Meditation - Nancy McCaochan

What It Is and How to Do It--A Primer
What Is Meditation?
(from Wikipedia,
family of self-regulation practices that focus on
training attention and awareness
•a practice that self-regulates the body and mind,
thereby affecting mental events
type of discipline, found in various forms in many
cultures, by which the practitioner attempts to get
beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind (sometimes called
"discursive thinking"[or "logic”) into a deeper, more
devout, or more relaxed state
•an imprecise term that designates a variety of widely
divergent practices that alter one’s state of mind
Physiological Effects
Scientific studies are of mixed quality because of an
inability to precisely define meditation and because
techniques are so divergent that it’s difficult to compare
BUT research from the University of Massachusettes
suggests that meditation reduces stress, anxiety,
depression, headaches, pain, and elevated blood
Meditation creates a host of biochemical and physical
changes in the body that alter metabolism, heart rate,
respiration, blood pressure and brain activation.
Its effects on brain activity are measurable but not
Psycho-Emotional Effects
Increased compassion and forgiveness
Decreased anxiety and judgment
Improved self-awareness and acceptance
Greater relaxation
Increased ability to sustain focus and
Improved memory, self-esteem, perceptual
sensitivity, empathy, reaction time, and self
Altered state of awareness that relies less on
thinking and doing and focuses on BEING
Wiki suggests two broad categories
 concentrative and mindfulness
 concentrative meditation focuses attention on a chosen
object (mantra, symbol, image, quality, sensation, etc.), bringing
attention back to this object, when it wanders
mindfulness meditation (also known as open monitoring)
involves non-reactive awareness of the content of bio-emotional
experience from moment to moment
brain wave studies suggest that each type of meditation
stimulates different areas of the brain; that is, each type has a
different effect and a different result
concentration and mindfulness are often linked/practice together,
w/one form being given precedence
Techniques are intimately bound to the religions in which they
Etymology: In the Old Testament, the Hebrew haga means to sigh
or murmur, but also to meditate. When this Bible was translated into
Greek, haga became the Greek melete. The Latin Bible then
translated haga/melete into meditatio, which means "to think,
contemplate, devise, ponder, meditate.” In the west, the use of the
term meditatio as part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation
goes back to the 12th-century monk Guigo II.
Anthropology notes that prehistoric cultures used repetitive, rhythmic
chants (to appease the gods)
First written references to meditation:
 Judeo-Christian Bible-- 1400 BCE
 Hindu Vedas--15th century BCE
 Taosit China and Buddhist India, 6th-5th centuries BCE
Spiritual Traditions
Baha’I: communion w/one’s self w/focus on the Divine
Buddhism: cultivates serenity (samatha) and insight (vipassana) to
illuminate and release mental obstructions to the natural state of
consciousness, which is loving, compassionate, joyful and peaceful
Christian: increase personal relationship with the divine;
contemplates qualities of divinity
Islam: 5 acts of daily prayer designed to strengthen bond between
individual and God and to assist w/problems of daily life; beyond
this, there are 2 primary forms of meditation w/in the Islamic
 Tafakkur or tadabbur, literally means reflection upon the
universe; the aim is submission to God
 Sufi traditions: broad spectrum that vary greatly; some have
similarities to Buddhis concentration and introspection
Spiritual Traditions, cont.
Jainism: Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attaining salvation,
take the soul to complete freedom. Mantra an important practice, as are
asana and pranayama. Contemplation of the following are also practiced:
life and non-life, the inflow, bondage, stoppage and removal of karmas, and
the final accomplishment of liberation.
Judaism: 2 traditions--the Talmud (reason and scholarship to aquire
knowledge that can be easily shared w/others) and the Kabbalah (mystical
practices that lead to an intuitive understanding of the Divine). According to
Wiki, the ideal is to merge the 2.
Sikhism: the focus is on the attributes of God and on movement through
each of the “10 gates” (analogous to the chakras) until one reaches and is
able to sustain awareness at the 10th gate, which brings a continual
meditative state while in everyday life. Also important are the cultivation of
love through meditation on the Lord’s name and mantra/kirtan (a form of call
and response chanting of mantra). Note: Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi
Bhajan is incorporates the Sikh tradition w/yoga.
