, or sinking deep into nature, the essence of meditative self-care is the same: quieting the thoughts, cultivating mindfulness and expanded consciousness.
This has so many benefits, such as:
More efficient oxygen use by the body
Increased production of anti-aging hormone DHEA
Decreased production of stress hormones such as cortisol, reducing stress and anxiety
Lower cholesterol levels
One study from researchers at Northeastern University and Harvard University found that meditation makes people more compassionate. Participants did eight-week-long training sessions in meditation, after which they were tested to see if they would help someone (actually an actor) who appeared to be in pain and using crutches. Researchers found that only 15 percent of people who had not undergone meditation training helped the person with the crutches, as compared to half of those who went through the training!
Interestingly, another study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that meditation’s beneficial effects on processing emotions by the brain may take place even when a person isn’t meditating. Meditation appears to change the way the amygdala processes emotions.
Perhaps one of the most useful benefits of meditation is in improving self-knowledge. It is all too easy to slip into denial, to deceive ourselves as to our true motivations. Our blind spots can have negative consequences. Ironically, other people can see us more clearly than we see ourselves. Mindfulness, defined as paying attention to one’s experience in a nonevaluative way, can serve as a path to self-knowledge. If we watch our thoughts and behaviors, we can become better people. Meditation can release the grip of the ego, allowing us to see ourselves as we really are instead of as our egos wish us to be.
There are many ways to make the world a better place. However, self-awareness and self-care practices are simple ways for each of us to save the world.