Article by Randolph Summitt
Words such as think, reflect, contemplate and ruminate may sometimes be taken as synonyms for meditate. However, these are all actions that happen fairly naturally, without conscious effort or painfully developed expertise. For lasting benefits one has to learn to meditate and that takes directed effort.
The philosopher who fell in a hole as he was walking along reflecting was not meditating. Had he been meditating he would have been sitting still. Movement disrupts meditation and distracts the mind. As in the case of the hole, sudden accidents and developments destroy the stillness that is a requisite for meditation.
High flying academics are often distinguished by their capacity to think with single minded purpose about a literary or mathematical problem that besets them. This mental concentration may seem like meditation but it is not because it is more likely to stimulate the mind and make it restless. However an important aspect of meditation is that it calms the mind, so in this respect intellectual focus is very different.
Diverse religions use meditation as means of prosecuting their purposes. However, in itself the practice of meditation is not the preserve of any one religion. Religion and meditation may have the same outcomes but it is not necessary to subscribe to a particular religious dogma in order to learn how to meditate.
However, religious practice and meditation have a great deal in common. Both require discipline. In order to meditate a person needs to exclude all distractions, and perhaps keep repeating a mantra which is a word, sound or even a prayer. This cannot be sustained indefinitely and so successful meditation becomes a concentrated effort that ends in a sense of relaxation and peace.
Another benefit of learning how to meditate is self knowledge. This can come through self control and also through focusing some meditation on one’s place in the scheme of things. In eastern religions particularly much emphasis is placed on knowing the self. That ma y be a reason why meditation often plays a significant role in such religions.
People who have practiced meditation for some time often begin to experience health benefits. This may not be so surprising in light of the fact that it probably helps to reduce stress by widening the individual perspective and helping him a person to get priorities in the right order. It is well known that stress is one of the prime reasons for ill health, so stress reduction and good health should fit together logically.
It is not easy to learn to meditate. Time must be set aside for stillness and busy people do not always feel that sitting still and concentrating the mind on a single subject is something that they have time for. At first they may fret as they close themselves away from urgent demands upon their attention. It has to be understood that doing what may seem irrelevant does have long term significance as a time saving practice. Moreover, once the art of meditation has been learnt the daily session can becomes so satisfying that it may easily be accepted as a priority.
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