Taoism: includes numerous meditation and contemplative traditions--I
Ching, Tao Te Ching, T’ai Chi Chu’an, Qigong; some are considered moving
meditations and others are seated, focused exercises and some have a
divinatory nature.
done to realize union of one's self, one's atman, with the omnipresent and
non-dual Brahman.
earliest clear references to meditation in Hindu literature are in the middle
Upanishads and the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad Gita.
According to Vivekenanda: Meditation has been laid stress upon by all
religions. The meditative state of mind is declared by the Yogis to be the
highest state in which the mind exists. When the mind is studying the
external object, it gets identified with it, loses itself. To use the simile of the
old Indian philosopher: the soul of man is like a piece of crystal, but it takes
the colour of whatever is near it. Whatever the soul touches ... it has to take
its colour. That is the difficulty. That constitutes the bondage.
In Hinduism there are many, many forms and traditions; hatha yoga and
pranayama are considered preparatory practices for meditation, especially
in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga
Yoga Limbs 5-8
Pratyahara: commonly referred to as “withdrawal of the senses” or
“closing the sense doors.” But can also be thought of as opening
the doors to the inner senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
Dharana: concentration/focus--a tether for the mind, which wants to
wander and react
Dhyana: to contemplate/meditate --the untethered but still mind
(placid lake mode)
Samadhi: advanced state of meditation; absorption in the Self;
Oneness; the mind becoming identified with the object of meditation;
no differentiation between seen and seer; self and object of
concentration; self-effacement
Limbs 5-8 are often experienced as a seamless flow--one into the
other and back again--not as separate disciplines
Techniques (focusing; not all Hindu)
Sound Mantra:
Om Mani Padme Hum/Hung: considered by Tibetans to be the
essence of Buddha’s teachings; a prayer to the embodiment of
compassion and not easily translated; considered to be the
words of and prayer to Avalokiteshvara, an the incarnation of
The six syllables perfect the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattvas.
"The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful,
because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say
the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the
practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and
Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience.
Pad, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance,
Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the
final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of
Mantra, continued
So Hum: I am That
Ham Sa: That is me
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: may all beings be happy
and free and my thoughts words and deeds contribute to this
happiness and freedom
Om: a-u-m (the beginning and end of all things--the universe)
Sat Nam: truth is my name
Transcendental Meditation/TM, Natural Meditation, etc.: mantras
are person-specific and often derived from an astrological chart
(jyotish) to invoke particular deities/energies; meaningless
sound. see manual for explanation
Kundalini meditations are generally sung mantras, often with
mudras or body movements that coordinate with the sounds
Yantra/visual representation
sri yantra
penta star
Yantra, cont.
Tara, Green Tara
Yantra, cont.
Kali and Ganesha
Yantra, cont.
Annapoorna and Laxminarayan
Other Forms of Visual Meditation
Tratak: candle gazing
guided (this can include yoga nidra)
creative (Shakti Gawain)
affirmations (Louis Hay and Yoga Sutra)--this is also a
form of sound meditation
vision boards, third eye or other chakra meditations,
color meditation, shamanic journeys, drawing and
Anapana: focus on sensation of breath on upper
lip (from Buddhist Vipassana tradition)
Vipassana: focus on sensations in body
focus on movement of diaphragm or abdomen
breath of fire (Kundalini): included w/physical
movement and posture
walking (from Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini and Thich
Nhat Hanh--includes affirmations as well?)
Mindfulnes/Open Monitoring
often use breath-based focus as basis to
watch what arises in body-mind system
sometimes use techniques of selfobservation and interrogation such as
consequences of thinking
 origins of thought/feeling
 reasonableness of same, etc.
 see forms of jnana yoga--Vedanta, Course in
meditating on the meaning of things: life, the
universe, death, God, patterns in one’s life,
archetypes, etc. has been prevalent for ages.
this can be
divinatory-- what do I need to know for my
current circumstances? what will/might happen
and how can I help myself?
cosmic--as above
and anti-meaning--”What is the sound of one
hand clapping?” --designed to get us out of the
box of meaning and into a more spacious place
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